Saturday 21 April 2018

Catholic school teacher forced to hide identity to enter wedding competition with partner of eight years

"We may not be able to afford our dream wedding, but neither can she afford to risk her career"

Clare Cullen

Clare Cullen

Newstalk's social media competition to win the 'Ultimate Wedding' is operating under the premise of being 'Open To All' - despite existing legislation which has limited the entrants.

Newstalk posted five finalists to the Moncrieff Show's 'Open To All' competition to win a wedding and one couple became the main talking point online.

The competition called for couples to create a lip-sync video together in order to win the prize, which could be used for a wedding - or, in the case of non-engaged couples, a stunning proposal.

'Pixel' was the only entrant out of ten total whose face was blurred and whose real name was not used in the video.

The video was submitted this way by the same-sex couple, who have been together for eight years and engaged for two.

Posting their entry to YouTube, they wrote:

"We were so excited to enter this competition and have the chance to plan a brilliant day for all our friends and family."

They went on to explain their choice to hide 'Pixel's real identity.

"Pixel is a teacher in a Catholic school, and as such is subject to Section 37 of the Equality Employment Act. This states that any employee of an institution may be dismissed from their job for not upholding the ethos of that institution.

"So instead of bowing out, we've entered, in the best way we could, by preserving Pixel's anonymity, and hoping to win despite the unfairness and ridiculousness of the legislation."

Equality Minister Aodhan O'Riordain told Independent.ie that the move was a "chilling effect" of Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act.

"This is the reality of what this Act does - many teachers feel they cannot be themselves."

"As a backbencher, we drafted an amendment to this act and as the Equality Minister, I'm seeing it over the line.

"We hope to have it in place by Easter, summer at the latest."

The amendment will affect teachers and other staff of institutions with "religious ethos" only from the date of enactment.

"The act doesn't mean they can fire you - it means that they could discipline you, and your promotion prospects could be curtailed."

Speaking about 'Pixel', O'Riordain says he understands why "teachers are anxious".

"This is a real fear teachers have," he told Independent.ie.

"If she was in a temporary position, she could be refused a permanent one. If she wanted more responsibility or a change in her work, it is within the rights of the school not to facilitate... If she wanted to move school... they could say, 'we know her to be gay'.

"I live in Ireland. For every unusual, bizarre, outdated thing... there is always a body that demands that status quo remains.

"I haven't seen a clamouring of the populace, calling for this to be changed... We, as a party, have tried, and there's been an awful lot of opposition.

"As long as people are comfortable with a system heavily... under one ethos... this will continue, and people shouldn't be surprised." 

Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act allows certain institutions the right to "discriminate positively to protect their ethos", which "affects anybody who is in conflict of that ethos" - i.e. staff in Catholic-run schools and institutions that are gay, divorced, or unmarried.

An amendment has been proposed but is not expected to come into effect until later this year.

"It's a hard balance between the right of the schools with the right of the worker to be themselves."

Speaking to Independent.ie, Newstalk 106-108 said that the "competition is Open to All – to all couples gay or straight and we encouraged all entries to embrace this".

"Caoimhe and ‘Pixel’ entered the competition and part of their entry they wrote:

“It’s clear to see that the Moncrieff team have put openness and diversity at the heart of this competition, and we were devastated when at the eleventh hour... it dawned on us … Pixel is a teacher in a Catholic school and... outing her publicly in this video could cost her her job. 

After much to-ing and fro-ing, weighing up the risks and potential rewards of entering, we decided to go for the safer option of not showing Pixel’s face, and not giving you her real name. We may not be able to afford our dream wedding, but neither can she afford to risk her career.”

The winner of the competition will be announced on February 13th following a public vote and a judging panel.

The prize includes a honeymoon to San Francisco.

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