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Dublin: 11 °C Sunday 21 September, 2014

In Your Words: Being a gay teacher in Ireland

Experiencing homophobia in all forms, while being in fear of their work, job and career. These five teachers tell their stories…

Image: Teacher via Shutterstock

Republished 14 September

EARLIER THIS YEAR, TheJournal.ie posted the personal experiences of seven high-profile gay and lesbian men and women.

They told stories of homophobia and hatred. But also tales of acceptance and love.

The interviews and writings certainly hit home for many of our readers and we were overwhelmed with the responses to our subsequent request for your stories.

Unfortunately, we have not been able to reproduce every submission, but have picked a selection to represent the various experiences people told us about.

We have arranged the extracts in separate posts.

Here, we look at the precarious and almost-unique situation that gay and lesbian teachers find themselves in.

In Ireland, schools run by the Catholic Church (which is the vast majority) are allowed exempt from certain aspects of equality law because of their religion’s ethos and teachings. They were given an exemption to the European Equality Directive back in 2000 which allows for this ethos to be upheld during recruitment.

We have republished the extracts here following an announcement this week that the government is looking to advance legislation to amend Section 37.

All contributors asked to remain anonymous.

I was called in for ‘The Chat’

“First of all, I regretfully have to preface my e-mail by saying I would need to keep my name confidential as I could lose my job if it was published in relation to this topic.

Essentially, I am a gay teacher in my late 20s working in a Dublin Catholic denominated secondary school. I was fortunate to get a job in this school after qualification and try to be the best, most professional teacher I can be.

I have never discussed my sexuality or any aspect of my private life with colleagues.

About two years ago, the religion teacher in the school became aware I was gay after seeing me coming out of the Dragon Bar in town with friends and she advised the principal of this. The following week I was asked for a chat after the school with the principal and Chairman of the Board (the local parish priest).

It was put as follows:

We are not asking you about your sexuality but want to make clear that this school will not tolerate any promotion, discussion or open displays of a lifestyle not fully in keeping with its religious ethos.

It was made clear in a “very nice” way that they were just letting me know school policy.

I was obviously shocked and rang my union. They were sympathetic and met with me but told me the school had not done anything outside the law due to the religious exemption here. Their best advice was to ‘not rock the boat’ if I wanted to remain a teacher in the school.

Following ‘The Chat’ the following has happened:

  • Another teacher volunteered to train the football team so I was asked to step down from this voluntary role;
  • I was only given a token 10-minute interview when I applied for a position of responsibility within the school while the other successful applicant was given a full hour;
  • The principal has introduced a policy of dropping in unannounced to my classes and attending my parent-teacher meetings. When I asked why, I was advised it is her right;
  • At staff meetings, any comments I make are ignored;
  • Other teachers aware of the situation, while polite to me, actively strive not to sit next to me in the staff room etc in case the principal sees them there;
  • One teacher rang me outside of school to tell me about whisper campaigns about me;
  • I see pupils openly call other pupils “gay” in a bullying manner and going unpunished by other teachers who witness this;
  • Ultimately, I am in a Catch 22 situation as I have a mortgage on my apartment to pay and teachers cannot transfer to other schools. If in a few years I apply for Principal positions elsewhere I doubt I would get a reference from my school.

This is my grim reality in Dublin 2014.”

Technically, they can fire me

“I am a 50-year-old, middle-aged, “painfully middle class” lesbian teaching in a Catholic primary school in rural Ireland and I suffer homophobia every day.

Among the examples are:

  • I have been turned down for a promotion I was due and most qualified for in terms of experience and qualifications as my lifestyle is not appropriate;
  • The school priest and principal have asked me not to be so public with my partner as it might “upset” the children and their parents (to be clear we live a boringly ordinary country life far from city lights or LGBT activities);
  • The Board of Management has advised me verbally “in a nice way” – as they put it – that my lifestyle is not in keeping with the “ethos” of the school and that they could technically fire me as Equality Law does not apply to religious organisations;
  • My car has been graffitied in the local village with the word “dyke”;
  • I have been jeered at by locals as I walked past the village pub;
  • Our windows have been egged by local hooligans.

While this is my home town and I – and my partner – seek nothing more than to live a quiet peaceful rural life, this is not possible. Ninety-nine per cent percent of local people are decent, normal, good people but, of course, if you ever dare to bring up the homophobia issue either they do not believe it is so bad or else they just do not want to get involved. My own GP has told me that by living “openly” with my partner, I court this attention.

This is my 2014 Homophobic Reality.”

There’s one slight issue. I’m gay

I’ve considered writing this for quite a while now but after the Panti news I felt I had to. I’m a teacher, a young (ish) girl in a fairly average staffroom full of teachers and SNAs. My colleagues are like friends in many ways, we chat about our lives, their kids, husbands, wives. I’ve been to their weddings, Christenings of their kids and we’ve and we’ve all celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and school events together. We’ve had fantastic staff nights out and I think in most ways I work with some of the best teachers in the country.

