'Learners should feel free to talk about themselves, their identities and personal lives'. Photo by Antoine Walter on Flickr under Creative Commons licence

'Learners should feel free to talk about themselves, their identities and personal lives'. Photo by Antoine Walter on Flickr under Creative Commons licence

'Learners should feel free to talk about themselves, their identities and personal lives'. Photo by Antoine Walter on Flickr under Creative Commons licence

Can English language teachers afford to ignore lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues? Following her recent British Council Seminar, education consultant Laila El-Metoui tells us about the importance of creating an inclusive and positive atmosphere in the classroom.


Why should LGBT issues matter to English language teachers?

If learners are not in an environment where they feel free to talk about themselves –  their identities and personal lives – then this will hinder language acquisition. The issue is particularly relevant to LGBT English students whose classmates may have strong homophobic views linked to culture, religion and personal beliefs.

What has been your own experience of dealing with LGBT issues in the classroom?

When I first encountered discrimination I tried to change people’s minds by saying it was ‘OK to be gay’ and that to think otherwise was ‘wrong’. However, over the 20 years of my teaching and managing career, I’ve come to realise that people with strong homophobic views are like people wearing red-coloured glasses – they want everyone to see the world in the same way. Now I try to get students to understand that other people can view things through a different-coloured lens. They might not like what they see or agree with it, but they have to accept it. For me, it is about celebrating differences and fostering an inclusive and positive atmosphere in a way that respects different opinions.

Should people disclose they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender?

As soon as you make the invisible visible, people react – often in very negative or aggressive manner. To come out or not to come out? It’s a difficult question and involves many factors including personal choice, the law of the country you live in and your personality. Some people are naturally private and others are more extroverted and inclined to share details about their personal lives. It’s much easier for a heterosexual person to talk about their spouse or partner than it is for an LGBT person. This is a choice based on the risks and consequences involved.

What strategies do you use to deal with issues of homophobia/transphobia in the classroom?

I start on the first day of my class. I use pictures of a variety of people and elicit the language describing them. Then we talk about what respect is and what respect means.

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

Teachers can approach the issues indirectly. Image by Laila El-Metoui, from her presentation.

Teachers can approach sensitive issues indirectly. Image by Laila El-Metoui, from her presentation.

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. As a non-native speaker myself, I remember feeling bemused by the language when I first arrived in the UK. I can therefore help students understand how to communicate in a way which is not seen as abrupt, aggressive or emotional. For example, students can say ‘I find this difficult to understand’ or ‘my religion doesn’t agree with this’, rather than ‘being gay is a sin’ or ‘this is wrong’.

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.

For me, teaching English is not just about the language. It’s about developing critical thinking skills, 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. I feel I’ve succeeded when students can express their opinion in English in a way that doesn’t offend others.


Watch the presentation:


Useful websites for creating teaching resources can be found at ESOL citizenshipStonewallHomoworld Movie Educate and Celebrate, Schools OutNATECLA London and Equalitiestoolkit

Find Laila on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Read more seminars posts for English language teachers.

Photo by Antoine Walter on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Comments

Total 7 Comments Add your comment

Clare

Posted on February 18th, 2014 Report abuse

Found this very useful, especially the ‘strategies’ and focussing on the difference between:
an insult and an opinion
accepting and agreeing
normal and normative
religious teaching and personal interpretation
We do a lot of work on communicating politely – including for exam prep, so ‘to help students understand how to communicate in a way which is not seen as abrupt, aggressive or emotional’ is definitely already a major part of our remit.
Thank you Laila

Nafisah Graham-Brown

Posted on February 18th, 2014 Report abuse

Well done Laila! I think what you say is great about the fact that everyone can have an opinion as long as it doesn’t hurt other people. I think some tutors fear that discussing LGBT means changing people’s opinions but as you say, it’s about developing students to have the language to express their opinions in a non-confrontational and non-judgmental way.

Peter Kelly

Posted on February 19th, 2014 Report abuse

Excellent article. It highlights, among other things, that English language classrooms are places where critical thinking can be developed, as well as language skills.

Robert Carvajal

Posted on February 25th, 2014 Report abuse

Very good article. It really enhances what students should react and being tolerant is something we need to get our students to develop. Thumbs up for you

Name* Lou Mycroft

Posted on March 17th, 2014 Report abuse

This is brilliant, Laila! I love your approach and will be sharing it with the Community of Praxis; all too often it feels too overwhelming to know where to start with this stuff and your very practical, values-grounded suggestions are really helpful. Because, after all, what we want is for all our students (and us) to be able to be present as themselves. Thank you, Lou x

Maria

Posted on April 1st, 2014 Report abuse

Note sure if a classroom is the right place to bring these issues up. It should be done at home, and by the parents. The teacher should first and foremost respect the values of the country he or she is teaching in. In some countries it is deemed highly inappropriate to discuss any matters of personal lives with others, especially children.

Jacky Tsang

Posted on April 8th, 2014 Report abuse

It’s great to how progressive the UK is in terms of educating the young generation on equality and diversity.