06/07/2018 11:59 EDT | Updated 06/07/2018 11:59 EDT

Teacher Who Resigned Over Trans Policy Did Not Model Respect For Students: Advocates

He believes it's a "dangerous lifestyle."

One of the simplest ways to show respect to transgender people is to use their preferred name and pronoun. However, this is not an option for one Indiana high school teacher who says it goes against his religious beliefs to do so.

"I'm being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that's a dangerous lifestyle," 28-year-old orchestra teacher John Kluge told Indy Star. "I'm fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing."

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Kluge has worked at Brownsburg High School for the past four years, but did not encounter an issue with administration until the beginning of this year. At that time, school administrators sent an email to staff members instructing them to address trans students by their preferred names, ABC Action News reports.

Kluge disputed this policy and initially came up with a compromise that allowed him to refer to all students by surname only. But after a few months, the school informed him that this would no longer be acceptable and that he would have to comply with Brownsburg Community Schools policy regarding transgender students, The Associated Press reports.

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"I feel the compelled speech of forcing a teacher to take a side on this very highly controversial topic is a violation of our First Amendment rights," Kluge told ABC Action News.

Kluge submitted a tentative resignation letter at the end of May because he felt threatened by the school, who said he would be fired if he did not comply with their policy. In an interview with HuffPost, a Brownsburg Community Schools spokeswoman confirmed the resignation was "accepted by the administration" and that it was voluntary.

LGBTQ advocates say this is an issue of respect

Despite Kluge's religious arguments, advocates say calling trans people by their name is a show of respect that teachers should be modelling.

"Using a trans student's chosen name is an invaluable support. Educators need to lead by example with respect for students' identities, names, and pronouns," Becca Mui, education manager at LGBTQ student advocacy organization GLSEN, told NBC News.

"Teachers maintain an invaluable role in creating positive learning environments for all students," she continued. "If John Kluge couldn't model this respect for his students, he wasn't creating a classroom environment where all of his students could thrive."

A Canadian campaign called No Big Deal (NBD) has also proven how important it is to use trans peoples' pronouns to respect and support their gender identity. The campaign's slogan is: "I'll use your pronoun. It's no big deal."

"It can make a world of difference when the correct pronoun is used, and when others begin to catch their own mistakes, say sorry, and just move on," NBD's campaign website explains.

Trans youth face greater discrimination

Research shows that trans students face harassment and discrimination in schools because of their gender identity. According to a 2011 national U.S. survey, nearly 80 per cent of more than 7,500 trans people reported being harassed in schools, while 35 per cent reported being physically assaulted.

Trans youth in Canada have similar experiences. A 2017 survey found 66 per cent of students aged 14 to 25 have experienced discrimination, while 70 per cent have experienced sexual harassment.

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Transgender people are also "one of the most targeted groups" in Canada and "experience violence at a much higher rate than other people," Ryan Dyck, the director of research, policy, and development at advocacy group Egale, told Global News in 2016.

Attitudes regarding trans people are changing, however, with 78 per cent of Canadians believing the country is becoming more tolerant of this group, according to a 2018 Global Attitudes survey.

But the U.S. is not as open-minded, based on these survey results, with one in three Americans believing trans people are committing a sin. Additionally, the research found that the U.S. is one of the few western countries to believe that trans people have a mental illness.

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