The F- Word, The Piper and The Referendum

By Elaine Feeney

I like words, this week I like kibosh. It fits this week.

I’ve also been mulling over the word [faggot]. It means bundle of sticks. As a teacher of boys, this is a common word I hear. As are many other motley words. But I like words, and I don’t like censorship. We know the pejorative nature of language, especially around minority groups, and as glottal and fricative and plosive as some of these words are, I know their crushing power. The word [faggot] derives from a burden to carry, a burden to carry a bundle of sticks.

Name-calling is a burden to carry too. This, I do know.

I’ve also concerned my week of words, with ideas, because behind words are ideas, theocracy, republic, the Yes Vote, the No Vote, church and state, state run schools, church run schools, who’s paying the salary, and how the constitution in effect supports discrimination and the common language that surrounds it.

Linguistic research has often considered the use of discriminatory language, and thus points to a strong belief that being very strict on such language, effectively banning the use of discriminatory words, leads to a healthier multi-cultural society. It’s difficult to disagree with this. In 2013, Liverpool FC issued a list of derogatory words to the club ‘to look out for.’ But will a ban on words ultimately change the mindset of s/he who holds the word power?

The Irish constitution partly holds the power to make the word [faggot] as despicable as the [N-word].

While teaching the film, Billy Elliot, to a group of teenage boys, one student loudly remarked that Billy and Michael ‘are a pair of [faggots]’. Another student became quite irate and said, ‘Miss that’s a curse-word, he’s after using a curse word, and it’s offensive.’

As quick as I am to react to all things offensive, there is something deeply unnerving in my position as a teacher in a religious school.

Religious patronage of our schools is a most unusual dynamic. I check myself before responding. I am also very envious of my Math’s colleagues. This doesn’t come up in the teaching of geometry.

So can I absolutely defend my LGBT students?

Can I really defend my opposition to the word? Teenagers are uncannily brilliant at their ability to refute my arguments, including a quick recognition of my rocky foundation.

And for all my torturous years of ‘in-service training’, someone in ‘the know’ has yet to tell me where I absolutely stand defending LGBT students against discrimination as a teacher in a religious school.

Apart from telling me to ‘be careful’. This, I have heard a lot. Pro-Choice referendum, ‘be careful’ Marriage Equality referendum, ‘be careful’, writing on institutional abuse, ‘be careful’.

I am expecting a horse-head in my bed.

The sentiment of United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and Canon teachings are at odds with each other, so the formulation of Anti-Bullying and Admission Policies in school’s with a religious ethos; often based loosely on both of the aforementioned, with a little Latin for posterity, must be very challenging.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, so says the UNDHR.

Well, no, they actually don’t. And the moment you convince yourself you really do have freedom of expression, even if it only exists in your own head, then there’s the complication of the Blasphemy Laws. Some claim they are not worth the paper they’re inked on. But they are still inked.

Problem is, student who said [faggot], wasn’t meaning to offend. And how do I stand firmly against homophobia, given the constitutional protection of religious patrons?

There’s a chaotic area in the Irish Constitution, and a peculiar legal status that for all intents seems to afford religion a central role in much state business. From my laywoman’s knowledge, The Equal Status Act tells me one thing, but the Education Act tells me something a little different. The EPSEN Act seems to contradict more again, but appears the most inclusive.

I’m never quite sure where I stand.

Back to the word [faggot]. I can defend against race, gender, ethnicity and so on, I can abhor the F-word, but my defense is weak. Don’t use that word, but your discriminatory thoughts are ultimately grand, as that’s what your patron will tell you. Homosexuality and the church do not make comfortable bedfellows. This is not new territory.

Where do I really stand if a parent decides to take issue with my protection of my LGBT students in front of their son? We can say that the word [faggot] is deeply offensive, but if pushed does the doctrine of the school, and the protection of religious value in the constitution of the state ultimately win out? Law is law. All words hold power in the safety of who and what backs them. We can ban the word [faggot] until we are blue in the face, but we are sailing upstream unless the rights are equal. And as words are pejorative and quickly abandoned, it’ll just be some new lexeme in no time. However if we crush the power behind the formation of such words, we are at least moving somewhere safe.

The Irish constitution, through the patronage of our education system, ultimately allows discrimination of LGBT students in certain educational environments, these same schools which are funded in whole by the state. In fact, I could go one further and say that discrimination of LGBT students is theoretically possible in a school’s Admission Policy; hypothetically, on grounds of sexual orientation due to ethos constraint.

Think of the baking of the cake.
Are there girls in all-boy’s school?

No, as gender discrimination in education seems to also be protected.

Discrimination on grounds of religion is also protected.

The current system is unsustainable and frankly unworkable. Now that we know better, we must do better.

We need to talk about words. And discrimination. And who’s supporting the word power? They ultimately define and support the word power.

Calling homosexual discrimination out is key, but we need to feel supported by the state as educators to do this. After all, that’s who pays the salary, and shouldn’t s/he who pays the piper, pick the tune?

It worked for the [N word], now let’s make it work for the [F-word]

After this referendum, we also need to talk about the Republic, this is also an important word. What power is supporting this word after Friday?