2 min

Teacher is gagged

Fighting for the right to be out in the classroom

THE GOLDEN RULE. Gale M'Lot is out everywhere but where she says it counts the most. Credit: Gilles Marchildon

A Winnipeg teacher is going back to school – and also to the Supreme Court Of Canada to argue about being trapped in the closet.

Gale M’Lot once dodged the question of her sexual orientation in her junior high classroom. Later, she met an ex student in a women’s bar.

“[The student told me] ‘If I had only known [you were lesbian], my life would have been much easier.’ I went home and cried, cried and cried. I thought: ‘What have I been doing?’

“That student said… just knowing there was someone else, that she wasn’t alone, would have been so comforting. It was such a simple thing for me to do.”

So in 1995, M’Lot told her school board that in appropriate circumstances, she would let students know that she is a lesbian.

The assistant superintendant ordered her not to disclose her orientation “in any circumstances.”

The legal battle is complex. Her case is about her right to grieve the decision, and not about the right to be out in the classroom. First, there has to be a determination that she can grieve the school board for instructing her not to disclose her sexual orientation.

Once that’s settled, she can fight the battle to be out. And she has the support of her union, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

Arbitration and lower court rulings have been split. The teachers’ collective agreement is silent on the issue of coming out.

Teachers society lawyers asked the Supreme Court of Canada on Sep 18 for the case to be heard. It will likely be months before the court answers. The complex case might have a dramatic impact on labour laws – but it will be a long process.

In the mean time, M’Lot stays in her classroom closet, though she feels her sexual orientation could be part of her teaching in the same way that her being of Polish heritage or a blonde could be. “A successful teacher is one that challenges misconceptions […and] is a role model. Apparently, I can be a role model, just not a lesbian one.”

M’Lot says her coming out in the classroom “would have been a non-event.” Some students obviously know – someone once wrote “dyke” on her car in the school parking lot.

M’Lot was born in 1954 in Quebec City, but Winnipeg has been her home since 1970. Now single and enjoying it, she was in an 18-year relationship with another woman, “but we didn’t consider ourselves lesbian. We didn’t know they existed… we didn’t identify, we just loved each other.”

A female couple they met in Minneapolis introduced them to gay and lesbian culture. Turning to her partner a few months later, M’Lot recounts saying: “You know, I think we might be lesbians,” to which her lover had replied, “I’m not!”

She now has a dogged determination to be out.

“I’m nobody’s poster child,” she says. “I may have to be [public], but it will always be about what’s best for students.”