Schools would no longer be allowed to discriminate against gay, lesbian and bisexual teachers under new legislation published today (19th February) by Fianna Fáil’s Seanad Spokesperson on Education and Skills, Senator Averil Power.
As the law currently stands, a school could claim that hiring a gay teacher would undermine their religious ethos. Such discrimination is specifically permitted under Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act.
The Programme for Government contains a commitment to change this situation. However, to date, the Government has not taken any steps to do so. According to Senator Power, “Fianna Fáil is taking the initiative by publishing this legislation today and calling on the Government to accept it.”
“The current situation is completely unjust”, Senator Power said. “Over 90% of Irish primary schools are under Catholic management. Such schools could be entitled to refuse to hire a gay or lesbian teacher or principal. Many teachers therefore feel compelled to hide their sexual orientation from their colleagues and pretend to be someone they are not. Our bill would tackle this injustice and prohibit discrimination against LGB teachers.”
Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin commented, “As a republican party, a commitment to fighting discrimination in all forms is a core value for Fianna Fáil. The introduction of civil partnership by the last Government was a major step forward for gay and lesbian couples. This legislation is another key initiative to ensure that LGB people can live open and happy lives, free from discrimination.”
The Bill has been welcomed by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network and the INTO Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Group.
“Removing the threat of section 37.1 would provide enormous and immediate relief for lesbian and gay teachers who just want to get on with their jobs without the constant threat of dismissal hanging over them,” said Cathal O’Riada, a primary school principal and the Chair of the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Group.
GLEN Director of Education Policy Sandra Irwin-Gowran added, “While no case has yet been brought which alleges discrimination in that context, the threat implied by Section 37.1 has acted as a ‘chill factor’ for lesbian and gay teachers. It has meant that employees or prospective employees, whose lives may possibly be interpreted to be contrary to the religious ethos of some religions, have lived in fear for their jobs and their prospects within their employment.”
If the Bill is enacted, schools will still be entitled to insist that staff members demonstrate respect towards their ethos and not actively seek to undermine it. However, they will not be permitted to treat staff or potential staff differently simply because of their sexual orientation or marital/civil status. In addition to protecting LGB teachers, the Bill would also prevent discrimination against teachers who are unmarried, separated or divorced.