Teachers’ Tips: Incorporating LGBT issues into ESOL

Learning a new language can be made easier if learners are in an environment that fosters a welcoming atmosphere, where all feel free to talk about themselves, their identities and their personal lives.

laila el-metoui

This is particularly relevant to ESOL learners, and there are some unhelpful assumptions that prevent educators from creating inclusive lesson plans – especially those which might reflect LGBT issues and lives.

Adult ESOL materials tend to include very heteronormative content – that is, content which assumes heterosexuality and cisgender identities by default. Examples given might include a husband and wife and their children, and while black and ethnic minority identities are often reflected in these materials, LGBT lives aren’t.

There are few LGBT friendly teaching resources available to ESOL practitioners, despite the fact that many migrants, refugees and asylum seekers may be in the UK precisely because they are LGBT. But a continued lack of diversity in the resources we use contributes to prejudice and may exclude those who feel their lives aren’t being reflected in learning.

Despite the lack of resources, educators can still embed LGBT lives and issues within the ESOL curriculum at any level. There are now more and more resources being created and made available, and it’s a simple enough task to introduce these into the learning environment.

There is also a legal requirement to include diverse lives in the classroom. Under the Common Inspection Framework, OFSTED identifies LGBT learners as a group vulnerable to discrimination and educational institutions have to demonstrate how they address homophobia and transphobia. This is not about delivering a ‘gay lesson’ but about fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment with a strong focus on language practice and language acquisition.

Based on her experience of LGBT inclusion in 25 further education institutions in over a decade, Laila El-Metoui examines three common myths that may prevent teachers from incorporating LGBT lives and issues within the ESOL curriculum and offers some strategies for addressing three possible students remarks. She also signposts free, ready-made teaching resources and staff development training materials.

These tips can be extrapolated to other subject areas too with a little work.


by Laila El-Metoui

1. This cannot be done with lower ESOL levels
Students may have a lower level of language but they do not lack the conceptual understanding for LGBT issues. LGBT issues can be embedded at all levels, using the theme of family, for example, and looking at different families. Some ready-made lesson plans and teaching resources can be found at www.equalitiestoolkit.com and niace.org.uk, as well as www.the-classroom.org.uk.

2. This is not respecting their culture / religion
Embedding LGBT issues is about meeting British legal and institutional frameworks. We are lucky in the UK to be protected by the Equality Act 2010 and the Ofsted guidelines. ESOL students are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who may themselves identify as LGB and or T. Bringing this topic into the classroom leads to respect for all.

3. It’s too confrontational
Using a potentially controversial topic in the classroom is a great opportunity to develop language of opinion. From a linguistic perspective, teachers should aim to elicit the difference between an insult and an opinion accepting and agreeing normal and normative religious teaching and personal interpretation. The subtlety and indirectness of English can at times be a difficult concept to grasp for cultures that have a more direct way of expressing needs or opinions.

It’s important to get the students to think about the impact of what they say and how this can affect the recipient. Challenging homo/bi/transphobia in the classroom is not about changing people’s minds. It’s about developing students’ ability to express their opinions in a non-offensive and more respectful way. All opinions and views are valid as long as they are not harmful or hurtful to others.

Teaching English is not just about the language. It’s about developing critical thinking skills, and encouraging students to question things and find out answers for themselves. It’s about supporting them to become independent learners and take ownership of their learning.

Further strategies can be found in the video ‘Exploration of Equality and Diversity in the ESOL classroom | British Council Seminar Series’ on YouTube.

What students might state / ask

1.’There are no gays in my country’
Students may not be aware of the existence of LGBT people in their home countries, given the fact that it is illegal in over 79 countries in the world.

2.It’s a sin / against my religion
It is not the case of a one size fits all. Each religion, faith and belief is on a spectrum of opinion and interpretation. Some liberal and progressive voices within these religions tend to view LGBT people more positively.

3. Which one is the man / woman?
As Ellen Degeneres once said “Asking who’s the ‘man’ and who’s the ‘woman’ in a samesex relationship is like asking which chopstick is the fork.” This theme provides a great opportunity to understand what can be perceived as a new concept for some and develop the ability to express opinion in a non-confrontational manner.

The ESOL context provides an excellent opportunity for challenging homophobic social representations, and for enabling students to explore alternative representations regarding sexuality and sexual orientation contextualised within a broad range of ethnic backgrounds.
Further Reading to support of the need to embed LGBT within ESOL can be found at the British Council website or queeringesol.wordpress.com.
Laila El-Metoui is an ESOL specialist and independent Education Consultant. Her Staff development training sessions include LGBT and E&D inclusion and Prevent. (lelmeducation.com)

Hear Laila Talk on 7 February on LGBT National Festival of LGBT History 2
016: schools and families day at the Museum of London www.museumoflondon.org.uk

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