Discrimination written into law: Section 37 must go!

By Oisin Kelly

Following the strong Yes vote in the Marriage Equality referendum all teachers can now marry their partners, but some could get disciplined or sacked for it.

Under Section 37 of the Employment Equality Act workers in education and health can be fired, not hired or marginalised at work if their sexual orientation, gender identity or family status is not in line with their employer’s religious ethos. In a state where 96% of primary schools are controlled by religious organisations this has a far reaching impact on LGBTQ workers who feel driven to silence or secrecy about their personal lives.

In June 2015, Anti Austerity Alliance TDs put forward an Employment Equality Bill in the Dáil to end the ‘religious ethos’ discrimination against workers in education, health and other workplaces.

Creating a “chilling effect”

Section 37 is not just a dead letter on the books and not enforced. It is not uncommon for a LGBTQ teacher to be called into the principal’s office for “a chat” when it is found out a teacher is gay. LGBTQ teachers have reported being discriminated against on the school discovering their sexual orientation.

LGBTQ teachers in church run schools have reported not getting promotions and having responsibilities taken away.
Church control of schools and Section 37 creates a “chilling effect” on LGBTQ issues. Teachers are inhibited in tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying due to the religious ethos of most schools who see LGBTQ people as ‘disordered’. Schools remain a place where homophobia and transphobia can still thrive unchallenged, having a destructive impact on LGBTQ students.

The Dáil voted for the AAA Bill in June. This wasn’t because they supported the full extension of employment equality laws to schools and hospitals. Three years ago Labour and Fine Gael voted down a far weaker Bill than the AAA Bill in the Seanad. What has changed in the meantime is the movement behind the ‘Yes’ vote for Marriage Equality.

Separate Church & State

The AAA Bill will now be shelved in a Dáil committee and not progressed. Feeling the pressure, the government are now moving on their own Bill on Section 37. This Bill aims to limit explicit LGBTQ discrimination, but would still maintain religious discrimination against atheists and minority faiths and allow LGBTQ discrimination through the backdoor of ‘religious grounds’. It would allow private schools freedom to continue to discriminate with no limits.
This issue points to the need to separate church and state. Establishment politicians are unwilling to tackle the power of the churches in schools and hospitals. We must have a secular education system and health service; well resourced and open to all.