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Church accused over gay bashing

Researchers say Catholic Church, which owns most Irish schools obstructs efforts to tackle widespread homophobia. John Walshe reports.


The silence surrounding homophobia in Irish education has been shattered by a survey which reveals that gay and lesbian pupils are bullied in four out of five secondary schools.

The survey is critical of teachers for failing to tackle the problem. But it also concludes that the Catholic Church is a major contributor to homophobic attitudes. Because it owns most schools in Ireland "nothing can be taught that does not reflect the Church's view on sexuality".

The report says schools fail to provide a safe learning environment for lesbian and gay students.

Of teachers who responded to the questionnaire, 79 per cent were aware of instances of verbal homophobic bullying and 30 per cent of these had encountered such bullying on more than 10 occasions.

Many teachers admitted they have come to expect homophobic name-calling and say they are powerless to deal with it.

"The pervasiveness of homophobic name-calling seemed to be almost out of control, with teachers turning a deaf ear to it unless behaviour got too out of hand," says the report by a team from Dublin City university, led by James Norman.

The researchers found that homophobia is common in boys' schools, where masculinity is largely defined by strength, body size and sporting prowess.

Their study concludes that the Church's teachings are a significant contributor to homophobia. It also suggests teachers in rural schools are wary of tackling lesbian and gay issues because of the hold clergy members have on their school's management board.

It warns of a developing conflict between school and government policies on sexuality. Only 10 per cent of schools include references to homophobia in their policy on anti-bullying, according to the report - based on a survey of 364 teachers of social personal and health education as well as qualitative interviews with 125 teachers, students and parents. It recommends training for teachers to promote acceptance of sexual diversity among students.

The launch of the publication was accompanied by a warning from the Equality Authority that heads could be in breach of the equal status Acts, which cover sexual orientation, if they failed to take reasonable steps to prevent homophobic bullying.

Education minister Mary Hanafin has promised new guidelines on bullying, including homophobic bullying, for schools.

The report ends with a quote from a head ordering a gaylesbian support poster be removed: "Although I have nothing against it myself, I don't think the school is ready for this type of thing."

Niall Crowley, the chief executive of the Equality Authority, said this comment "encapsulates both the problems experienced by lesbian and gay students and the resistance to change".

opinion 23 Straight talk - researching gay and lesbian issues in the school curriculum, Dublin city university. See www.schoolingsexualities.ieschoolingsexualities-phase2report.pdf

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