Gay teachers say law change removes ‘chill factor’ on sexuality
Religious schools may no longer prioritise ethos over workplace protections for staff
A new and amended section, due to be signed into law shortly, will shift the emphasis on protection to the employee rather than the institution. Photograph: PA
Gay teachers say long-awaited employment legislation means they need no longer fear the “chill factor” of revealing their sexuality at religious-run schools.
Amendments to the Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which have passed all stages in the Oireachtas, are aimed at protecting lesbian, gay and bisexual State-funded employees of State-funded denominational schools and hospitals.
Under the current law the ethos of religious institutions was prioritised over workplace protections for employees.
A new and amended section, due to be signed into law shortly, will shift the emphasis on protection to the employee rather than the institution.
The LGBT teachers group of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said many gay teachers have felt the need to hide who they were in staff rooms for fear of adverse treatment.
“This new legislation protects teachers in these areas from discrimination and it provides a new space for gay teachers to become part of the communities in which they work and live for the first time,” said Bryan Lucey, vice chair of the INTO's LGBT group.
“The professional and private lives of teachers will now have legislative protection and this marks an end to the chilling effect for LGBT teachers.”
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen) said the move would have much wider implications for schools and gay young people.
“It provides a critical springboard for the cultural change needed in our schools – change that ensures all people, whether they’re working or learning, can do so in an environment that is welcoming and affirming of who they are,” said Sandra Irwin-Gowran, Glen’s director of education policy.
Proposed legislative changes were introduced by Senator Averil Power several years ago in the Seanad.
The Government argued at the time they were unconstitutional and a revised proposition was advanced by Labour Senator Ivana Bacik.
Labour Minister of State Aodhán Ó Riordáin said the changes also meant divorcees and single parents, along with member of the gay community working in schools and hospitals under religious patronage, could not be discriminated against.
“I am proud of this Bill, having spent four years of my career bringing it to the eventuality it will become tonight [Wednesday December 3rd],” he said.
Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall, however, said significant discrimination issues on religious grounds in education remained.
“We have an extraordinary situation where a great many parents believe they have no choice but to have their newborn babies baptised if they are to have any chance to get them into their local school,” she added.
Ms Shortall said the Equal Status Act – which permits religious discrimination in school access should be amended.
The Government has argued, however, that Constitutional issues prevent such a move and it could prevent minority faiths attending their denominational schools.