Over 3,000 signatures have been collected by an online petition that started in late January to support two Manitoba elementary school teachers, who faced backlash from a small number of parents after putting up signs declaring their classrooms safe havens for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.
Stephanie Fortier and Peter Wohlgemut, two grade-five teachers at West Park School in Altona, posted the signs in their classrooms after attending an in-service workshop at Winnipeg’s Rainbow Resource Centre.
The signs consist of the word “Ally” on a rainbow, along with text reading “As an Ally, I support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, intersex, queer and questioning individuals, families and communities.”
In late January a group of parents complained to the school that the signs were inappropriate and requested they be taken down.
Border Land School Division asked for the text to be taken down but allowed the rainbow and “Ally” portions to remain.
The online petition is calling on Border Land School Division superintendent, Krista Curry, to support these teachers and allow the signs to remain intact in the classrooms.
The petition urges Curry to support Fortier and Wohlgemut “in their efforts to promote an accepting and LGBT friendly campus at West Park School.”
Curry did not respond to interview requests from the Manitoban before press time.
Kyle St. Godard, UMSU’s LGBTTQ* representative, said it is important for teachers to create an environment where all children feel accepted.
He added that homophobic slurs are commonly uttered by children, who do not necessarily understand their meaning.
“I think the words get used negatively a lot,” said St. Godard. “So I think it would be good for the teachers to say that it’s not a bad thing, that you shouldn’t call people names.”
St. Godard said the parents that are opposed to the signs need to recognize that teaching acceptance of LGBTTQ* people to children does not need to lead to a discussion about sexuality.
“They don’t realize that the teachers aren’t going to talk to the kids about the sexual part of the words. Just that it’s okay to like guys if you are a guy or like girls if you are a girl . . . it’s not always a sexual thing, especially at that age.”
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) released a statement expressing their support for Fortier and Wohlgemut.
The statement expressed support for “efforts by all teachers, including those in Altona, to ensure their classrooms are inclusive and protective of all students.”
“No child should be afraid to come to school. Any member of the Teachers’ Society who in good faith upholds the best traditions of our profession, and does their best to support and protect students, will enjoy our full support at every turn,” said MTS president Paul Olson in the statement.
The petition in support of Fortier and Wohlgemut is entitled “Don’t Force Canadian Teachers to Take Down ‘Ally’ Signs!”