My first experience of discussing LGBT issues in the ESOL classroom was not a positive one. It became a ‘critical incident’ in my ELT teaching career. It all started with the film Life in a Day which shows a snapshot of many different film-makers across the globe going about their lives on the 24th of July 2010. The film has a scene with a same sex couple which got my students ‘talking’ after watching. When I say talking, I mean screaming that it was ‘an abomination’ accompanied by the beating fists on the table. The lesson ended with me simply drawing attention to the 2010 Equality Act’s nine protected characteristics and asking students to be aware that in the UK everyone has the right to equal treatment and respect.
This incident really made me reflect on my student’s backgrounds. The students involved were very religious, and from countries that have severe punishments for being gay. Of course they’d be shocked at the idea of same sex couples. That was everything they’d experienced for most of their lives; just like all I’d been taught for my entire life was tolerance and that homosexuality is completely natural. Was it really my place to try to change their minds? Was that imposing my beliefs? But then I also have the duty to promote the Equality Act as part of my role as ESOL Lecturer. I had some staff room chats and we came to the conclusion that we could make students aware of all the protected characteristics and encourage students to treat each other with respect.
Since then I’ve been finding more creative ways to cover these topics and introduce equality and diversity issues. Mostly, I like ‘drip-feeding’ by mentioning briefly in passing at any available opportunity that relationships can be same-sex. The first time I do this, I’m often met with shocked looks or sniggers. The second time with slightly less shock and after a while with just an eye-roll and a ‘Yes, teacher, we know, let’s go back to the lesson!’
Although sex is a ‘parsnip‘ (aka taboo) subject in most ELT coursebooks and published materials, I am thankful that my own Publisher, Academic Study Kit, are forward thinking and allowed the inclusion of equality and diversity within my book. D is for Diversity is one of my favourite lessons for introducing the protected characteristics. It gives an example of each and encourages students to discuss how each might face discrimination. F is for Forms doesn’t hold back on the equalities monitoring and allows teachers to introduce diversity from starter level.
I always think that Equality and Diversity should be integrated throughout the teaching programme so I was delighted that Intimate Migrations now also have an ESOL resource pack for promoting LGBT awareness. I have used it in the classroom and can safely say that it was a hit with the students. I did the lesson on protected characteristics (first using my D for Diversity lesson from the A-Z of ESOL as a warmer) then followed up with Nadya and Marta‘s story. Introducing the protected characteristics first was a great way to get them interacting with equality issues in general, seeing the bigger picture and reflecting on their own experiences.
Nadya and Marta’s story is a true story of a same sex couple that moved from Poland to Scotland so that they could have the legal right to get married and have children (with both their names on the birth certificate). The story raised a lot of discussion points, including having the freedom to live as you wish to live, and how same sex couples can become parents (new vocabulary: IVF, adoption, surrogacy). I then asked students to write about one protected characteristic of their choice and compare how people with that characteristic are treated in their home country and in Scotland. Interestingly, the majority chose LGBT rights. The responses were reflective and respectful and at emotional.
If you’d like more ideas on integrating LGBT rights into the ELT curriculum then Laila El Metoui also has a great little blog post to check out. She’ll be speaking about LGBT strategies for the classroom at the City of Glasgow College 6th Annual ESOL Conference on Wednesday the 13th June. I’ll also be there Literally Speaking about Speaking!
I hope these teaching ideas have inspired you. Do you know of any other ways to teach LGBT issues in the classroom? What experiences have you had?