April 12, 2010

Schools urged to address gay/lesbian student issue to avoid suicide risks

Irish Examiner

SCHOOLS need directly to address and offer guidance to gay and lesbian students to avoid them becoming suicide risks, the ASTI conference was told yesterday.

Tony McKernan, (Limerick South), Equal Opportunities Com- mittee, said a past survey had shown that half had been verbally abused and 33% had heard teachers make homophobic comments.

"The major risk to students in sit- uations like this is suicide and, as teachers, we need to be extremely vigilant," he said.

As for discrimination against gay teachers, he said this took many forms and that clear policies were needed in every school to show that they were open to diversity. A code dealing with this already exists, but in practice, schools can openly dis- criminate against those teachers where it could be viewed as going against the religious ethos of a school – "effectively an opt-out clause".

"This section should be immedi- ately removed from the legislation and consigned to the dustbin." The vast majority of parents wantthe issue of homophobic bullyingdealt with by school policies, accord-ing to unpublished research, he said.

The conference heard that unpub-lished results from a survey of 2,000parents found that 82% of parentsfelt that issues related to sexual ori-entation should be addressed, while90% of parents felt that negative atti-tudes to lesbian, gay and bisexualpeople should be addressed inschools. ' The findings, a result of a 2006study by Dr Jim Gleeson and OrlaMcCormack from the Departmentof Education and Professional Stud-ies at the University of Limerick,were highlighted by teachers whostressed suicide was a risk for manygay and lesbian students in schools.

Meanwhile, Mary Ohle (DublinNorth West) said age discriminationwas a big issue for some membersand there was a need for a gay andlesbian statement in schools.

She also said the under-representa-tion of women when it comes toprincipal positions was "striking".

Edel Mclnerney told of how a58-year-old teacher, Mary Francis,went for a principal's position whereshe was asked "why are you applyingfor this position at this stage of yourlife?".

"A can of worms was opened," shesaid, before Ms Francis was awarded€10,000 after challenging the pro-cess.

Carmcl Heneghan, Tuam branch,said teaching has an ageing profile,yet new entrants to the professionfaced "huge challenges" regardingissues such as casuansation of theprofession and worries over pensionentitlements. She said age diversityneeded to be debated and the ASTI sCommittee would be looking at thisin the coming year.

Kevin Brogan, (Drogheda), saidmembers with disabilities had facedsituations where Medmark, whichadministers the Occupational HealthService for Teachers, are saying peo-ple are fit to return to work whenthey were not fit to do so.

One speaker pointed out malesseemed to be over-represented with-in the hierarchy of the ASTI, when68% of members were women.