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Transgendered teacher fired from Catholic school board

A transgendered substitute teacher fired by a Roman Catholic public school board has filed a human rights complaint demanding to be reinstated.

Jan Buterman is praised in a letter of dismissal for his teaching abilities, but told his gender change from woman to man is not aligned with the teachings of the Catholic church or its values.

The letter says the teacher would confuse students and their parents.

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"I am horrified that this would happen to anybody," said Mr. Buterman, 39, who taught social studies, German and French to students in Grades 7 to 12 in the well-to-do bedroom community of St. Albert north of Edmonton.

"I don't think that someone's medical condition is really fodder for your employer. It should not be any of their business. I respect people's beliefs, I do. That doesn't mean they get to ignore the laws we have around equality."

Officials with the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Board were not available for comment.

The letter suggests that board officials consulted with Catholic church leaders before telling Mr. Buterman that he was being removed from the list of substitute teachers on Oct. 9, 2008. Mr. Buterman filed the complaint Thursday before the time limit on filing ran out.

"The reason for removing you from the substitute teacher list follows a conversation we shared in which you indicated that you had been diagnosed with a gender identity medical condition and that you were undergoing physical gender changes from the female gender to the male gender," wrote Steve Bayus, deputy superintendent of schools.

"In discussions with the Archbishop of the Edmonton Diocese, the teaching of the Catholic church is that persons cannot change their gender. One's gender is considered what God created it to be."

A spokeswoman for Archbishop Richard Smith declined comment.

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The board's treatment of Mr. Buterman has confounded the Alberta Teachers' Association, which is backing his complaint, as well as lawyers and human rights groups.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, called the board's decision sad, but not surprising. She noted that Catholic church doctrine staunchly opposes gender reassignment surgery. Ms. Kennedy said Mr. Buterman's "crime" was not related to his performance in the classroom, but to the fact that "he" began life as a "she."

"The school board is arguing that transgendered people can only be acceptable to the church as long as they don't become their gender," she said.

Dennis Theobald, a spokesman for the teachers association, said the union doesn't believe a person should be discriminated against on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. He said Mr. Buterman's complaint contends that he was discriminated against on the basis of his gender identity and because he suffers from a recognized medical condition known as gender identity disorder.

Alberta Human Rights Commission officials could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Buterman filed his complaint on the same day that Alberta finally included sexual orientation in its Human Rights Act. The Supreme Court of Canada had ordered the province to that in April 1998 in a ruling on Delwin Vriend, a teacher who was fired from a Christian college in Edmonton in 1991 because he was gay. The high court ruled at the time that sexual orientation would be protected from discrimination in the province until the law was rewritten, but Alberta didn't make the change until now.

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Julie Lloyd, an Edmonton lawyer and a human rights activist, said transgendered people are clearly covered by the law. She said she is mystified that a government-funded school board that is open to students of all faiths would make such a decision.

"They do not have a leg to stand on," Lloyd said. "In my view there can be no question that excluding an individual because they are transgendered violates the human rights statute in Alberta."

Lloyd warned, however, that Alberta's human rights process can be painfully slow.

Mr. Buterman says he is determined to get his job back.

"I would really like to see this clarified. I think it is important for me, and I also think it is important for Canadians in general to know about equality," he said.

"I didn't ask for this, I assure you. I am a cancer survivor. I didn't ask for that either but it was a much simpler process."

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