Lisa Reimer, a music teacher at a Vancouver Catholic girls’ school returned to work after parental leave for the birth of her baby to find she had no job. Although the school was well aware that she is a lesbian, and even supported her right to take time off to be with her spouse for the birth of their child, parent complaints during the teacher’s absence led the school to relieve her of teaching duties while still keeping her on contract.
The school claims it has not fired Ms. Reimer, but the she is not being allowed to teach.
This is fascinating for several reasons.
First, the circumstances that led up to what amounts to a paid suspension stem from the fact that while the school, and very likely the students, knew that Reimer is a married lesbian whose spouse was pregnant, parents didn’t. It was only after Reimer’s personal life became widely known among parents, and they began to object, that the school took action.
Second, the hypocrisy is stunning from every angle. Catholic schools in Canada are fully funded by the government. They are only slightly different from public schools in that the students and staff must be adherents of Catholicism. Knowing a few teachers and administrators in the separate (Catholic) school system, I have heard many a “don’t ask, don’t tell” tale where following the rules of the faith and keeping one’s job are concerned. Though same sex marriage is legal here, no one I know has any illusions about what could happen to a teacher in a Christian-based school who is found to be in violation of the practice of the faith.
Third, the idea that a legally married teacher starting a family is a bad example confuses me. Yes, there is the whole “lesbian thing”, but study upon study has proven that sexuality is hard-wired, so the argument about “impressionable” children being lured away from heterosexuality is a bogus one. This is about the prejudice of adults and the discomfort they feel. I highly doubt that Reimer’s students are anything other than mildly curious and probably quite happy for her.
When I was a teacher, I can’t recall a single school I taught in which didn’t have gay staff members, male and female. Like most other people I encountered in the profession, the vast majority of these teachers were in committed relationships. Teaching tends to attract the kinds of people who want to settle down and become part of a community. Boring ordinary people for the most part. Although students are curious about the private lives of their teachers, they seldom pry and for the most part are too caught up in their own lives – just like adults – to really care all that much about where their teachers went or what they did when they weren’t teaching.
I had students who were surprised to learn that we teachers weren’t simply put away in closets every evening and hauled out again in the morning.
Growing up, my friends and I knew which teachers were gay. This was back in the 1970’s, a far less enlightened time, and yet it wasn’t a big deal either. I don’t know anyone I grew up with who came out as a young adult who would have claimed to have been influenced in their sexual preferences by a chance placement in a classroom with a gay teacher.
The Vancouver incident is made tricky by the fact that it is a Catholic school. A former Catholic myself, I am a bit amused by Catholics who still think that the church, as an institution, will be okay with their a la carte approach to the faith.
The school insists that Reimer has not been fired though they continue to keep her from her classroom. Ms. Reimer believes that she will be let go once her contract expires. Difficult to say where the truth lies and sad to realize that truth probably won’t matter at all in the final outcome.