Gay and lesbian teachers in Ireland could be sacked if their lifestyle is seen as undermining the religious ethos of schools, a conference was told this week.

Members of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) group at the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation conference said that the Employment Equality Act permits schools to dismiss homosexual teachers from religious schools.

Section 37 of the Act states that schools that promote certain religious values can take action “to prevent an employee from undermining the religious ethos of the institution.”

The LGB group, which has 35 members and was launched in 2004, is now campaigning for the abolition of this section of the Act.

“Section 37 casts a long shadow that if we are out in school as gay teachers, then the possibility of dismissal might become a reality,” Shelia Crowley, who chairs the group, told the conference, reports The Irish Times.

“We feel that if we live openly as LGB teachers in schools under denominational management, then this could be construed as undermining the religious ethos of an institution.

“Many of our group cannot afford to take this risk and be open in school about our sexuality.”

She added that gay and lesbian teachers faced “isolation, alienation, harassment, discrimination and downright bigotry” on a regular basis and stated that only six out of the 35 members were in a position to be open about their sexuality in school.

“I have been teaching for over 30 years in seven different schools all under denominational management. For 24 of these years I have been living with my partner, a woman.

“However, my life as a lesbian teacher has been covered by a cloak of invisibility to colleagues and pupils. Silence is not neutral and it can – and often does – mask homophobia.”

Ms Crowley gave the conference some examples of homophobia in schools, including a teacher who lost out on a promotion because of her sexual orientation; homophobic comments being made in the presence of LGB teachers and a staff representative removing LBG leaflets from a teachers’ union magazine as he considered it ‘inappropriate.’

Gay issues were raised at the conference of the Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland’s other main teaching union, yesterday.

It unveiled a new information resource on homophobic bullying, in conjunction with the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.

More information about the INTO LGB group can be found on the union’s website www.into.ie which also provides an initial contact for those wishing to join.