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Vancouver Catholic school fires lesbian teacher

'This kind of discrimination and homophobia could never happen in a public school': Hansman

"I can't imagine how gay students at the school feel," says teacher Lisa Reimer, who claims she was asked to sit out the rest of the year and not set foot on school property. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth

 A lesbian teacher says she has been fired by a Catholic school in Vancouver because she and her same-sex partner are now parents.

It’s “devastating,” says Lisa Reimer, who taught music at Little Flower Academy.

“I can’t imagine how gay students at the school feel,” she adds. “It’s so sad.”

Reimer was on a one-year contract at Little Flower Academy, located in Vancouver’s tony south Shaughnessy district. She says she was invited to teach at the school after a stint at Crofton House, another private school for girls.

The complaints began, she says, when parents found out she and her partner were expecting a baby.

“They’re as angry as hornets in a nest,” Reimer says.

Reimer was told the parents were worried “the girls might follow Ms Reimer’s lead,” alleges a news release from BC Pride in Education Network (PEN, formerly Gay and Lesbian Educators BC).

She says she was called to a meeting on April 26 where principal Marcelle Defreitas and vice-principal Diane Little told her she would be paid out until June.

She says they also told her to stay off school property and not contact teachers or students — “or there would be a witchhunt.”

A spokesperson for the school disputes the allegations.

Reimer hasn’t been fired, says Celso Boscariol, chair of the academy’s board of directors.

“She remains in the services of LFA and will continue to be paid accordingly,” Boscariol says in a statement.

Boscariol says Little Flower encouraged Reimer to take parental leave when her baby was born.

“She did so when the baby was born earlier this month. She then advised the school she was ready to return to work. A meeting took place between the school and the teacher to discuss projects consistent with the music theory curriculum. The school understood that her proposed role was acceptable and the matter was resolved,” the statement reads.

Reimer says she was denied parental leave in January after she requested it (and came out to school administrators) late last year.

Still, she says, administrators seemed happy for her at the time.

Now she claims the principal and vice-principal acknowledged the Catholic church is “hypocritical” in their meeting this week, and told her “a lot of the Catholic faith sucks.”

Asked if she will make a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal, Reimer says she is considering her options.

PEN is calling on BC Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid to reconsider taxpayer funding for the Catholic school if it discriminates against people contrary to the provincial Human Rights Code.

“Little Flower Academy is a publicly funded religious school,” says PEN spokesperson Steve LeBel. “They are clearly discriminating against Ms Reimer on the basis of her family status and sexual orientation.”

Little Flower receives from the provincial government 50 percent of the funding per pupil that the Vancouver School Board receives. That works out to $4,007.50 in public funding per pupil for the 2009-2010 year, the ministry says.

Lebel says it is “unfathomable” that a school could insinuate that a student could be led into homosexuality by having a lesbian teacher and then fire that teacher.

Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association vice-president Glen Hansman says the firing is a clear example of why private schools should not receive public funding.

“This kind of discrimination and homophobia could never happen in a public school,” Hansman says. “All teachers have the right to a safe and accepting workplace. Catholic schools should be no different.”

MacDiarmid says the ministry is looking into the case and has yet to speak with the school.

“We have laws in British Columbia, human rights laws and labour laws and it’s important they are upheld,” MacDiarmid says. “I’m concerned.”

Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says the issue points to the need for anti-homophobia regulations across the board for all schools in the province.

“I think it’s disgusting,” the gay MLA says of Reimer’s situation. “Teachers in British Columbia should be allowed to be whoever they are. It doesn’t affect your teaching style if you’re a lesbian or if you’re black.”

PEN says Reimer will begin teaching in the public school system in September as a teacher in Vancouver.

Vancouver School Board policy protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers from discrimination, Hansman says.

The VSB policy, in keeping with the BC Human Rights Code and collective agreement, supports and protects gay and lesbian teachers who choose to be out in the workplace.

A similar case happened in Alberta in 1991.

In 1991, Delwin Vriend was fired from the Christian King’s College in Edmonton for being gay.

Vriend tried to file a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission, but it refused to hear it because the province’s human rights legislation didn’t protect citizens from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Vriend subsequently took Alberta to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in 1998 that provinces could not exclude gays and lesbians from human rights legislation.

David Eby of the BC Civil Liberties Association says some discrimination by Catholics against non-Catholics has been allowed in other parts of Canada in the past.

But, he adds, “the association doesn’t support discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, no matter who’s doing it.”

Little Flower Academy’s website says the school was founded by the Sisters of St Ann in 1927 and has functioned as a Catholic congregational school since its establishment.