Statements made by Ireland’s Education Minister Ruairi Quinn at yesterdays ASTI Conference in Cork of his intention to bar discrimination against gay people that may prevent them taking up employment as teachers have been welcomed.

Sandra Irwin-Gowran of Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Equality Network said: “The Minister’s statement sends an unambiguous message to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teachers that they will be protected in employment and in accessing employment and promotion in the same way as their heterosexual counterparts. This will do much to remove the ‘chill factor’ that the threat of Section 37.1 brings for lesbian and gay teachers.”

Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act exempts religious controlled institutions from the provisions of the Act on the grounds of protecting their religious ethos.

While no case has yet been brought which alleges discrimination in this context, Section 37.1 has meant that employees or prospective employees, whose lives may possibly be interpreted to be contrary to the religious ethos of some religions, have lived in fear for their jobs and their prospects within their employment.

Ms Irwin-Gowran said: “GLEN have strongly welcomed and supported the draft Bill recently published by Senator Averil Power of Fianna Fail. This Bill aims to ensure that employees or prospective employees in religious run institutions, such as schools, cannot be discriminated against just because they are married, single, divorced or in a civil partnership, or because they are lesbian or gay.

She continued: “GLEN welcomes the involvement of the Minister in the discussions on the Bill. There is now strong cross-party support to progress the issues through the Oireachtas and we look forward to supporting further progress to finally remove this potential for discrimination from the Statue Book.

“GLEN has worked with all parties in bringing attention to the impact of Section 37.1 and we hope that speedy progress will mean another school year will not pass when lesbian and gay teachers feel under threat”.

The Minister linked change of Section 37.1 to his proposal for a Forum on Bullying to take place on May 17th which will be supported by a Working Group on Homophobic Bullying.

Ms Irwin-Gowran concluded: “In order to eliminate homophobic bullying from our schools we need to ensure that LGBT people feel safe to be themselves in schools, whether those LGBT people are teachers, ancillary staff or students shouldn’t matter.”