Case of Fired Transgender Teacher Comes to Unsatisfactory Decision

For nine years, Jan Buterman has been seeking justice in Canadian courts, after he was fired as a substitute teacher in a Catholic school district because he chose to transition from male to female.  A recent court decision seems to indicate that justice will not be served.

The transgender man was fired in 2009 from  the Greater St. Albert Catholic School District, Edmonton, Alberta.   Since that time there has been negotiations with the district’s administration, and several motions in court, but according to CBC-Radio Canada, a recent decision by a judge seems to have brought a close to the case, though no decision on the substance of the situation was reached.

Jan Buterman

The news outlet reported that the Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that Buterman had given up the right to bring his case to the provincial human rights commission because supposedly a few years ago he reached a financial settlement with the school district.  Buterman contends, however, that he did not accept the settlement.  The news report gave a synopsis of events:

“In October 2008, Buterman was removed from the board’s roster of substitute teachers after he notified them he was a transgender person in the process of transitioning from female to male.

” ‘Since you have made a personal choice to change your gender, which is contrary to Catholic teachings, we have had no choice but to remove you from the substitute teaching list,’ the board wrote at the time.

“A year later, Buterman filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

“The next day, the board offered him $78,000 if he’d agree to withdraw his complaint. The board asked him to promise not to make any further complaints to the human rights commission and agree to keep the deal confidential.

“Buterman rejected the offer.

“In Sept. 2010, the board made a different offer to Buterman. That offer was also rejected, but Buterman’s lawyer replied in writing that his client was willing to accept the original offer.

“The same day, the board confirmed the original offer still stood, and the two parties went back and forth about making minor changes to the wording.

“In January 2011, Buterman’s lawyer returned the money and the unsigned settlement documents, noting it had taken longer than expected to consider and discuss the issues with his client. By April 2011, Buterman was without a lawyer, so the board sent the draft documents directly to him.

“Buterman never responded directly to the board. Instead he told the media he had rejected the board’s settlement offer due to the confidentiality clause.

“More than three years passed. Then the school board applied to the human rights commission to determine if it still had jurisdiction to hear Buterman’s complaint. The board argued the parties had entered into a settlement agreement.

“After a three-day hearing on that point, the commission determined it had no remaining jurisdiction over the complaint because a deal had been reached and Buterman ‘had relinquished his human rights complaint in favour of a settlement.’ “

Buterman is disappointed in the decision, especially since none of the substantive issues of the case were discussed, and the court’s ruling hinged on procedural topics.  Buterman stated:

“It is surprising, I think, to many that this has been kind of all on procedural side issues. But those side issues are more than enough to derail the ability to actually interrogate the question of whether or not someone has the right to be fired for being trans.”

He and his lawyers have not decided what their next move is.

Buterman’s case highlights the fact that true justice in cases like his won’t come from law courts but from church officials acting justly.  At the very least, they can act in an informed manner. For instance, there is no church doctrine prohibiting gender surgery, as they claimed when they fired Buterman.

The Sisters of Mercy were able to retain a transitioned transgender teacher (and a full-time one, not a substitute) last year at one of their schools in San Francisco.  Justice was served in that case.  Other church leaders should follow their example.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 6, 2017

 

 

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Resignation of Bishop Is An Opportunity for LGBT Reconciliation

A bishop with a harsh anti-LGBT record has prematurely resigned, creating an opportunity for his successor to heal wounds in the province related to gender and sexuality debates.

>Bishop Fred Henry says the church has a lot to apologize for, but remains a tremendous source of good.
Bishop Fred Henry

Canada’s Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, Alberta, resigned due to health reasons, ending twenty years in office, with much controversy in recent years. Last year, Henry described Alberta’s new education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.” He then refused to apologize, saying any retraction was “simply not going to happen.

The bishop’s comments were offered amid wider debates in Alberta about Catholic education and LGBTQ supports that were, at times, quite heated. Indeed, Archbishop Richard W. Smith publicly thanked Henry upon news of his resignation for “the outstanding contribution he has made in the field of Catholic education in both Alberta and across the country,” according to Global News.

Pope Francis has now appointed Bishop William Terrence McGrattan as Henry’s successor in Calgary, reported CTV News. This transition has some LGBT advocates hopeful that a new page can be turned, while others remain skeptical of any change.

Kristopher Wells, director of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, said Henry had been “no friend to the LGBT community” but hoped “a new bishop will seek to build bridges and use faith as a way to include rather than exclude.”

“‘I’m really hoping that new bishop is open to dialogue with the LGBT community. One of the things Catholic LBGT and Catholic allies say is welcoming LGBT people into your lives and your communities is not in conflict with Catholic teachings.'”

