LGBTQ+ teachers in Ireland fear coming out in schools could impact their careers

The fear is greater for those teachers who work in schools under Catholic patronage, which is almost 90% of the total in Ireland.

A teacher facing students in a classroom. LGBTQ+ teachers in Ireland fear coming out in schools might impact their careers.
Image: Pexels

Many LGBTQ+ teachers in Ireland still fear that coming out in schools could lead to discrimination in the workplace based on their sexual orientation and gender identity and that it could negatively impact their job opportunities.

The fear is greater among those teachers who work in Catholic schools, which makes this a wide-ranging problem since 90% of schools in the country are under Catholic patronage.

The issue was raised yesterday, April 20, by some delegates at the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) 2022 congress. The conference started on April 18th and came to an end yesterday and it was live-streamed online.

Conor Bredin, an openly gay teacher, spoke up at the conference about when he used to work in a Catholic school and was living in fear that the principal would find out about his sexual orientation. He recounted how his fear was founded as later when he finally decided to open up about his sexuality, he couldn’t get casual teaching work anymore.

“I am now an out and proud gay teacher and for staff, parents and most importantly, children in my school, I strive every day to be the LGBT+ teacher and role model I wish I had as I grew up,” he said to his colleagues at the conference.

Bredin then urged them to vote in favour of a motion to demand a task force that would promote diversity and inclusion in schools. He also asked them to “help reverse the ‘learned behaviour’ of homophobia and transphobia” by talking to their pupils in schools.

Another speaker at the conference, Jason Kelly, who teaches in a Catholic school, spoke about the uncomfortable questions teachers are asked in these institutions. “Do you have a girlfriend? When is the christening? Did you forget to take Holy Communion after your class went up? Teacher, are you married? I didn’t see you at Mass on Sunday, teacher? These are largely innocent questions that are still verbal landmines for LGBT+ and atheist teachers,” he said.

“And LGBT+ or atheist teachers have no choice but to lie or change the subject.” he added “Teachers shouldn’t have to lie about who they are or what they believe, just to progress in our profession… Teaching is still a sea of Catholic white women, and as lovely a sea as that might be, a bit of diversity wouldn’t go astray.”

In 2020, INTO published a survey that found that more than 80% of LGBTQ+ teachers in Ireland are not out in schools, mainly due to concerns about facing bias in interviews or other types of discrimination. LGBTQ+ teachers are protected from discrimination via legislation since 2015, but this is clearly not enough.

For this reason, the union approved a motion to call on the Department of Education to set up a task force to promote equality, diversity and inclusivity in the classroom. The aim would be to take a step further towards creating a safer and healthier environment for all in Ireland, including LGBTQ+ teachers and other school officials.

INTO general secretary John Boyle said principals have a key role in ensuring that their school environment is inclusive, but further action is necessary. He also added that INTO is proud to represent all the teachers that are doing “incredible work to ensure that every pupil and teacher is safe and included in their school community”.

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