Of course, there’s one slight issue.

I’m gay.

And they don’t know.

It’s my personal life. Private. But we share their personal lives. They wouldn’t be comfortable knowing I have a girlfriend.

Every Monday morning, I’m asked how my weekend was, if I met any interesting people – which is code for if I met any nice boys over the weekend. I’m a fairly good-looking girl. I’m often told how I could have my pick of the boys and on our staff nights out of my colleagues will try to ‘help’ me meet a guy.

After six years with my girlfriend, my colleagues still think she is no more than my roommate whom I’ve lived with for the last three years. The thing is, before I started working in the school, there was another gay teacher here and I’ve heard the jokes made about him, jokes that are insulting, hurtful and generally homophobic.

How can I be honest with my colleagues, my friends when I know how they’ll react? Talking about me behind my back the way they talk about him? He was here a lot longer than I’ve been and still they joke and make fun of him and his boyfriend…

In our school, we’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that the kids in our school feel accepted. We’ve children from all nationalities, kids who have different religions, who have various learning difficulties and social backgrounds. We’ve been teaching about prejudices and tolerance, to respect each other, about how to be better friends and classmates. How to accept and love each other for who they are. Yet I can’t seem to find the same respect in my staffroom for how I live my life.

I’ve asked myself why it’s important to me to be accepted in my workplace. But if I’m honest my school is more than my workplace. And if I can share my colleagues lives with them then why can’t they share mine with me? I love my girlfriend and I’m so proud of her and everything she is and does. I’d love to be able to share that but my colleagues don’t seem very accepting of LGBT people or rights.

I’ve heard some disgusting comments and jokes about Panti and it really makes me feel sick to the stomach…

I just want our education system, our educators and colleagues to be more tolerant of each other and then maybe I can share my engagement with my #edchatie friends.

This extract was initially published by Anseo A Mhuinteoir and has been reproduced here with permission.

Gay Bashing in the Classroom

“I would like to not be identified by name as I’m sure you are aware Section 37 of the  ”Employment Equality Act” does not apply to people who work in schools with a “Catholic Ethos” – talk about experiencing homophobia on a daily basis.

I am a teacher at second level. My sexuality is my business and I don’t bring it into my classroom or into my staff room – not for fear of Section 37 or of colleagues – but because, quite frankly, I see my career as separate to my personal life, and while many people cannot seem to separate the two, a professional should be able to do just that.

I have witnessed homophobia and what can only be considered gay bashing in both the classroom and the staff room, unfortunately. I was targeted by two separate students on two separate occasions in two different schools and, both times when I complained, the reaction of school managers was more lenient that I had expected or than I wanted.

On both occasions, the students chose to make the comments in a very public forum – in front of large groups of people. The intention of which was to publicly humiliate me as the teacher.

What can one say about these types of experiences other than when you consider that I actively choose to keep my private life separate to my public life because I believe my private life has no place in my career, only to be targeted by teenagers who’s intention is public humiliation is pretty depressing?

But for every student who would chose to engage in this type of behavior, there are hundreds more students who respect me as a professional.”

I was afraid

I moved abroad over a year ago, and I have to say that my first experience as a teacher was overwhelmingly negative in terms of being a gay person.I used to teach English as conversational classes, where I was required to choose a range of different topics for the students to discuss (bearing in mind most of these students were aged between 20 and 40).I asked them about the topic of gay marriage, and whether or not they accepted it, or whether or not they agreed with individuals being gay themselves.

I do not wish to name the country but I was startled, as a gay man, by the students’ responses.

At least 95 per cent of the students responded negatively, and were appalled by the mere idea of someone being gay. I had never told my students or fellow staff members about my sexuality for fear of prejudice, and ultimately, my job.

I was afraid for my work, I was afraid for my safety if I ever revealed myself…but I did tell a select few of the friends I had made, my own age, who did not give a damn.

I heard on an almost daily basis from my group of 13-year-olds (who I found to be particularly difficult), how “gay” this or that was, and was asked a number of times if I myself was gay.

Although their English was minimal, their understanding of the word “gay” was astounding to me. I was flabbergasted how these students were able to comprehend the apparently absolute negativity of the word.

I never said it to anyone, but it really really hurt me, having to lie.

I’ll even admit, they asked me if I had a girlfriend, to which I stupidly responded “Yes”, even though I had just started dating my boyfriend who was living in Ireland. It makes me ashamed of myself, and of my sexuality, to have to say that I lied to these young people about my true self.

But, truly, I was afraid that if I did reveal my true identity, that I would be fired, or worse.

This association with fear and homosexuality needs to come to an end. Right now, applying for jobs (which I am), I would of course say (only if asked) about my sexual orientation.

I have nothing to hide. I am a talented and educated young man who obtained his Masters degree at the age of 21. So, if us gay individuals are so “different” and “genetically unstable”, show me proof of exactly what you know about me.

First published on 23 February, 8.30pm

Last week: Bullied, egged, kicked out and beaten up: Homophobia in real life

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