Following ShoutOut’s rejection from Coláiste Eoin, Ruth Murphy, South Dublin Co-Chair of the organisation, discusses what this means for Irish secondary school students.

Ruth Murphy, South Dublin Co-Chair of ShoutOut
Ruth Murphy, South Dublin Co-Chair of ShoutOut

ShoutOut is an organisation that give workshops in Irish secondary schools. Recently some of their workshops were cancelled at last minute. These workshops were to be given to transition year students of Coláiste Eoin. This is the basis of the news. This however is not the whole story.

Being LGBTQ+ in Ireland is difficult, especially in secondary school. A survey carried about by ShoutOut in 2012 found that 67% of 624 student respondents had witnessed homophobic or sexuality-based bullying in their school. ShoutOut gives workshops to transitions year students to combat this issue. ShoutOut promotes positivity around LGBTQ+ issues and discourages bullying and stigmatizing. To do this they give interactive workshops that have the students decide for themselves where they stand on LGBTQ+ issues. Students must ponder questions such as “What does LGBTQ+ stand for?”, “Should we avoid using homophobic slurs?”, “Do they affect anyone?” ShoutOut promotes discussion and realisation. At the end of each workshop students come up with ideas for what could be done in their school to make it easier for LGBTQ+ students. Recent suggestions given by students include “advertising supports for LGBTQ+ students”, “giving talks at an earlier age”, “have an LGBT support group”, “have positive awareness posters”. Ideas such as these are returned to the schools after the workshops.

ShoutOut is not a political group. Although the vast majority of ShoutOut volunteers do support marriage equality it is not something we preach. ShoutOut is not trying to get students, who are too young anyway, to vote yes. ShoutOut simply wants it to be easy to be LGBTQ+ in Irish secondary schools or at least no different than anyone else’s secondary school experience.

The organisation is run by volunteers, mostly students from the ages of 20-25. Myself and all those who help run ShoutOut are extremely grateful for the hard work of its volunteers, without whom the organisation could not survive.

The volunteers who entered Coláiste Eoin to give several workshops to over 80 students found that they were not wanted. Coláiste Eoin is the first school ShoutOut ever gave a workshop in and the organisation has returned to the school since that first workshop. The feedback from the school for previous workshops has always been positive. This time however the volunteers were told that “the board of management had decided that both sides of the argument should be given”. ShoutOut are anti-bullying, anti-stigmatizing (though we tend to explain our ideas in terms of positivity which is much more encouraging for workshop participants). To be on “the other side” of ShoutOut is not to be on the other side of a marriage referendum. It is to be in favour of bullying and stigma.

To be on “the other side” of ShoutOut is not to be on the other side of a marriage referendum. It is to be for bullying and for stigma.

Coláiste Eoin have since commented that though there have been no problems with previous workshops “the Board of Management have received written communications from a number of parents outlining their concerns regarding the workshop”. They say that they had to “to seek the advice available from Catholic management representative bodies”. The school appears to be taking no blame for the issue. The school is trying to tell us that their hands were tied. This statement was only released after the school received backlash for cancelling the workshops. The school now say that they merely want to postpone these workshops.

These workshops had been organised well in advance with communication occurring between the school and ShoutOut since it was booked. We cannot say what really drove this last minute decision of the school to cancel the workshops just before they’re about to start. It’s easy to tell, even with Coláiste Eoin pointing fingers in several directions that there is a problem here. It is not a problem only in Coláiste Eoin but in schools across the country that are afraid to promote a positive message in relation to LGBTQ+ issues as they fear it may not match their catholic ethos.

This search for balance may remind some of us of the BAI’s ruling that said that if anyone is to talk on Irish radio in favour of marriage equality the programme must also feature someone against. Is this what Coláiste Eoin want to do? Is the school going to get an anti-LGBTQ+ talk now? Are they going to borrow Breda O’Brien from down the road and have her explain in detail why no two men should marry? To do this Coláiste Eoin would have to put the time and effort in to get speakers from what their board of management may call “opposing sides”. While the result of this referendum may have a huge effect on the future of secondary school students this is not the issue. This workshop should have nothing to do with the upcoming marriage referendum. With the workshops being, hopefully, only postponed we should hope that this is not to give the school time to get an “opposing” argument.

With all this, we can’t ignore the fact that plenty of schools across Ireland may not have cancelled ShoutOut workshops but never arranged them in the first place.

With all this, we can’t ignore the fact that plenty of schools across Ireland may not have cancelled ShoutOut workshops but never arranged them in the first place. ShoutOut is a free service offered to schools around the country. Many do not take up the offer. This is despite the fact that schools are supposed to discourage and try to prevent bullying; homophobic, transphobic or otherwise. Many teachers are afraid to teach about LGBTQ+ issues, particularly in catholic schools. Getting a group in like ShoutOut takes the weight off the teacher. Irish schools should teach tolerance and be accepting and aware of their diverse students. Preventing anti-bullying workshops is completely going against that.

ShoutOut has never received any complaints before this. This is not about ShoutOut as an organisation. This is a school covering its students’ ears from a group that promote acceptance. ShoutOut want to give a positive message to LGBTQ+ youth about growing up in Ireland. What message is this rejection sending students? How can an LGBTQ+ student feel accepted in their school if an organisation that supports them isn’t even allowed to enter the school?

From recent articles saying that the students of the school would like to protest against ShoutOut’s rejection by the school it can be seen that the students want the workshop. The students want to have the workshop and the volunteers want to give it. The workshop is promoting positivity and acceptance. Why are the board of management suddenly after a couple of years and many emails deciding that on this day they do not want this workshop? Why must “Catholic management representative bodies” have the final say? Why must they fight anti-bullying workshops?