A chara, – On behalf of the INTO LGBT Teachers' Group, I wish to commend Patsy McGarry for his article which highlights the injustice of Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act; an exemption essentially gives religious institutions a State-sanctioned licence to discriminate ("Ireland is continuing to fail its gay teachers in the classroom", Home News, February 11th).
Section 37.1 allows such employers to take unspecified “action” against those who “undermine its religious ethos”. This very broad statement gives no explanation as to what constitutes undermining an institution’s ethos. The lack of clarity leads to the quiet fear held by many of the teachers in the denominational schools which make up 93 per cent of our education system: “Can they discriminate against me just for being gay?”
Well, can they? It remains to be seen exactly how far such discrimination could be taken, as there hasn’t yet been a test case with regard to discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. However, the vagueness of the language in the section could certainly be open to interpretation.
A Bill is languishing in the legislative system which would amend Section 37.1 to more adequately define what constitutes the undermining of ethos. The INTO LGBT Teachers’ Group does not recommend amendment of Section 37.1, we are campaigning for its deletion. Even in its amended form, it means, as Senator Katherine Zappone stated: “the protection of religious ethos can extend beyond the ground of religion into an employee’s private life and is not confined to what she or he says or does in the workplace”.
Do denominational schools have a right to insist employees adhere to their particular ethos or philosophy? Absolutely. Section 16 of the Equality Act already specifies an employer may insist an employee carry out the duties required of them. Do they or should they, as an institution in receipt of State funds, have a broad and vaguely defined right to judge an employee based on their sexuality? Absolutely not.
The fear Section 37.1 engenders in many LGBT teachers prevents them from fully participating in their school communities. It compels them to keep details of their personal lives secret from colleagues. It prevents them exercising their employment rights in relation to their partnerships.
Our schools are special places in which individuality, diversity and self-respect are supposed to be nurtured and protected. A school is as much a community and a family as it is a workplace and it requires strong collegial relationships and friendships in order to operate effectively.
Section 37.1 is responsible for creating a climate of fear and discrimination in our schools. Rather than protecting a school’s ethos, the silencing and closeting of LGBT teachers undermines the job a school is supposed to do. Section 37.1 needs to go. – Yours, etc,
INTO LGBT Teachers’
Irish National Teachers’