Saturday 25 May 2019

'There are still schools where you feel you cannot be yourself' - LGBT teachers in Ireland on challenges they still face

LGBT+ teachers still face "ongoing challenges" in schools according to INTO

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Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

LGBT+ teachers still face "ongoing challenges" in schools, according to the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO).

The INTO has temporarily rebranded its logo to colours of the rainbow "in a show of support and solidarity" with LGBT+ teachers and students across the country ahead of the Dublin Pride festival.

INTO general secretary Sheila Nunan said the organisation aims to be an ally for members of the LGBT+ community in the coming years.

“As we reflect on INTO’s 150-year journey of activism and advocacy, it’s important to look forward and face the challenges which remain," Ms. Nunan said in a statement.

"We have always worked with our LGBT+ members to make classrooms and schools a place of inclusion where teachers are free to be their authentic selves.

“We do recognise, however, the ongoing challenges facing not just LGBT+ teachers but the wider community and our small gesture ahead of Dublin Pride is aimed at demonstrating our commitment as an ally in the coming years.” 

According to members of the INTO's LGBT group, many teachers are still concerned about coming out in the workplace.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, INTO member Jean Louise McCarthy said this is the first time she has felt "comfortable" as a gay woman in a school.

"The law is changed but there are still schools where you feel you cannot be yourself. I now have permanency, and this is the first time I've been openly out and comfortable being out as a gay woman.

"It’s 2018, but you’re constantly censoring yourself, you say my partner, you use the plural, you say they instead of she or he, depending on who it is. It’s a constant battle with yourself.

“Do I show who I really am, or do I protect my job? Ireland’s very small, if you’re working in a Catholic school or a Church of Ireland, Presbyterian school and the principal doesn’t take fancy to you being gay or whatever it is, they have a network that can be very difficult for you then to get in to other schools."

Niall Perill, another member of the INTO's LGBT group said it was "the fear" of complaints from parents that many LGBT teachers are afraid of. 

"It’s the fear. It’s the fear that parents are going to come in and say I don’t want this teacher teaching my child, or the chairman of the board of management will come in, usually a religious figure will come in and not really say anything because obviously he can’t, but kind of almost looking down.”

One of the INTO's now retired LGBT group founders, Damien McGrath, said that a "mask" had to be maintained when he started in 1979.

"When I was a young teacher and started in 1979, I suppose you were afraid, you were ashamed of being gay with your colleagues," he told RTE's Morning Ireland.

"You certainly felt that you couldn't let the students know that you were gay so you had to hide from them and doubly so you were hiding it from their parents. This whole mask was being maintained."

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