The Loophole
Section 37

What are you so scared of?

Amidst the legal symbolism of the scales of Justice, the blindfold and the sword, this multivalent symbol, which is both section symbol and loophole, emerges. The loophole is a paradoxical symbol which can work differently depending on the case. In the context of Section 37, the ideologies at play within contemporary Irish society, those of progressive egalitarianism and Catholicism are visibly in tension. The loophole acts as a silencing device.

Thanks to this loophole, gay teachers can theoretically be sacked; they certainly have no protection and are forced into living in the closet, hedging around the subject of their personal lives or effectively splitting personal from professional, perhaps fearing victimisation or being sacked. Little is mentioned in the school curriculum in relation to sexual orientation, except in SPHE (Social and Personal Health Education) but even there information is haphazard. How can schools tackle homophobic bullying, said to be endemic, if this is something which dare not speak its name (except as a term of abuse) a century after the coining of that phrase. According to the 2009 BelongTo report on LGBTQ under 25s in Ireland, 58% reported homophobic bullying in their schools while 25% had been physically threatened by school peers. Over a third of those aged 25 years and under had thought seriously about ending their lives within the past year. Overall, according to surveys conducted in the US, the UK, and Ireland, Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are between four and five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. (Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey 2007 4, Stonewall UK 5) and more than 1/3 of LGB youth report having made a suicide attempt. Ireland mentions its high suicide rate frequently but fails to join up the dots with gay rights politics. School is a ‘protected’ heteronormative environment, but who or what is protected and who is not protected?

Where is the culture of respect for LGBTQ people, for everyone indeed?
In the middle of the Equality law, up pops the Catholic Church, like a return of the repressed, shame, and successfully enshrines that shame within the law. It resembles a palimpsest, where an older text (the Catholic church’s teachings) underlies the progressive text of the Equality act, making a mockery of the word ‘equality’.

The loophole is a dream symbol, a nightmare symbol for gay rights. An antiquated sign, as religious symbol meets legal symbol.

I want to put the ideology on the walls of the schools, literally, make the ideology underpinning the institution visible; drawing on Foucault, to look at the power relations and dogmas of the medical, legal, scholastic and the way in which minds are shaped by these ideologies flowing through their corridors.

Or perhaps in this comedy of unequal equals, the loophole is the legal equivalent of a play within a play which runs counter to the main play, seeking to undermine the play it is in. Is this is a fear of ‘the promotion’ of homosexuality when in fact it is heterosexuality that is constantly, incessantly, insidiously ‘promoted’?

This ‘Catholic ethos’ has in the not-so-distant past been used against single mother teachers, heterosexual couples ‘living in sin’ as well. In the present tense it is in the area of queer politics that it has its profoundest negative effect. To quote one recent example, a pupil was not allowed by her school to write a Leaving Cert. thesis on gay marriage and civil partnership.

This loophole disproportionately affects schools because of the predominance of Church run schools. A democracy (and not a theocracy) means separation of powers, between executive, legislature and judiciary, as well as between Church and State. The separation of powers should also extend to the separation of the education system from the Church. We are in a situation where a child’s entry into school is conditional on the production of baptismal certificates by parents, who are sometimes forced into a hypocritical display of religiosity. Church schools need not be banned, they need simply become an opt-into minority while the majority of schools are secularised.

Clause 28, which was introduced by the Tories in the UK in the eighties was a similar battle. The clause stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. It was finally repealed in Scotland in 2000 and in England in 2003. Prior to this it nonetheless had the effect being a focal point around which to protest, somewhat like civil partnership or marriage rights today.

Recommendations for the curriculum, by Stonewall (2010) among others are that everything that has been erased be put back, that queer exists throughout the curriculum, in English, History, French… In this way future generations will not have to be indoctrinated into heteronormativity the way we all were. There has been enough silence in this country, on too many issues. It is about time all voices were allowed to speak freely.

Susan Thomson has exhibited video, film and writing work at venues internationally including the LAB, Dublin, the UK National Review of Live Art, Glasgow, X Initiative, New York and at the International Video Art festivals of Alcoi and Valencia, Spain. The film Fire Practice Theatre was an official selection at HDFEST Film Festival Portland, Oregon, and has been exhibited at Union Docs, New York, thisisnotashop and Broadcast gallery, Dublin and at ‘No Soul for Sale’ in the Tate Modern, London. She holds a Masters in European Literature from Magdalen College, Oxford University and a Masters in Visual Arts Practices from DLIADT, Dublin. She has received many Visual Arts bursaries and has written for publications including Circa, Women’s News, DIVA and The Times. Her artist’s book The Swimming Diaries is available from Artbook@ PS1, New York and is taught in a number of third level institutions. She produced an Irish Film Board short An Rinceoir shown at the Galway film Festival in 2011 and is currently writing and directing, Ghost Empire, a film on British postcolonial queer subjects, funded by the Arts Council of Ireland.