In this post, Peter J Fullagar (he/him) writes about the workshop he led at the 56th IATEFL Conference in Harrogate (2023) as part of the MaWSIG Showcase day.
I am one of the growing number of open LGBTQIA+ ELT professionals making noises about representation in materials, coursebooks and resources. Other notable contributors to this area include Tyson Seburn and Thorsten Merse, who gave engaging and informative presentations at the 2023 IATEFL conference
My workshop took its name from a well-known and well-used resource book about controversial issues, which has one chapter called Gays and Jobs. Although written in the early 2000s, the book has questions such as Do you think that there are any jobs which homosexuals should not be allowed to do?, thereby questioning identity rather than ability.
It has been well documented that LGBTQIA+ identities are invisible in ELT materials, so delegates were asked to discuss the quote You cannot be what you cannot see, initially coined by Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. Responses echoed a similar and familiar tone – representation matters.
The need to be inclusive is highlighted by research conducted by Just Like Us called Growing up LGBT+ in 2021. The survey was conducted in the UK, consisting of 2,934 students aged between 11 and 18. Disturbing statistics include:
- 91% of LGBT+ students heard negative language about being LGBT+ in the past year
- 17% of LGBT+ students heard negative language about being LGBT+ on a daily basis
- 42% of LGBT+ school pupils were bullied in the past year (21% of non-LGBT+)
- 48% of pupils had little to zero positive messaging about being LGBT+ in school.
The invisibility of LGBTQIA+ identities in school has harmful effects. Some effects of invisibility discussed in the workshop included mental health issues, shame, isolation, lack of self-worth and not feeling confident or important. In the UK, Section 28 was legislation that banned discussion of homosexuality from 1988 until 2003 (2000 in Scotland). You can read more about Section 28 from LGBT+ History Month.
Delegates were shown two approaches of how to incorporate LGBTQIA+ identities in materials using my own resources as examples: one, usualisation, coined by Professor Sue Sanders, and two, disruption, explored by Tyson Seburn.
Usualisation demonstrates that identities are usual, with usual jobs, responsibilities and roles – their identity is not a focal point for discussion, and is not up for debate. Usualisation is preferred over normalisation, as the latter implies that something is abnormal. For example, Daily Life (A2) has a gapfill exercise about a man who happens to be in a relationship with another man. This is usualised in the sense that the text does not explicitly draw attention to the man’s sexual identity. Disruption, on the other hand, confronts social issues and highlights characteristics and experiences of marginalised communities, thus helping to support critical thinking. The example of disruption that was given was from Sexuality and Employment (B2+), which has a reading about LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace.
Delegates were then asked to look at ten images and consider how they would use them in a piece of material; to consider learning outcomes, level, skill, target language and headings. These images came from my resource Family Units (B2).
It’s important that discrimination is challenged in classrooms, but most of all, that students and teachers feel safe. I would like to thank Laïla El-Metoui for bringing this to my attention: challenging homophobia is not about changing people’s minds, it’s about developing student ability to express opinions in a non-offensive way. It’s essential to demonstrate to students the differences between acceptance and agreement; insult and opinion; normative and normal; religious teaching vs personal interpretation.
The workshop concluded with four remarks:
- Including LGBTQIA+ identities in materials can help erase prejudice
- LGBTQIA+ identities can be represented in ELT materials
- LGBTQIA+ students and teachers deserve to see themselves represented
- LGBTQIA+ identities are not a taboo.
The workshop was a full session, and I was extremely pleased that delegates approached the workshop with enthusiasm and engagement. For more information on my work, my services and my materials, go to www.peterjfullagar.co.uk
Peter J Fullagar is a cis gay/queer Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consultant, editor and writer in the ELT industry. He has 17 years’ teaching experience and five years’ publishing experience in the field. He has been making inclusive resources for just over a year, with the aim of representing LGBTQIA+ identities, in addition to disability, age, and further marginalised communities.
Hi Peter, This is a great article. I referenced ‘Taboos and Issues’ in my book ‘How to Write ESOL Materials’ (ELT Teacher2Writer,2015) and discussed what it meant to label something ‘taboo’, and I’m frankly amazed that it’s still being sold. ESOL has always been ahead of the game in terms of inclusivity, but I found pretty much most of the ELT publishing industry to be riddled with conservative gatekeepers and I hope writers like yourself keep pushing back.