By Patrick B. Craine

EDMONTON, Alberta, October 16, 2009 ( – The Alberta Human Rights Commission has accepted a complaint brought against an Edmonton-area Catholic school board by a substitute teacher who was let go after she announced she was 'becoming' a man.

Janet Buterman, 39, had been employed by the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Board for about four months when, in June 2008, she informed deputy superintendent Steve Bayus that she was undergoing a 'sex change' and now wished to be treated as a man.

The following October, Mr. Bayus responded with a letter indicating that Buterman had been removed from the substitute teacher list because the procedures she was undergoing were in conflict with the Catholic teaching upheld by the school board.

“In discussions with the Archbishop of the Edmonton Diocese, the teaching of the Catholic Church is that persons cannot change their gender,” he wrote.  “One's gender is considered what God created us to be.”

“Your gender change is not aligned with the teachings of the Church,” he continued, “and would create confusion and complexity with students and parents as a model and witness to Catholic faith values.”

Buterman maintains that she has a legitimate medical condition – gender identity disorder – and that the board has discriminated against her because of it.

Mr. Bayus' letter was clear, however, that their decision was made, not only based on a psychological condition, but based on Buterman's decision to undergo a 'sex change' in response to the condition.  “The reason for removing you from the substitute teacher list,” he wrote, “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.”

In Buterman's opinion, the Catholic board does not have the right to let their beliefs enter decisions about employment.  “It appears to me they think they have a right to make employment decisions based on claims, tenets of faith,” she told the Edmonton Journal. “From my perspective, as a public employer, they do not.”

Buterman filed the complaint on October 1st, and the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission has accepted it on the grounds of medical disability, physical disability, and gender.

The school board has 21 days to respond to the complaint, and superintendent David Keohane has said that he will comply with the process.  He told the Edmonton Journal that the board has their own perspective on the issue, but they do not want to “prejudice the process” by commenting publicly.

“We believe the individual who should receive [our] perspective – and it will be in writing and it will be clear – is Jan Buterman,” he said.  “There are two sides to every story and we are going to entrust the human rights commission to address two sides to the story.”

The Alberta Catholic school board is not the only one coming under fire for upholding its Catholic faith.  An Ontario board was the subject of a human rights complaint last month because of its decision not to hire a non-Catholic.  In that case, the school board is asserting its right to hire teachers that espouse the Catholic values they are aiming to instil in their students.

See related coverage:

Teacher, Dismissed from Catholic School After “Sex Change,” Files Human Rights Complaint 


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