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Walk in support of lesbian teacher set for May 27

Discrimination against Reimer 'a minority point of view': PEN

"We're walking from a private school to a public school," says David Butler, who is co-organizing Thursday's walk to support Lisa Reimer (above). "In public schools in Vancouver, this kind of discrimination is strictly prohibited." Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth photo

Students and teachers will march past the gates of Little Flower Academy on May 27 to support a lesbian teacher who was sent home from the Catholic school because she and her partner had a baby.

The Walk Away from Homophobia will leave the southwest side of Granville St at King Edward at 4pm, proceed past Little Flower Academy and end up at Emily Carr Elementary, a public school.

The walk’s message is that the discrimination music teacher Lisa Reimer has been subjected to is a “minority point of view,” says Faune Johnson of the Pride in Education Network (PEN).

“We don’t agree with it and want to bring it to the attention of the public, and also to support Lisa,” Johnson says.

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

Three months later, principal Marcelle Defreitas and vice-principal Diane Little told Reimer to stay off school property, after parents found out about the lesbian couple’s baby and objected.

Reimer says she was told not to contact teachers or students — “or there would be a witchhunt.”

The school is paying her wage until her contract ends in June.

There’ll be a lot of symbolism in Thursday’s walk, explains David Butler, the Pride Committee chair of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association (VESTA), which is coordinating the event with PEN.

“One is that we’re walking from a private school to a public school,” Butler points out. “In public schools in Vancouver, this kind of discrimination is strictly prohibited.”

The walk is also meant to raise awareness about “where money is going,” he continues.

“We have had shortfalls in budgets for lots of school boards around the province, so why is the government funnelling money to private institutions when we don’t even have enough for public institutions?” Butler asks.

Public funds should not be going to institutions that discriminate, he contends.

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 education ministry says.

The event further draws attention to the effects of homophobia — apart from bullying — which in the case of Reimer’s dismissal silenced music and the students who want to learn, Butler says.

A performance by the Gay, Lesbian and Supportive Singers (GLASS) Youth Choir after the walk is partly in response to “the fact that [Little Flower Academy’s] music program has been shut down for the rest of the year,” Johnson says.

“Lisa is supposed to give [students] assignments online from home, and then try to assess them somehow,” Johnson adds. “So really, they don’t have a music program, and it’s pretty impossible to deliver a music program in absentia.”