Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Teacher lauded for gay-friendly stance

National group honours Altona educator

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Some people revile teacher Peter Wohlgemut for believing every child should be safe and welcome in his Altona classroom.

But not everyone.

Certainly not the Canadian Teachers' Federation, which on Thursday will present Wohlgemut with a Special Recognition Award at its annual national meeting.

"How do you feel safe in my classroom if who you are can't even be spoken of?" Wohlgemut asked in an interview at the CTF convention Monday.

'How do you feel safe in my classroom if who you are can't even be spoken of?'

-- Altona teacher Peter Wohlgemut (below)

He's taught for 22 years in southern Manitoba -- the last 11 in Altona. In recent years he's been a Grade 5 language arts teacher. His wife is from the area and also a teacher. They've raised their kids there and chosen to stay.

But there were times in the last three years Wohlgemut rarely left the house other than to go to work, and his family finally had to leave their longtime church -- all because he placed a little card on top of the turtle tank in his classroom in the fall of 2011 indicating he was an ally to every child in his classroom, including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

He'd taken a course through the Rainbow Resource Centre, said Wohlgemut, a course he said the Border Land School Division paid for as professional development.

"It's critically important for my students not to be 'tolerated' in my classroom, but to be embraced and celebrated," Wohlgemut said.

"There were parents who expressed extreme concern. The mere fact it was up in the classroom, that became the battle."

Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson said one parent referred to "deviants" at a public meeting.

Eventually, Border Land directed the cards (there were at least nine around the division, including in the division office, said Olson) be replaced with a poster that said, "As a teacher I am your ally, I support you in every way."

It's been hard, said Wohlgemut. "It took a toll on our family. There are definitely parents who don't want their kids in my classroom. It's made interactions awkward sometimes."

He said parents have asked that their kids be assigned to his class.

"This isn't going away," he said, adding people went before the Border Land trustees to support what Wohlgemut was doing.

It's becoming apparent Altona has a wider diversity within its community than everyone knew or was willing to acknowledge, he said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2014 A2

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