Gay teachers welcome pivotal changes to legislation

Comment: ‘Now we’re protected and valued in the same way as other teaching colleagues’

 

When a teacher arrives back on the first day of term with news they’re now engaged, it sets the tone for a very happy year in the school.

The staff room becomes pretty electrifying. Conversation circles around the when, where and how of the story.

Somehow you find cake in your hand and wedding magazines appear from the ether and are left permanently on the lunch table.

For the singletons who want to get married, they remind themselves that their time will come and get involved in any celebrations.

But for me, as a gay person, as I saw the growing interest unfold, the animated smiles and the mountains of cake, I felt conflicted.

I wasn’t jealous by any means, but a little disappointed.

If I were in that position, having decided to marry someone I cared deeply for, sitting across from all my colleagues, could I even afford to tell them?

On May 22nd, Ireland sent a message that the LGBT community are universally accepted.

Whether you call it same-sex marriage, marriage equality or just marriage, it all amounts to the same thing: people can marry the one they love.

But for a small sector of workers in Ireland, that kind of commitment came at a high price. Marriage equality was at odds with Article Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act.

Article 37.1 originally stated that a religious, educational or medical institute’s actions may not be seen as discriminatory if they are trying to upholding their ethos, which in many cases directly conflicted with members of the workforce who identify as LGBT.

This was in complete opposition to another section of the legislation, which in any other workplace protected staff from being discriminated on a number of grounds, including but not limited to sexuality.

The existence of Article 37.1 went beyond someone simply feeling upset at an engagement party.

Discrimination

It set a context in Irish Catholic schools for unequal job security, unequal job opportunity and unequal job satisfaction.

To think that discrimination was protected and promoted through law, now that was upsetting.

So even if a teacher had recently gotten engaged in some schools the very notion of mentioning it would not have been tolerated. The ring finger lay bare as the problems it would attract just were not worth it.

There have been stories even as recent as January of this year relating to the limits of the Article. A teacher who entered a wedding competition had her face edited out, for fear her sexuality would impact how her boss would treat her.

Did this really sound like an equal Ireland? The Ireland we were all so proud of on May 22nd?

We’ve all heard the counter arguments before. Why don’t you teach in a multidenominational school? If marriage is between the two of you, keep it between yourselves.

If people looked at the availability of jobs, and how few that are there are predominantly Catholic run, you would see this is not a feasible solution. Asking people to completely shut off a part of their life is not a feasible solution either.

Changing legislation is.

There are schools that have embraced diversity already but there are plenty who don’t, or at least felt they could not.

The changes in Article 37.1 means that universally, LGBT teachers are protected and valued the same as their colleagues from now on.

We’ve all fought for the right. We now all have the right. Now, we have the right to tell people about it.

Barry O’Rourke is a former primary school teacher

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