by Tom Gantert and Brett Rowland
A physician assistant at a University of Michigan hospital in west Michigan claims she was told she was evil and was responsible for the suicide of transgender people by the health system’s director of diversity and was later fired because she refused to acknowledge the preferred pronouns of patients.
The First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization, spelled out Valerie Kloosterman’s grievances against the University of Michigan Health-West hospital system in a Sept. 27 letter that demands Kloosterman be rehired. First Liberty claims that Kloosterman’s religious rights were violated.
The letter claims that Kloosterman declined to use preferred pronouns of transgender people and instead referred to them by their first name. She also was not willing to refer patients for gender reassignment surgery, citing her Christian faith.
The letter claims that the hospital held a July 2021 meeting with the human resources director and other managers, including Thomas Pierce, the diversity program director, to address Kloosterman’s refusal to refer to transgender patients by their preferred pronouns.
Kloosterman said she could not because of her religious beliefs and her independent medical judgment, but that she did use the patients’ first names.
The letter stated, “Thomas Pierce grew hostile, visibly angry with tight fists and a flushed demeanor, and attacked her religious beliefs. Among other things, he told Ms. Kloosterman that she could not take the Bible or her religious beliefs to work with her, either literally or figuratively; that given her religious beliefs against gender identity-based pronouns and ‘gender reassignment surgery,’ she was to blame for transgender suicides; and that she was ‘evil’ and abusing her power as a health care provider.”
Kloosterman said she was terminated Aug. 24, 2021, for not using preferred pronouns and not referring patients for gender-transitioning procedures.
A voice message left to the hospital system’s media relations team was not immediately returned on Tuesday.
Pierce didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.
Peter VanLaan, associate general counsel for the health system, told The Center Square, “University of Michigan Health-West is committed to providing appropriate medical treatment to all patients and respects the religious beliefs of its employees. Our organization does not discuss personnel issues and as such, has no further comment.”
Earlier this year, University of Michigan Health-West was designated a LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Top Performer by the Human Rights Campaign.
“Delivering on its promise that ‘You belong here,’ University of Michigan Health-West has earned national recognition for a commitment to equity and inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer patients, families and employees,” the health system stated in its news release.
In that news release, Pierce stated, “If someone comes in and they have an imperfect experience, we’ve set the bar of accountability for ourselves. LGBTQIA+ patients just want to be able to access a doctor, to be able to walk through the front door and not be misgendered, misnamed, embarrassed or discriminated against – or be asked to leave.”
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Tom Gantert worked at many daily newspapers including the Ann Arbor News, Lansing State Journal and USA Today. Gantert was the managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential for five years before joining The Center Square.
Brett Rowland is an award-winning journalist who has worked as an editor and reporter in newsrooms in Illinois and Wisconsin. He is an investigative reporter for The Center Square.
Photo “University of Michigan Health-West” by University of Michigan Health-West.