In a move to celebrate Pride and confirm their support for their LGBT+ members, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation unveiled a rebranding of their logo for this week – rainbow coloured lettering replacing the usual blue. Speaking about the decision during a report on the RTÉ radio show, Morning Ireland, teachers discussed both historic discrimination and still prevalent fears.
One of the founding members of INTO’s LGBT+ group, Damien McGrath, spoke of what it was like for him to be a gay teacher in 1979. “When I was a young teacher, you were afraid, you were ashamed of being gay with your colleagues and you certainly felt that you couldn’t let your students know you were gay so you had to hide it from them and I think doubly so hiding it from their parents. This whole mask was being maintained.”
For some teachers, that feeling hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. Niall Perrill added, “My first year I worked in a religious school and it was around the same time that I was coming out and I found it very, very difficult, it was coming towards the end of the school year and I distinctly remember the principal telling me- ‘there’s jobs coming up here, make sure you apply’, and I was saying ‘no, I don’t want to apply to this school because it’s religious run and I don’t want to be the next big drama in the school.'”
Niall continues, “It’s the fear, that parents are going to come in and say- ‘I don’t want this teacher teaching my child’, or the chairman of the board of management will come in, usually a religious figure will come in, and not really say anything because, obviously he can’t, but kind of almost looking down.”
It has only been three years since it became illegal for a teacher to face discrimination for their sexuality, but teacher Jean Louise McCarthy says prejudice still remains. “The law is changed but there’s still the schools where you cannot be yourself. I now have permanency and this is the first time that I’ve been openly out and comfortable being out as a gay woman. You’re constantly censoring yourself, you say ‘my partner’, you use the plural you say ‘they’ instead of ‘she’, or ‘he’, depending who it is, it’s a constant battle with yourself – do I show who I really am or do I protect my job?”
Jean continues, “Ireland’s very small, if you’re working in a Catholic school or a Church of Ireland Presbyterian school and the principal doesn’t take fancy to you being gay, they have a network that can be very difficult then for you to get in to other schools.”
Sean Hegarty, INTO’s secretary spoke of many reported instances of discrimination from teachers working in faith schools – “Teachers who teach in religious schools are told ‘well you know if you want to continue working here in this school or if you want to get a job in the local area you can’t be out so get back into the closet’ and that’s shocking in 2018.”
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