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Leo Kilroy, 34, came out as a gay man in his late 20s after leaving his teaching post at a Catholic-run primary school in Dublin’s inner city. Photo by: REUTERs

Gay teachers tell of double life in Ireland

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Leo Kilroy, 34, came out as a gay man in his late 20s after leaving his teaching post at a Catholic-run primary school in Dublin’s inner city. Photo by: REUTERs

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual teachers in Irish schools, many of which remain under the control  of the Catholic church, fear they will face discrimination or possible termination if they reveal their sexuality.

“When you are in the school system, you are caught up in the ethos of the school, you are caught up in the silence," Leo Kilroy (34),  a former school teacher, told Reuters.

Kilroy used to teach in a Catholic run primary school in Dublin’s inner city and says there are consequences for coming out to co-workers.

"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."

More than nine in ten primary school and half of all high schools are run by the church, reports Reuters. Typically the boards of such schools are chaired by a parish priest, who plays an influential role in the hiring and firing of employees.

After leaving his teaching post, Kilroy came out in his late 20s.

"One of the reasons that I was freer to come out was because I was free of the school system. A gay and lesbian person in a staff room has to censor themselves," he said.

"I know of gay teachers who have been passed over for promotion, they have been verbally abused and discriminated against and had to suffer jokes about gay or lesbian people."

Kilroy now lectures trainee teachers and is a treasurer of a group which represents lesbian, gay, and bisexual primary school teachers. The group has a mere 35 members, out of an estimated 31,000 teachers employed by the sector.
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Patrick Dempsey (19) often pretended to be sick in order to avoid attending school in Dublin’s inner city.

"From first year right up until I left I had to deal with bullying, name-calling, being afraid to walk down a corridor.

"When you know someone is going to call you a faggot or a queer and you know you are going to be embarrassed in front of 30 or so odd people you are going to want to avoid that at all cost."

Frustrated, the teenager dropped out of the Catholic run school in his final year, as it seemed the staff were ignoring the problem.

"I think it came down to the ethos of the school because it was a Catholic school they didn't have a specific policy towards homophobic bullying," he told Reuters.

"It was so open in the school it was unbelievable. Homophobic language was used by one of the teachers."

A Dublin-based gay youth services group called BeLonG says teenagers nowadays are more comfortable about coming out.

"There is a quiet revolution going on out there. The numbers of young people coming to BeLonG to have more than doubled each year for the last three. It's quite phenomenal," Michael Barron, the group's co-founder told Reuters.

Barron works alongside schools to raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues.

"Some of the best schools we have worked with have been religious schools but it certainly poses a barrier overall," said Barron,.

"The educational system still has that Catholic legacy and in some cases it's more than a legacy, it's still how things are taught.

"We would know of many gay teachers who aren't out in schools. It is an issue. Those gay teachers could provide vital role-modeling for young people, particularly a young person who is struggling, who thinks they are the only gay or transgender young person in the world," he concluded.

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