Significant Barriers Remain for LGBT+ Teachers in Irish Primary Schools

“Respondents noted the existence of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture in relation to sexual minorities and gender identity”

Due to fears of damaging their career prospects, fewer than one in five teachers who identify as LGBT+ have come out to staff, parents and pupils at school. The majority of teachers who identify as a sexual minority considered declaring their identity as too risky, especially if they were not in a full-time position. 

These findings emerge from a survey conducted by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO). The INTO Equality Committee in conjunction with the INTO LGBT+ Teachers’ Group, surveyed its members across the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on their experiences as LGBT+ teachers in primary schools, and non-LGBT+ teachers on their awareness of LGBT+ issues. Out of the 2,362 respondents, 10 per cent identified as LGBT+ while 90 per cent identified as heterosexual. 

Those in the Republic were more likely to have come out, with 18 percent of LGBT+ teachers having declared their sexual orientation to the school community, compared to only 12 percent in the North. One in three teachers also stated that they hesitated from referencing LGBT+ identities in their teaching. 

These findings surface despite legislation that makes it obligatory for schools to protect staff from discrimination. The legislation was tightened in 2015, in order to prevent religious schools from using ethos as a defence in sexual orientation cases. 

Securing a permanent contract was a significant factor, with 43 per cent of LGBT+ teachers in the Republic reporting a positive association between having a secure job and the decision to come out at school. Participants expressed concerns about potential bias during interviews if their sexual identity was known. One respondent commented that there was; “still a lot of prejudice out there. I didn’t want to take the risk that one of these people would be sitting on the interview panel.” 

Respondents noted the existence of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture in relation to sexual minorities and gender identity, prevailing in some schools due to their religious ethos, alongside the use of derogatory language among members of staff. 

These findings speak to the importance of fostering a safe, inclusive, and respectful school environment for both staff and students, and the significant barriers that stand in the way. LGBT+ teachers cited the role of principals and school management as integral to the creation of an inclusive environment within schools, but many felt that principals are often constrained by managerial authorities. 

Data from the survey also showed low levels of awareness among teaching staff on the subjects of gender non-conformity and gender transition. The Department of Education and Skills mandates all teachers to put into practice strategies to spread awareness on, and prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying. However, 89 per cent of all respondents reported receiving no training, with many requesting that guidelines and training be made available, so as to enable them to effectively address these issues among pupils. 

In response to the findings of the survey, INTO General Secretary John Boyle said the organisation would “seek to ensure that all teachers and schools understand and reaffirm their commitment to LGBT+ inclusion and visibility. Emphasising the need for comprehensive training and support for teachers, he stated that the union “will be to the forefront in demanding the Government delivers on this front.”