Northern Ireland

PLATFORM: Teachers proud to celebrate Pride

Members of the INTO taking part in Pride celebrations in Belfast
Members of the INTO taking part in Pride celebrations in Belfast

During Belfast Pride week, the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) stood in solidarity with its LGBT+ staff, members, pupils and parents. However, the north's schools need to do much more work, writes Northern Secretary Gerry Murphy.


THE current school environment is a much changed and welcoming place compared to what it was even 10-15 years ago. This reflects the changes in the wider society, and today it may be true to say that it's never been a better time to `out' in education. Yet we still have a long way to go in making every school LGBT+ friendly.

We only have to look at the evidence from the Department of Education (DE) commissioned research into the post-primary school experiences of 16-21-year-old LGBT+ young people to realise that everything is not right.

Half of those surveyed have experienced bullying, a majority of both LGB respondents (61.3 per cent) and Trans respondents (73.8 per cent) experienced a negative impact on their mental health.

While some schools are to be commended for their efforts in welcoming and valuing those young people who identify as LGBT+, the others need to pay attention and change accordingly. When two-thirds of the young people surveyed indicated that they did not feel welcomed or valued within school as a young LGBT+ person, there remains work to be done.

School leaders and boards of governors are crucial in creating outward-looking and diverse safe spaces for all of our young people here to grow, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, ability, race or religion and environment; everyone must be treated with dignity and respect.

Our schools must seek to promote more LGBT+ visibility in lessons, assemblies, wall displays and other day to day learning environments. How can our young LGBT+ students ever feel comfortable with who they are when every relationship that is ever discussed, is one they don’t relate to?

The approach to Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) in a vast number of schools here is too narrow. It avoids the issue and, in some cases, undermines the emotional well-being of those that can't see a reflection of themselves within it. Too many parents, teachers and boards of governors remain of the view that the young people in their care, having been exposed to the existing RSE programme, are now adequately prepared for the world of relationships and sex. This is simply not the case for many of our young people.

Moreover our colleagues, LGBT+ teachers, deserve support to be themselves at work thereby improving the diversity of the teaching profession. Positive steps in that direction would include; the establishment of regional hubs to support teachers who are LGBT+ and the creation of a network for LGBT+ teachers. Such progressive changes must not be delayed in this jurisdiction any longer.

Support is accessible. Organisations such as Cara-Friend are available, in many cases free of charge, to work with schools offering advice and support to create and promote school wide learning environments that are LGBT+ inclusive. Principals should use a school development day or days to promote and encourage increased understanding amongst their colleagues as to the needs of the LGBT+ community in their school. Every school could benefit from more engagement with the many support organisations available to the wider LGBT+ community.

INTO held its own `Educating the Educators' event where we provided a three-hour Continuing Professional Development opportunity for all teachers, regardless of union affiliation, in LGBT+ awareness training.

We also look took part in the Belfast Pride parade, where we displayed how we strive to support our LGBT+ staff, young people and parents.

At INTO we are proud to stand with our LGBT+ brothers and sisters and we invite you to join with us celebrating all that is positive about Pride.