Irish Education: Of Catholics and Closets
In my previous post I mentioned how schools in Ireland are allowed to deny children admission based on the religious affiliation of their parents. In recent weeks it has come to light that the exemptions provided by the state are also used to intimidate and/or remove staff based on their sexuality. Judging by the personal (and understandably anonymous) testimonies of teachers currently working for schools with Catholic management, one might be forgiven for thinking that management’s handbook had come direct from the Moscow as opposed to Dublin. While the Sochi Olympics shone a light on the ‘homosexual propaganda’ laws that criminalise gay people for, you know, existing, we in the West must not forget the bigotry that exists within our own borders.
The exemptions granted by Ireland to the religious patrons of our schools give them the right to remove any staff member who fails to meet their doctrinal diktats. In short, teachers can get back in the closet or get the fuck out. Multiple stories have emerged of teachers being told that while being gay is not an issue, if they tell their students that being gay is not an issue, their job will be forfeit. Now keep in mind that these teachers’ salaries are paid not by the religious orders, but by the State. The craven unwillingness of our politicians to extend the same work-place protections to these teachers as they do to all other Irish workers is inexcusable. Here is an excerpt to mull over. The sentiments and events in it are repeated several times in the experiences of others.
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.”
So, it’s okay if they don’t ask and you don’t tell.
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.
As a parent there are many things which I consider important when it comes to who should be allowed to teach my children. What qualifications have they earned? How much work experience do they have? These things directly impact on the teacher’s ability to adequately perform the tasks we entrust them with. Their sexuality does not. Who they curl up with in bed at night has no impact on how capable they are to teach in the morning. My interest in teachers’ lives stop as soon as the school bell rings. What they do with other consenting adults after that point is no concern of mine. What is of concern to me is the prospect of talented, caring people who would be a positive influence on my children being forced out of their profession because of unchecked bigotry.
The management boards of these schools seem less concerned with creating a positive environment for learning than they are with enforcing a culture of ignorance. Both my wife and I have people we care about among the many colours of humanity’s rainbow and I will not allow my child to be told that these people are broken or deserving of anything other than respect. For crying out loud, this is the age of smart phones, inter-planetary robot missions and personal gene-mapping. That society’s sexual morality is still based on a system devised by men who forced women to marry their rapists is beyond ridiculous. It is obscene. It is a vestigial remnant of a world-view best forgotten, the cultural equivalent of an appendix that is about to burst and requires immediate excision. Our children deserve better and I can only hope that in the years ahead enough of my compatriots get sick of the Catholic hierarchy and force the government to abolish these human rights-violating exemptions.