Rebecca Sullivan, who directs the University of Calgary’s Women’s Studies Program was somewhat harsher in her assesesment, stating that “the grand old men of the Catholic Church are going quietly into the bleak night they created for themselves.” Yet, Sullivan thinks this resignation could signal “a brighter future for what Catholicism could stand for, not what Henry has stood for.” Another professor at the University of Calgary, Juliet Guichon, expressed the following:

“I hope that the incoming bishop engages with Catholics and the greater community and focuses on Pope Francis’ main messages, which are mercy, love and following one’s conscience.”

But not everyone is optimistic, reported Metro News. Jan Buterman, a transgender man who was fired from a Catholic school in 2008 after transitioning, does not expect much to change:

“‘I see no reason to believe that there will be any kind of change that substantively supports trans people in that particular faith. . .I see absolutely no statements from higher-ups suggesting that trans people are welcome in their faith.'”

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Bishop William Terrence McGrattan

There are no indications about how Bishop McGrattan will respond to LGBT issues in Alberta after his February installation. But he would be unwise to squander this opportunity to undo the harm Bishop Henry inflicted and to initiate a diocesan path more in keeping with Pope Francis’ model.

A first step could be apologizing for the harsh remarks Bishop Henry made last year, followed by concrete actions to show that the local church in Calgary will work to support LGBT people in parishes and in Catholic education. Let us pray for Bishop McGrattan and the local church in Calgary that they may find a new path forward in this new year.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 10, 2017

Counting the Educational Costs of LGBT-Negative Acts

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Jan Buterman

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 GazetteWells 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

Beyond Pope Francis, What Else Has Been Happening in Catholic LGBT News?

Tony Flannery
Fr. Tony Flannery

Pope Francis’ document Amoris Laetitia has dominated Catholic LGBT news since its publication on April 8th. Everyone, it seems, is weighing in about the 250+ page document. You can access Bonding 2.0’s coverage of the document and selected reactions here.

But there has been other news relevant to Catholic LGBT issues that should not be missed. Below, Bondings 2.0 offers a sampling of some of the more important items.

Listen to Fr. Tony Flannery and Other Priests, Says Irish Bishop

Bishop Donal McKeown of Derry said Ireland’s church leaders need to dialogue with priests who are advocating for church reform. This outreach should include Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who faced Vatican persecution in 2012, and the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland which he co-founded. McKeown said the bishops “have to be constantly reaching out” and “willing to go way beyond our comfort zone,” reported the National Catholic Reporter. Citing Pope Francis, the bishop added:

” ‘It takes time to listen and to talk and to build bridges and to have an openness to hear their story.”

Fr. Flannery, who has been barred from public ministry since 2012, in part because of his openness on LGBT issues, said this support was a first for the Irish hierarchy. He commented on an important topic that such outreach by the bishops might focus upon:

“My answer to that is simple. All I have ever looked for in relation to myself and others who are accused of ‘dissent’ is a process that is fair, just and transparent. . .The present CDF process is a scandal, and brings shame on our church.”

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Bishops, Laity Remain Split Over Religious Freedom Bills

Virginia’s bishops expressed disappointment that Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Catholic, vetoed “license to discriminate” legislation passed by the legislature, reported the National Catholic Reporter.

According to a Virginia Catholic Conference statement, Bishop Paul Loverde of Arlington and Bishop Francix DiLorenzo of Richmond said the law, which would have protected those who withheld  services from same-gender couples, was about religious freedom . Vetoing the bill on live radio, Governor McAuliffe, himself a Catholic, described the bill as “nothing more than an attempt to stigmatize.”

Meanwhile, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who is also Catholic, rescinded an executive order protecting those persons involved with state business who discriminate against LGBT people and replaced it with a non-discrimination order, reported Buzzfeed.

Church Worker Faces Financial Burden in Legal Battle

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Jan Buterman

Fired Canadian educator Jan Buterman is facing financial difficulties in his legal battle against the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, Edmonton, Alberta, reported Metro News.

Buterman sued the district for removing him as a substitute teacher after his gender transition more than eight years ago. He has been in court since, losing the latest round in appeals court, but Buterman has promised to press on and is exploring funding options. He explained why he will keep struggling:

“I’m not the only trans person who has lost a job in this province, far from it, but most people don’t have it in writing or don’t have access to legal council. . .Most trans people who run into this don’t have the means to address it.”

Bishop Says Same-Gender Marriages Can “Destroy Everything Christian”

In a recent interview, Bishop Emeritus Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska claimed that marriage equality would lead to efforts “to destroy everything Christian” and called the increasingly successful movement for LGBT rights “devastating,” reported the Lincoln Journal Star.

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Laurent Stefanini

Gay Ambassador Nixed by Vatican is Reassigned to the UN

Laurent Stefanini, France’s one-time nominee as Ambassador to the Holy See, will take up a position at the United Nations instead by representing his nation in UNESCO, reported France 24. Stefanini’s nomination was seen to be rejected by the Vatican because it was never approved after being submitted January 2015. Many speculate this rejection was due to Stefanini’s identity as an openly gay man.

For all the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog using the provided box in the upper right hand corner of this page. Contact info@newwaysministry.org with questions and news tips.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry