Why some schools don't make all their teachers feel welcome
In October 2014 the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Teachers' Group visited Áras an Uachtaráin. President Michael D. Higgins invited us in recognition of our 10 years of existence.
The Group began in 2004, when a number of teachers asked the INTO to facilitate the setting up a group for LGBT teachers. Original members recall being very excited and very scared at the same time. The first meeting was held in private away from the glare of publicity. Many teachers then were too frightened to go public as a result of the law.
Back then, and even today, there is an exemption to the Employment Equality Act, 1998 called Section 37.1. Section 37.1 gives a broad exemption to religious-run schools to legally discriminate against anyone who is 'undermining the religious ethos of the institution'. Some 96pc of primary schools and 52pc of second-level schools are religious-run. Since many religions disapprove of people who act on their sexual orientation, then religious-run schools could discriminate against an LGBT teacher. This has a chilling effect on the lives of LGBT teachers.
In 2006, Senator David Norris launched the INTO LGBT Group. This was the first time that some members went public about the fact that they were gay and lesbian. A photo was taken at the launch with the promise that it would never be published.
2009 was a dramatic turning point. The Group held its first educational conference called 'Anseo: The Inclusive Staffroom.' Guidelines were launched to promote an inclusive staffroom. The conference got widespread media attention.
To promote visibility, the Group has marched in every Pride Parade in Dublin since 2006, and in other cities.
Currently, in the Seanad, there is a bill to amend Section 37.1, to narrow its scope of use. Amendment is not enough as it will still leave room for doubt on whether LGBT teachers are fully protected by law. Only the full deletion of Section 37.1 will offer the guarantee that the law will protect LGBT teachers.
2014 has been a whirlwind year. The Group won a Gay and Lesbian Award (GALA), awarded to honour those who work towards a better future for LGBT people in Ireland. When the official photograph was being taken, all members present chose to be in the photograph knowing that it would be published. This simple act shows that many members feel confident being public about their lives irrespective of the law.
This Saturday, November 22, the Group is hosting its second educational conference called 'The Inclusive School.' A poster called 'Different Families, Same Love' is being launched, showing nine different types of families such as single parent families, same-sex headed families, adoptive families and families headed by a man and a woman. The point is to show the diversity in family types and to emphasise that they are all united by love.
The INTO LGBT Teachers' Group is looking for the support of all teachers, parents, unions, patron bodies and the wider community in creating schools that are welcoming places for LGBT teachers and students. The dream of the Group is of a genuinely inclusive school where all are welcome.
Diarmuid Fitzgerald is a teacher and a member of the executive of the INTO LGBT group.