Homophobia in Catholic schools: Teachers’ rights and experiences in Canada and Australia

Year: 2018

Author: Callaghan, Tonya, van Leent, Lisa

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The rights, actual or perceived, of teachers to be ‘out’ in Catholic schools is not only a legislative minefield, but a reflection of personal and cultural beliefs and values. Teachers might rely on institutional protections such as federal laws and legislation from individual jurisdictions, however the legal contexts are often complicated and untested. Therefore, teachers rely on their personal beliefs and local school community culture and policies to develop their understandings about their rights. This paper will draw on the experiences of teachers from Australia and Canada who have worked in Catholic schools. The two lead researchers bring together separate investigations relating to the experiences of teachers to reveal the disheartening similarities despite differing legal and policy contexts.
Recently in Australia, the religious freedom review which was initiated by the Prime Minister following the same-sex marriage vote, has sparked debate about teachers’ rights and the rights of religious schools to discriminate in hiring and firing staff. In Australia, in Queensland in particular, teachers working in Catholic schools are bound by a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ legislative context. Teachers cannot be dismissed based on their sexual orientation or gender identity (terms in the legislation are narrowly defined but addressed in the full paper). However, they can be dismissed if their values do not align with religious beliefs of the school. This phenomenographic study reveals teachers’ experiences working in Catholic schools in Queensland, Australia.
Little is known about the experiences of gender and sexually diverse educators in Canadian Catholic schools. This section of the presentation reveals previously unreported empirical data from a qualitative study that compares the treatment of and attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (lgbtq) teachers in publicly-funded Catholic school systems in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario. The findings paint a disturbing portrait. Of the 6 teacher participants in the study, 4 are no longer teaching in Catholic schools and 3 of those 4 lost their jobs for contravening Catholic doctrine about non-heterosexuality. In order to help explain how homophobia operates, the teacher participants’ experiences are theorized using critical theories.
These two studies demonstrate that problems still exist for queer educators and this has significant implications for the field of education, resonating strongly with the theme of this year’s AARE conference. Being out and safe at work is not just a benefit to the queer educator – students and employers also stand to gain as well.