Enoch Burke has become a national meme. The guy who slipped and fell on the ice on the Six One News and the storm presenting Teresa Mannion must be breathing a sigh of relief, because they are no longer the punchline of a joke.
Yesterday we saw the entire Burke family thrown out of court by the Gardai. The scenes reminded me of my toddler going berserk when I gave him the wrong colour sippy cup. Enoch Burke and his family are standing on the principle that transgenderism is against the God that they worship. Enoch Burke, a teacher at Wilson’s Hospital School was suspended on full pay following his refusal to address a transitioning student by the student’s preferred pronouns. The school obtained an injunction stopping him from attending work at his former school, however he kept turning up. Again, and again and again. So much so, that a Valentines Day card mocking him became a bestseller.
For some what’s unfolding is nothing more than the source of humour, to others it’s a national disgrace, to others it’s deeply upsetting.
What has been forgotten, what has been left out of the debate is that there is a student at the heart of this. I can’t imagine how this young person might be feeling. We can only guess. Are they feeling hurt? Upset? Shocked at the level of anger toward their choices? One wonders how any young person who might be struggling with their gender identity or sexuality is feeling watching this unfold.
I don’t want to talk about Enoch Burke. The family's behaviour at court yesterday told us everything we need to know about them. So I’ll talk about myself. If I was a teacher and I held the belief that gender is assigned at birth and cannot be changed and a student in my class wished to be addressed by a different pronoun than the one given at birth, I would stop and take a breath and think. I would put the wellbeing of the student at the heart of the matter. I would like to think I’d be the bigger person, the grown up if you will and say I may not agree with this students’ views, but I can see they are going through something which is potentially really hard. Do I make their life harder by refusing to address them in their preferred pronouns or do I do the bigger thing and accept that this is how they feel. It won’t change my own views, but it might just help this student to feel safe, accepted and at ease enough to be allowed to explore the feelings they are going through.
I can’t say what sort of God the Burkes worship, but for me the God I know is a loving, accepting, kind, force for good. He’s not hateful, angry or rigid.
If by some miracle the student at the centre of the case is reading this please know the world is not full of hate.