The Alberta Teachers’ Association has produced a guidebook have been working to improve the lives of LGBTQ school staff members who work in the Canadian province in a new guidebook. While the resource, entitled “Breaking the Silence,” instructs about legislation, policies, and support for teachers, a question remains if LGBTQ teachers in Catholic schools will benefit from these developments.
“There is some nice aspirational stuff here, and probably very helpful for a number of teachers who won’t know a lot of this. (But) I would say they are basically outright admitting that they are not going to be willing to stand up for those rights that they just told you about … if your board is Catholic”
Catholic schools in Canada receive government funding, and are accountable to a number of government regulations regarding LGBTQ issues. However, Catholic school districts are run by local boards and have some latitude in applying rules. Even under the new guidelines (which were produced by an independent organization, not the government), Catholic schools can still require perspective teachers to sign a declaration of faith, which says that they will abide by all the teachings of the Catholic Church. The guide also reminds queer employees in Catholic schools that they will not be able to access spousal benefits.
However, once a prosperspective teacher is hired, they are prohibited from being fired because of sexual orientation or gender expression by the Alberta Human Rights Act which all schools must follow.
The new guidebook cites that 67% of staff surveyed were aware of another staff member who was harassed by students based on sexual orientation, and 26% were aware of the practice occurring on a staff-to-staff basis. The survey does not distinguish between teachers at public and parochial schools.
LGBTQ teachers at public schools are hopeful that the new handbooks can bring changes. Kevin McBean, a publicly out high school English teacher, is supportive of the resource, saying:
“I think that I’m lucky I’m at a school where I feel supported by my colleagues and my admin and by my students,” he said. “But I know that’s not the case in every school and I know that’s not the case in every district.”
While Mr.McBean has found his experience as a gay teacher in the Alberta to be mostly positive, there haves been two instances in his past six years as a teacher where students acted in homophobic ways towards him, and so he says he welcomes the resource’s guidance:
“I think this document is just a reminder to teachers working in those districts that they are not alone, and that the ATA is supportive, provincial legislation is supportive, and they don’t have to feel that they have to live in isolation or live closeted or in fear of discovery of their sexual orientation or gender identity,”
Bondings 2.0 has closely followed the intersection of education and LGBTQ rights in Alberta, including the inclusion of LGBTQ health into the sexual education curriculum, an examination of look at Catholic school openness to LGBTQ folks, and the push to include inclusive LGBTQ policies at the province level.
Moreover, a guidebook like this one could have been helpful in the case of Matt Tedeschi, a Chicago Catholic high school teacher who was fired in 2017 after being continually harassed by students because of his sexual orientation.
We hope that the creation of the guidebook will be a step in the right direction for the province, and that Catholic schools take the new guidelines seriously as a way to protect and include staff members of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations.
–Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, April 28, 2018