There are about 4,000 primary teachers across Ireland who are uncomfortable revealing their LGBT identity to their employers, a conference heard.
any are afraid to come out about their sexual identity or gender orientation in case it will affect their chances of getting a job or gaining promotion.
The problem persists despite 2015 legislation making it illegal for religious-run schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers over their sexuality.
It is not necessarily an issue only in denominational schools, but they run 90pc of primary schools.
Prior to the 2015 change they were exempt from certain aspects of equality law because of their ethos and teachings, something they had sought under earlier legislation
Incoming Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) president Joe McKeown told the union’s annual conference that much had been achieved in recent years in terms of protecting employment opportunities for teachers, north and south, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
But a lot more needed to be done, delegates heard.
The INTO represents teachers north and south.
Mr McKeown referred to a survey last year that showed that only 18pc of LGBT+ members in the Republic and 12pc in the North had declared their orientation in the school community.
“This means that there are approximately 4,000 teachers on this island who do not feel comfortable revealing their true identities in schools,” he said.
Mr McKeown said many schools were safe and welcoming places but that was not always the case, and all schools should show clear signals of support
He said there was a need for patron bodies and boards of management to demonstrate their inclusivity, by practices such as by displaying a note in the staffroom or making LGBT books available, and by providing training such as on homophobic and transphobic bullying.
He said 89pc of teachers had not received any such training.
This is despite the fact that the Department of Education requiring teachers to implement strategies to educate about and prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying
Dublin teacher Seán Hegarty who was formerly involved in the INTO LGBT+ teacher group, said he knew teachers who did not speak about their personal lives in school for fear it would damage their career opportunities.
He has also spoken to teachers who had confided in colleagues that they were gay and were then ‘filled with fear’ that they would be outed by colleagues.
Mr Hegarty said schools generally needed to be allies to LGBT teachers not only to support them but also pupils in the school who may identify as LGBT.
Cecelia Gavigan, former chair of the trade union’s LGBT+ committee, said the experience of LGBT teachers across the country was disparate.
“I have friends who are out and friends who were told not to let anyone know they were gay because they wouldn’t get a job,” she said.
Ms Gavigan spoke of one LGBT teacher who was recruited but then told by the principal that they should under no circumstances tell parents.
Nuala Grealy, chair of the union’s equality committee, said research had shown that the principal was essential in creating an inclusive school but it also needed the support of the board of management.
She said the Department of Education and patron bodies were the employers and policy-makers so they needed to deliver real support on the ground and not just in policy. “We need them to work with us to create guidelines and to support the implementation of equality legislation, to make it explicit that they are equal opportunity employers.”
Schools needed to be truly safe, supportive and inclusive environments for LGBT+ staff, parents and pupils, Ms Grealy said.
Conference passed a motion committing INTO to protect members from discrimination “particularly with regard to recruitment and promotion, of all teachers regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation”.
Source: Irish News