Education International
Education International

Organising and supporting LGBT teachers

published 6 August 2013 updated 12 August 2013

A teachers’ union seminar in Stockholm has focused on the need for teacher unionists to include, represent, and defend lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teachers and students.

The LGBT network of the Swedish Teachers’ Union (Lärarförbundet), one of EI’s national affiliates, organised a seminar on “The role of LGBT teachers in the teachers’ organisations in four European countries” on 2 August in Stockholm. The meeting reunited representatives from Lärarförbundet, GEW/Germany, INTO/Ireland, and NASWUT/UK. The event was organised in conjunction with the Stockholm Pride Festival.

The seminar aimed at sharing experiences among teachers unions and networks working to promote LGBT rights in their unions, the education sector, and society.

LGBT networks: an important step for teachers and pupils

“One of our core values is that we are an organisation representing all teachers,” said Lärarförbundet Vice-President Inger Maurin. “Therefore it is important for us to include LGBT teachers.”

Lärarförbundet has successfully secured the inclusion of LGBT issues in the teacher curriculum in its discussions with the Swedish Government, Maurin added. Materials have been developed to facilitate the discussion between teachers and students on this topic.

“No teacher should be afraid at his or her work place because of other people’s prejudices,” said Lärarförbundet International Secretary Henrik Herber. “Unions have a great role to play tackling ignorance and fear. Unions should have the capacity to organise in diversity and the ability to take up the concerns of individuals/collectives and ensure these are mainstreamed in the union’s agenda.”

Unions striving for decent work and social justice

In recent years, many States have made a determined effort to strengthen human rights protection in these areas. Important steps have been taken by the United Nations. For instance, on 17 June, 2011, the UN Human Rights Council adopted its first resolution focusing solely on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed (LGBTI) persons. The resolution formally recognises LGBTI rights as human rights and condemns discrimination, violence, and human rights abuses against LGBTI persons.

In addition, the resolution directed the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present in December 2011 the first UN report on challenges and abuses faced by LGBTI persons worldwide. Recently the UN Human Rights Office's new initiative, Free and Equal, was released.

Herber also acknowledged statements released by UNESCO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the occasion of the day against homophobia.

Promoting workplace rights for LGBT women and men reflects the attention being given to such rights in other UN fora. More than 60 member States have acknowledged sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination under the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111); and the ILO’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Standards and Recommendations has welcomed this development.

National issues around LGBT

INTO LGBT Network co-chair Cathal O'Riada deplored the fact that it is not easy for a teacher to come out in Ireland, as it has a strong Roman Catholic tradition.

The INTO supports the proposed referendum to amend the Irish Constitution to provide for same-sex marriage, as the report of the convention on the Constitution has recommended.

GEW representative Heiko Rohde presented the three different network levels representing LGBT teachers in German schools, as well as diverse materials produce by his teacher LGBT network.

Group discussions on mutual challenges, possible education union actions, and support and partnerships were later held. The issue of joining other networks - diversity networks or even open diversity groups - was raised.  LGBT Networks should have more opportunities to explore and learn from each other.

Participants also sent a message of appreciation to organisers of the successful Baltic Pride in Vilnius, Lithuania, on 27 July, in particular to the teachers, education personnel, students, and unionists, who actively support the respect of fundamental rights in Lithuania.

“Improving the situation of groups subject to discrimination including LGBT teachers remains a priority in the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) Action Programme and we encourage actions taken by member organisations,” said EI ETUCE Director Martin Rømer.