Thousands of Irish LGBTQ+ teachers hiding their sexuality due to career fears

Many LGBTQ+ teachers fear coming out in case it hurts their job prospects by clashing with the religious ethos of many Irish schools.

A teacher facing a classroom of kids

Up to 4000 LGBTQ+ teachers in Ireland are hiding their identity over fear of discrimination, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation’s (INTO) annual congress heard on Wednesday.

Ireland’s Equality (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015 makes it illegal for denominational schools to discriminate against LGBTQ+ teachers on the basis of their sexuality. However, many teachers still feel afraid to come out as they feel it may affect their chances of getting a job or promotion. 

Delegates attending the INTO congress passed a motion that “fully commits to protecting equal employment opportunities, participation and treatment, particularly with regard to recruitment and promotion, of all teachers regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Primary teachers also supported providing INTO members with access to information on LGBTQ+ terminology and identities, supporting inclusion of LGBTQ+ staff, parents and pupils and ensuring all INTO documents use gender-inclusive language.

Many schools in Ireland are supportive of their LGBTQ+ staff and teachers, with INTO previously being recognised for the success of their Different Families Same Love LGBTQ+ inclusivity competition for primary schools. 

However, according to the INTO Equality Report 2020 only 18% of LGBTQ+ teachers in the Republic of Ireland and 12% in the north were out to staff, parents and pupils in their schools. The figure rises to 42% in the Republic and 33% in the north for teachers who are out to just staff members. 

One teacher interviewed for the report said “we updated our SPHE policy recently and we did say that we should be more openly talking about same-sex parents, but it was thrown out because of the patronage of the school.”

Another stated that “an undercurrent of nonacceptance exists by virtue of the fact that the school has a Catholic ethos”. Others refer to the existence of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture in relation to LGBTQ+/gender identity because of the school ethos.

“When the patron of a school feels that the actions of LGBT+ teachers are intrinsically disordered, it is difficult for LGBT+ teachers to feel protected or valued,” Joe McKeown, the newly elected INTO president, said, according to the Irsh Examiner. He also proposed the motion committing to protecting LGBTQ+ teachers.

“We are saying loudly and proudly, ‘LGBT+ teachers are welcome here,” he continued. “Much has been achieved in recent years, but a lot more remains to be done.”

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