Friday, February 29, 2008

Gay teacher wins apology and compensation for homophobia

A young gay teacher described as ‘Gay Dave’ and criticised for the way he walked by his head has won an award of £9,500 compensation and an unqualified apology from the governors of a school which formerly employed him after a landmark case for harassment under sexual orientation employment regulations. He was successfully represented in an employment tribunal by his union, the National Union of Teachers.

After a successful year at a special needs school in Winchester, David Watkins took up a new post in the Westminster borough. When he tried to promote equal opportunities within the school, and particularly spoke in favour of LGBT History Month, his head grew hostile. She accused him of ‘banging on’ and ‘drenching students’ in his sexuality and adopting a walk that aggravated older pupils; adding that he ‘didn’t walk like that when he came to interview.’ She also alleged that there was no homophobia within the school until he came along.

David, a successful teacher aware of his rights, pursued with the help of his union, a case that led to a successful admission of guilt and an unreserved public apology for the first time. This was the first case in UK law that saw a teacher taking his school to tribunal under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.

The Head’s hostility was possibly timed with the publication of an article that David wrote about LGBT inclusive schools, which was published in the NUT’s Teacher magazine, and on the website of LGBT education campaigners Schools Out. David was an ‘out’ teacher, clear about his support for Schools Out and LGBT History Month,

Sue Sanders, Co Chair of Schools Out and LGBT History Month, said: “We all know that there have been teachers harassed, driven out of their posts and the profession and even constructively dismissed by homophobic behaviour. There have been bigger compensation awards too. But these have been tied to gagging orders, where the victim was not able to talk about the case. These gagging clauses have the effect, in terms of visibility, that the discrimination never happened.”

David Watkins is an active member of the Schools Out committee. He was repeatedly offered an out of court settlement but decided to go to a full employment tribunal.

At the final hour, the school’s governing body accepted guilt and made an unreserved apology before the case went to full procedure. The school made it plain that they recognised the excellence of David’s teaching and regretted that he had left. They also recognised the abuse he received was offensive, unacceptable and objectively homophobic, and that they should have intervened sooner on his behalf.

Paul Patrick co chair of Schools Out and LGBT History Month said: “Our schools currently suffer from endemic homophobia. The DCSF guidance on homophobic bullying makes clear the importance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) role models. Schools that care about the welfare of all their pupils should be creating the sort of environment that supports LGBT teachers so they can be honest and open about who they. This has been a great decision for all who care about community cohesion, equality of opportunity and the celebration of diversity."

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