On 19th June, 2017 Agneta Skardžiuvienė, Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson of the Republic of Lithuania, found that the school Telšiai Žemaitė Gymnasium violated the Law on Equal Treatment of the Republic of Lithuania by not ensuring the absence of discrimination and material promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in its curriculum. It has been confirmed that one of the school’s teachers, during a moral (religious) studies lesson, gave information that degraded gay individuals, promoting a negative attitude toward them and encouraging discrimination.
The investigation by the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson
The Ombudsperson launched an investigation after images surfaced on Facebook depicting slideshow frames from the teacher’s lesson – the lesson described homosexual individuals as practicing sadomasochism for entertainment, raping and abusing minors, and even compared them to serial killers who cannibalized their victims. The investigation assessed whether Telšiai Žemaitė Gymnasium properly fulfilled its duty to ensure that its curriculum does not discriminate or promote discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The investigation revealed that the Gymnasium possessed no textbooks published for the implementation of 2008 updates to the universal Catholic religious curriculum, making teachers responsible for topics presented in their curriculum. The teacher selects sources and develops teaching materials, taking into account recommendations prepared by the Education Development Center along with the Lithuanian Catechetical Center for the implementation of the universal Roman Catholic religious education program.
Reactions of the defendants
Giedrius Vaidelis, director of the Education Development Center, pointed out that the Center does not approve moral (religious) education programs and does not establish specific methodological guidelines for the preparation of programs, but advises the organizers on general requirements and structure. The teacher must coordinate on lesson plans and long-term subject plans with the curriculum developer responsible for curriculum implementation, after discussing and approving them in methodological teachers’ groups by subject.
Žydrūnas Želnys, Director of Telšiai Žemaitė Gymnasium, claimed that the teacher’s long-term curriculum contained “no degrading statements toward any persons or group of people”, and that it was approved “in line with general curriculum guidelines”. According to him, the material provided by the teacher in each lesson goes through no approval process, as neither the school nor greater educational system requires this. In addition, the Gymnasium operates on a culture of trust, and so far, the administration has received no complaints about inappropriate information.
The teacher asserted that in the lesson addressing homosexuality, she used not only sources approved by the Ministry of Education and Catholic Church, but also the text of Michael Swift’s “Gay Manifesto” and Dr. Paul Cameron’s brochures, both unapproved. In the teacher’s opinion, these additional sources were included to “raise interest, draw students’ attention to the main topic and illustrate why sinful behavior is unacceptable from the Church’s point of view.” The teacher and Gymnasium director admitted that unsuitable additional sources were selected.
Order issued by the Ombudswoman
The investigation found that visual material presented to students, based on Dr. Paul Cameron’s “Violence and Homosexuality” leaflets, was inappropriate and not in accordance with Basic Education Framework recommendations to “discuss sexuality and reject gender stereotypes.” In this case, the teacher chose a teaching tool that strengthened negative stereotypes and promoted hatred and disgust toward gay individuals.
Agneta Skardžiuvienė, Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson, states: “Teachers should promote non-discrimination and teach tolerance, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms regardless of sexual orientation in all cases, especially in moral education lessons.”
The Ombudsperson appealed to the director of Telšiai Žemaitė Gymnasium to put an end to this violation of equal opportunities and issued an order to inform the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson’s Office on how this decision is being implemented. The decision was presented to Telšiai County Municipality.