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Gay rights group gives cautious welcome to change in discrimination laws

Section 37 could be scrapped soon, allowing gay teachers to live open lives.

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A GAY RIGHTS advocacy group has given a cautious welcome to this week’s pledge from a junior minister that he will advance legislation to amend Section 37 of the Employment Act.

But GLEN says that the laws need to be implemented “quickly”, adding that “another school year has got underway with many LGBT teachers continuing to feel the ‘chilling effect’ of the act.

Section 37 allows for discrimination against workers based on their family status and sexual orientation.

Practically, it means that teachers are often living in fear that their sexuality will be discovered in their schools, putting their jobs at risk.

In Ireland, schools run by the Catholic Church (which is the vast majority) are 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.

“No worker in any workplace publically funded or otherwise, should be faced with the threat of discrimination because of who they are,” says Sandra Irwin-Gowran, director of education policy with GLEN.

“LGBT people working in any religious run employment should enjoy the same protections as any worker; so a gardener who is gay working in a convent should be as protected as a gardener who is gay working for the OPW,” she continued.

“The legislation must ensure that all employees can clearly see from its wording that their livelihoods cannot be put at risk because of their sexual orientation or relationship status. The wording of the Bill must not create any new grounds for people in Ireland to fear discrimination at work.”

Minister of State at the Department of Justice & Equality, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said on Tuesday that he intends to begin the process once the Dáil term starts next week.

The Labour TD said the Act has also been of “particular concern” to those working in religious-run hospitals.

He noted that “many schools and hospitals are funded by the state, but run by a religious order”, which allows them the exemption.

“The consequence of this Act can have a chilling effect on concerned workers who are divorced or are single parents, as well as members of the LGBT Community, as it can mean that they cannot be open about their status in their workplace,” he added.

The TUI has also welcomed the commitment by Ó Ríordáin. It says that it “has vigorously campaigned for amendment of the act in order to remove the cloud of fear and intimidation which hangs over many of our members because of its continued existence”.

Bullying

GLEN believes that there is a link between homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools and a ‘fear factor’ for lesbian and gay teachers being open about their lives.

“Removal of uncertainty will be an important building block in ensuring that schools can urgently and comprehensively address bullying in our schools, as required by the Department of Education and its anti-bullying procedures,” concluded Irwin-Gowran.

The Bill discussed by Ó Ríordáin was first introduced to the Oireachtas in March 2013 by Senator Ivana Bacik.

Related: It will soon be illegal to discriminate against gay teachers

In Your Words: Being a gay teacher in Ireland

More: Gay group to march in New York St Patrick’s Day parade for the first time

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