Teachers urge Irish government to tackle homophobic and sexist abuse

A motion to demand a review of the current assault leave passed unanimously at the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland.

A teacher writing on a blackboard and a student typing on their phone. Teachers are not protected from non-physical abuse in Ireland.
Image: Pexels

Teachers are demanding a review of the current assault leave to protect those teachers that have suffered non-physical abuse due to their sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity and disability.

Today, March 20, at the annual congress of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) a motion was passed unanimously to urge the Department of Education to change the current legislation that protects teachers who were victims of assault.

The goal is to ensure that new health and safety measures are implemented to protect teachers who were victims of non-physical abuse online and that was specifically targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity and disability.

The motion was brought forward by Daniel Howard, a teacher and openly gay man who said he knows what it is like to suffer homophobic abuse. “While I do not bear physical scars, I do bear psychological scars,” he said at the conference.

He continued his speech by saying that many teachers suffer non-physical abuse online, but many of them are afraid to report it because they fear it would affect their employment.

“Online abuse needs to be immediately tackled in schools as it is all too pervasive, particularly in light of the fact that we’re using more ICT in schools.” he said “We all have the legal right to work in a safe environment free from assault, discrimination and harassment.”

The current assault leave only recognises physical assault and is granted only in case the victim can prove the abuse happened through “scars, cuts, bruises or broken bones”. Consequently, many teachers who suffered non-physical abuse were forced to use their own sick leave to recover from the psychological trauma.

A change in legislation that protects LGBTQ+ teachers from online abuse would represent a step forward to ensure that they feel safe and welcome in the workplace. According to a 2020 report published by the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), 80% of Irish LGBT+ teachers are not comfortable with being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity in school because they fear it might impact their employment.

ASTI general secretary, Kieran Christie also spoke at the conference talking about the increase in violence towards women and minority groups witnessed in 2022.

“This year has been marked, dare I say scarred, by the horrors associated with violence in society and in particular violence against women and members of the LGBT+ community,” he said, “We will not relent on this because everyone is entitled to work in a safe environment and when issues arise, victims should be treated with proper care and respect.”

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