Irish gay teacher receives standing ovation after opening up about homophobic experience

James Turbitt was allegedly targeted with offensive slurs at a union event in 2022.

A teacher in front of a white board with his arms crossed.
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After allegedly being subjected to homophobic abuse at an Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) delegate conference in 2022, gay teacher James Turbitt received a standing ovation for opening up about his experience at the same event a year later. The openly gay man addressed colleagues at the convention in Wexford on Thursday, April 13, urging people in education to be mindful of how they speak about marginalised communities.

When attending last year’s ASTI conference in Cork, Turbitt reports having been in a lift with a group of three young men who allegedly called him slurs such as “queer”, “f*ggot” and “poof”.

“I felt very threatened as it was in a confined space in the lift and it made me not want to come to the convention this year,” he stated.

“I wanted to get on stage and ask the delegates here if they were happy that such people were sitting amongst us, and thankfully their reaction indicated that they in no way condoned what happened. I thought it was disgraceful behaviour that should be called out.”

Turbitt has worked in education for 19 years and currently teaches English in a Deis school in North Dublin. He recently joined ASTI’s equality committee, saying that it aims to improve the language used in staffrooms about LGBTQ+ people and other minorities.

“It’s about being fair and equal to all people,” he explained.

“As an English teacher, vocabulary is so important. It’s like giving someone a card saying ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’, and then on the inside saying, ‘I don’t really like you’. Words can cause mental health issues and dissuade people from doing things. I almost didn’t come here today, but ASTI president Miriam Duggan encouraged me to.”

He added: “I’m not an angry person, but what happened made my blood boil…I came to the convention because I believe in a lot of elements of what the union stands for, but I do think that more education is needed in this regard.”

In response to the support he received after speaking out, the openly gay teacher said he was “thankful” for the positive reaction.

Elsewhere in the country, members of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) expressed their support for the LGBTQ+ community, condemning remarks from the Catholic Primary Schools Management Association (CPSMA) about gender identity education. In March, the CPSMA, which represents roughly 90% of primary schools in the country, wrote a letter to Minister Roderic O’Gorman opposing the teaching of trans issues to students.

Discussing an emergency motion at the union’s annual congress in Killarney, delegates are reported to have said they disagree with comments made by CPSMA, which they described as insensitive and upsetting. According to RTÉ, the privately debated motion received strong support, with INTO leadership instructed to write to the Catholic association outlining its concerns.

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