When a Catholic institution expels an employee in an LGBT dispute or refuses to support LGBT students, there often seems to be little consideration about the consequences. Two incidents in Alberta, Canada spotlight some costs to church institutions which LGBT-negative actions and policies can entail.
Legal Costs at $367,188 and Rising
Newly-released documents reveal that the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District has spent at least $367,188 defending its firing of transgender teacher Jan Buterman. Actual costs to the district may be higher as the documents only cover the years 2009-2013, but the legal battle is ongoing.
Fired after he transitioned in 2008, Buterman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission the following year, and has fought for justice since then. Buterman explained to the Edmonton Journal that having these documents made public is important for fiscal transparency and accountability. Institutions which act inappropriately should not, in the legal process, be allowed to “acquire the right to silence anyone from mentioning it ever again.” Buterman said, too, that most people would not consider these high legal costs as “a totally typical expense for a school board.”
Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta which obtained the documents through a public records request, called the school’s legal defense “a waste of taxpayers’ money” [Editor’s Note: Catholic schools in Canada receive government funding.] Kinney continued:
” ‘We think taxpayers should know how much this 100-per-cent publicly funded school board is spending on a legal case to determine whether they can fire someone for being transgender. . .This is cash that could have gone to teachers and students.’ “
Kristopher Wells, director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, said the district’s legal costs are a “shocking misuse of funds.” According to the St. Albert Gazette, Wells questioned this spending:
” ‘How can they possibly justify diverting that money out of the classroom to fund what many people feel is a discriminatory act? . . .Why won’t they allow a transgender teacher to teach in St. Albert schools?’ “
Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools is refusing to comment. Buterman is committed to keep fighting, knowing he is not the only transgender person unjustly fired in Alberta but that not all have the means to challenge such actions.
Church Workers’ Confidence Plunging
In another story, a new survey reported by the Edmonton Journal found that just 60% of employees who work for the Edmonton Catholic Schools Board have confidence in the performance of board trustees and Superintendent Joan Carr.
Employees’ confidence dropped 25% since the 2014 survey, likely attributed to the Board’s treatment of LGBT issues, such as a refusal to adopt transgender supportive policies and a reluctance to accept LGBT student groups. The Board’s October 2015 meeting erupted into a “shouting match” and in December trustees approved a draft policy which would allow “just discrimination” towards some youth. An LGBTQ policy finally approved this spring is currently under review by the Alberta Ministry of Education.
Greg Carabine, union president of Edmonton Catholic Teachers Local 54, said teachers are being asked about this embarrassing situation. He added that the Board’s public disputes “makes it harder for all of us” and imperils student safety.
Board trustees downplayed the survey’s findings in their latest meeting. Chair Marilyn Bergstra said employees have understood the issues “solely through the media,” and trustees should find a way to engage employees directly to help raise confidence.
Counting the Costs
These two incidents reveal a larger truth about the steep costs which LGBT-negative approaches inflict on Catholic education. Acknowledging these costs is not diverting attention from the harm done to fired church workers and their families or to LGBTQ youth who suffer at non-affirming Catholic schools; it only adds to that harm.
First, school officials’ decisions to defend discrimination in costly legal fights steals already limited funds from the students who should be receiving them. In Alberta, there are specific questions about what public funding of religious education should mean. Canadian taxpayers don’t seem to be in agreement that they should fund discrimination against transgender educators.
Even in locations where Catholic education is privately funded, such as in the U.S., parents, alumni, and local communities should similarly question school officials’ priorities in firing decisions.
Second, resistance to LGBT-supportive policies–whether it is school boards or bishops or educators themselves– undercuts the mission of Catholic education. Institutions claim such actions are about advancing Catholic identity, but the opposite is true. Church workers’ gifts are lost, and performance may suffer from those workers who remain. Time and again, when Catholic institutions act unjustly on LGBT matters, the communities react swiftly and critically. Unjust actions also put LGBTQ youth at greater risk. Opportunities to proclaim the Good News are severely limited, weakened by charges of hypocrisy. Pain and fallout abound.
With nearly $400,000 spent on a single church firing alone and church worker confidence plummeting, Alberta’s Catholic school officials should ponder whether their fight against LGBT equality is really righteous and really worth the costs. These incidents in Alberta should cause Catholic officials everywhere else to reflect similarly.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry