Legislation bars ‘workplace dignity’ for gay teachers

Ireland’s equality legislation is a “barrier to dignity in the workplace” for gay and lesbian national school teachers.

INTO LGBT teachers group chairwoman Anne Marie Lillis said the main concern of LGBT teachers in schools around the country concerned section 37.1 of the Equality Acts.

In its current form, she said, it is a “a barrier to equality, a barrier to inclusion, and a barrier to dignity in the workplace”.

Section 37.1 states that a religious-run institution “shall not be taken to discriminate against a person” if it “gives more favourable treatment, on [religious] grounds... in order to maintain the religious ethos of the institution”.

Ms Lillis said LGBT teachers were “ordinary teachers with ordinary lives” seeking the same freedoms afforded to everyone else.

“We are not looking for preferential treatment or special privileges, just the same freedoms as everyone else,” said Ms Lillis.

“Equality, for me, is not about my right to privacy. It is about my freedom to be public about who I am.”

The INTO LGBT teachers group welcomed anti-bullying procedures introduced this year by the Department of Education, which make it incumbent on all schools to proactively tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying.

“Addressing homophobia and transphobia in society and in our schools begins by acknowledging that it exists,” said Ms Lillis.

She also welcomed the Government’s promise to hold a referendum on civil marriage for same-sex couples next year.

“Support for equal marriage has grown steadily,” said Ms Lillis. “This legislation will give us the same rights and responsibilities as all other married couples.

“There are gay and lesbian headed families rearing children all over Ireland.”

Ms Lillis pointed to her experience when illustrating how far LGBT rights had come in the past decade, outlining that she had once considered quitting the profession because she thought there was no room for someone “like me”.

She said that both the INTO and the LGBT teachers’ group had given her back her self-confidence and she now looked forward to the day when lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender teachers are visible in classrooms and “are out and proud role-models for the children in our care”.

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