Double lives for gay teachers in Ireland

Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:42pm EST
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By Carmel Crimmins

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Schools in Ireland can be hostile places for gay people, particularly the staff rooms.

Gay, lesbian or bisexual teachers in many Irish schools -- which are still dominated by the Catholic Church -- risk discrimination or even the sack if they reveal their sexuality, thanks to a law that permits religious employers to penalize employees for actions undermining their religious standards.

"When you are in the school system, you are caught up in the ethos of the school, you are caught up in the silence," said Leo Kilroy, 34, who used to teach in a Catholic-run primary school in Dublin's inner city.

"You are aware that if you come out as a gay or a lesbian you may experience discrimination. Your very existence in that post is up for challenge."

The Church has been toppled from its once pre-eminent position in Irish life thanks to rising prosperity, membership of the European Union, the shift from farm to city and wave after wave of sex abuse scandals. Ireland's recent decision to close its embassy in the Vatican brought relations to a historic low.

But the Church's influence is still profound in two key areas -- schools and family law, which is governed by a constitution still bearing the legacy of Ireland's Catholic past.

More than nine in ten primary schools and half of all high schools are run by the Church. The boards of such schools are typically chaired by a parish priest and, although the state pays the teachers' salaries, the Church still has a say in enrolment and recruitment.

Kilroy came out as a gay man in his late 20s after he left his teaching post.   Continued...

<p>Linda Cullen (L) and her partner Feargha Ni Bhroin pose in their house in the village of Blackrock in South County Dublin November 2, 2011. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton</p>