'I was lectured on my sexuality'

 

TBH: AN UNHEARD VOICE IN EDUCATION:A teacher writes . . .

I write as one of a large group of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people who works as a primary teacher in a Catholic school in this country. Given my sexual orientation (about which I am open) I am subjected to the following on a daily basis.

I must participate in and teach a religion I don’t believe in. I must uphold the Catholic ethos of the school by not discussing my sexuality beyond close friends on the staff.

As the teachers’ representative on the board of management I must partake in prayers at the start of each meeting, which goes against my own belief system.

A few years back when my school principal became aware of my sexuality I was given a lecture about not publicly promoting my sexuality. I have not been successful in applying for any promotion since. I should be first in line because I am the most senior teacher in the school and I hold a Masters of Education degree. I have regular visits from the local priest to keep an eye on how I am teaching religion. No other teacher in the school gets these “visits”.

Most of my fellow teachers are not regular mass-goers. Their lives do not all fall into the norms of Catholicism when it comes to marriage. Yet they are not singled out like I am. The INTO have been sympathetic, but I was told that the school is not breaking any rules by enforcing religious practise on me or curtailing my freedom to discuss my life in the staffroom. They advised that I do not rock the boat.

I believe I am an excellent teacher. I want to live in Ireland and teach generations of our children. However, the only schools within a 50-mile radius of my home are Catholic. Even if I left this part of the country I would still have to find a position within a very limited pool of non-Catholic schools – less than 10 per cent nationwide. I have to accept daily prejudice to pay my mortgage and other life expenses.

I believe, as in most countries, the Government should run the schools with religion as an optional after-school extra at the discretion of each faith. This would be fairer for everyone, not just for teachers like me whose sexual orientation is at odds with the ethos of the school. It would be fairer for children from families of other religions and none, fairer for Catholic families who believe in a more inclusive Ireland and fairer for the many teachers who are obliged to teach a subject they are not comfortable with. I don’t believe such a system would discriminate against Catholics. They would be free to practise their faith in an organised way after school and at weekends. My only hope is that the Minister for Education now follows through with his plan to have more schools handed over to non-religious boards of management.


This column is designed to give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously. Contributions are welcome at sflynn@irishtimes.com