Was Canadian Teacher Fired For Being Gay?

by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Staff Reporter
Thursday April 29, 2010

A Canadian music teacher who was hired for a year to instruct at a Catholic school in Vancouver, British Columbia, says that she was relieved of her teaching duties and "sent home" for the remainder of her contract after parents complained about her same-sex life partner having a baby.

But the school says that nothing of the sort happened, and a spokesperson claims that for a Catholic school to fire a gay or lesbian teacher would be contrary to the church's stance, which condemns sexual intimacy between two people of the same gander, but which also requires that the dignity of all people be respected.

Lisa Reimer had taken a job at Little Flower Academy, an all-girls Catholic school, during a yearlong leave of absence from her position with the Vancouver School Board, reported the Nova Scotia newspaper the Truro Daily News on April 29.

Reimer claimed while speaking to the press on April 28 that the school's administrators "said that they had lots of friends and family who were gay and they were completely supportive of that, but that families at LFA would not accept that." According to Reimer, she had requested leave for the birth of her and her female partner's infant, but the request had been refused. Reimer then took two weeks off after the child's arrival; she says that she got the news from the school's administration when she returned from her time away.

GLBT equality advocate group Pride Education Network claimed in an April 28 press release that the principal of the Little Flower Academy had informed Reimer that parents of some of the students were worried "the girls might follow Ms. Reimer's lead." One member of the group, Steve LeBel, used to be a teacher; he said that the school's pupils were being given the message that, "our principal thinks it's fine to let someone go because they're a lesbian."

But the Little Flower Academy disagrees that events played out as Reimer and the Pride Education. The school's own press release on the matter is vague, saying only that, "A meeting took place between the school and the teacher to discuss projects consistent with the music theory curriculum," and adding, "The school understood that her proposed role was acceptable and the matter was resolved. Therefore the school was quite surprised by the press release issued today."

The article noted that instructors at Catholic schools often must agree to "Catholicity clauses" in their contracts stipulating that they will adhere to church teaching even in their personal lives. But a spokesperson for The Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese says that such contractual obligations still do not justify discriminatory hiring and firing practices.

"We're also bound by Catholic teachings, which say that all persons are to be treated with dignity. You have to respect their human rights," Paul Schratz told the media. "So if a school were to fire somebody just because it found out they are lesbian or gay, the school would in fact be going against the teachings of our church."

"I'm certainly concerned about the allegations that were reported," said Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. "Generally speaking, there are labor laws, there are human rights laws in British Columbia that have to be upheld."

Schratz pointed out that there are certain exemptions for non-profit religious institutions under the law with regard to hiring practices: religious non-profits may give preference to applicants who belong to the faith.

In the United States, the question of GLBT civil protections and the sensitivities of religious institutions have generated sparks on occasion. Students at a Catholic school in Boulder, Colorado, were not readmitted because they had two lesbian mothers, reports said.

The decision not to re-admit the student, a 4-year-old pre-schooler at Boulder, Colorado's Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, was announced March 5, and sparked an immediate outcry. The Archdiocese of Denver responded that the fault lay not with the church, but rather with the same-sex patents, saying that the lesbian couple had "disqualified" their children from attending the preschool program by virtue of their familial relationship.

The Archdiocese further claimed that those speaking out against the decision were "people who disagree with the Church's position on homosexuality in general and this decision is an excuse to voice that opposition to Church teaching," reported a March 8 story at Catholic News

The same article quoted from a March 5 statement on the decision that was issued by the Archdiocese of Denver, which said that the "principal reason parents place their children in Archdiocese of Denver Schools is to reinforce the Catholic beliefs and values that the family seeks to live at home." However, the statement went on, "Parents living in open discord with Catholic teaching in areas of faith and morals unfortunately choose by their actions to disqualify their children from enrollment."

The statement also said, "No person shall be admitted as a student in any Catholic school unless that person and his/her parent(s) subscribe to the school's philosophy and agree to abide by the educational policies and regulations of the school and Archdiocese," reported Denver news station and NBC affiliate Channel 9 on March 6.

Channel 9 also reported that some members of the staff at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic School said the decision not to allow the boy back "disgusted" them, while other parents were mulling withdrawing their own kids.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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