CATHOLIC and Protestant schools are to take the landmark step of displaying LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) posters in classrooms as part of an all-out drive to stamp out homophobic bullying.
In an historic departure for some schools with a religious ethos, it is planned to implement radical new guidelines set down by the Department of Education.
The department's action plan contains specific proposals to clamp down on the bullying of students because of their sexual orientation.
However, some teachers are privately concerned that the display of LGBT posters in a very public fashion could upset certain traditionally minded parents.
An INTO spokesperson confirmed that the department's anti-bullying procedures must be implemented by Easter. He said 90 members of the union currently described themselves as LGBT.
"We believe this falls far short of the actual number of LGBT teachers in classrooms all over the country," he added.
An ASTI spokesperson said the union takes a "pro-active approach" in the prevention of homophobic school bullying and backs the proposal to have the LGBT posters displayed in all schools.
It also supports 'Stand Up! Awareness Week', which starts tomorrow. This annual event is organised by the pressure group 'BeLonG To', which promotes the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people.
The organisation also backs the department's proposals and says they will be "very useful" in helping schools cope with bullying of this kind.
It has been confirmed that resource packs, which include LGBT posters, have been distributed to schools as part of the Stand Up! week programme.
A TUI spokesperson said the union supported the display of the posters, adding that a motion adopted at last year's annual congress also called for an end to discrimination against gay and lesbian teachers.
The department is also anxious for schools to come up with "specific education and prevention strategies" to cope with "identity-based bullying''.
According to the guidelines, these must zone in on bullying of a "homophobic and transphobic" nature. It also recommends discussion with parents about "specific statements of welcome and respect" for pupils who have a particular sexual orientation.
This should also be included in the teaching of the Social, Personal, Health Education (SPHE) resource, 'Growing Up LGBT' module. Schools should also participate in LGBT "awareness events".
Ferdia Kelly, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), which represents almost 400 second-level schools, says he expects full implementation of the department proposals.
"Schools are very much aware of the issues of bullying in all its facets,'' he told the Sunday Independent.
He also said he "didn't expect any backlash or negative comment" from more conservative elements within the Catholic and Protestant churches.
The latest initiative follows the publication of a study which showed that an alarming number of victims of homophobic school bullying became suicidal.
According to the book, Bullying In Irish Education, published in the run-up to Christmas, the topic was for many years taboo in Irish schools.
It was reported that almost six in 10 LGBT people, and more than half of current schoolgoers, suffered homophobic bullying in school.
Over 50 per cent said they had been called names because of their sexual orientation and a startling eight per cent were even taunted by members of school staff.
Research reported high levels of depression and self-harm, with increasing risks of suicide among those who were affected.
A leading researcher has warned that the absence of teaching about sexual orientation has contributed "to homophobic bullying among students in Irish schools".
Sex education had been mainly based on the heterosexual model, according to Dr James O'Higgins Norman, a leading researcher on bullying at Dublin City University.
"But that is now changing. Students are now being taught about growing up LGBT as part of Social, Personal and Health Education,'' he said
"Ten years ago, even to ask questions about homophobic bullying in schools was very difficult.
"Although things have changed, there are still a lot of teachers uncomfortable about LGBT issues, particularly men in all-boys schools," he added.