Overwhelming majority of LGBT+ teachers in Ireland scared to come out at school, warns union boss

Patrick Kelleher
·2-min read

An estimated 4,000 teachers in Ireland remain in the closet at school due to fear of discrimination or prejudice, according to a leading trade union.

Speaking at the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO)’s annual congress on Wednesday (7 April), incoming president Joe McKeown said significant strides had been made in achieving equality for LGBT+ teachers.

McKeown referenced the findings of a survey conducted last year, which found that just 18 per cent of LGBT+ teachers in the Republic of Ireland and 12 per cent in Northern Ireland have come out in their schools.

“This means that there are approximately 4,000 teachers on this island who do not feel comfortable revealing their true identities in schools,” McKeown said, according to the Irish Independent.

McKeown called on school boards and patrons to actively show they are welcoming to LGBT+ teachers by leaving affirming information in staff rooms and introducing LGBT+ themed books into school libraries.

He also noted that 89 per cent of teachers have not received any training on stopping homophobic and transphobic bullying, presenting issues for both LGBT+ teachers and students.

LGBT+ teachers ‘are being told to stay in the closet by homophobic principals’

Speaking at the conference, teacher Seán Hegarty said he know of teachers who came out to colleagues and were then “filled with fear” that they would be outed in the workplace.

Cecilia Gavigan, a former chair of the INTO’s LGBT+ committee, said she has 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 told the conference that she knows of a teacher who was forbidden from coming out to pupils’ parents by the school principal.

The INTO passed a motion at the conference committing to protecting union members from discrimination “particularly with regard to recruitment and promotion, of all teachers regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation”.

The union also condemned “any homophobic, biphobic and transphobic attitudes that may be expressed, including implicitly, in schools”.

In the Republic of Ireland, 90 per cent of schools are run by religious denominations. Up until 2015, religious schools were legally allowed to discriminate against LGBT+ teachers – however, the law was then changed to better protect queer staff.

Despite the legal change, discrimination in the school system is still rife, advocates have warned, with many teachers petrified that coming out will damage their career prospects.