Today is the last entry in the sequence on advocacy in applied linguistics. I’ve decided that this entry will focus on the need to be an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students and colleagues. This has been a matter of some interest for me over the years, and my work in this area has proven to be both enlightening in expanding my own thoughts and personally liberating. I feel that being an advocate for our LGBTQ students and colleagues is important for several reasons. Certainly, there is the issue of visibility and helping both students and faculty to be well-adjusted to the educational environment. However, others that tend to be ignored is that the marginalization of LGBTQ students can have a significant impact on language learning processes. For faculty, being sidelined by their peers or students can have adverse effects on the professional and personal lives. Thorsten Mers in his article on queer approaches to English language teaching (ELT) brings up a crucial point to consider when it comes to LGBT-issues in ELT.
She argues that “being able to communicate now means being able to communicate about sexual diversity matters, and with sexually diverse interlocutors (Nelson, 2009, p. 206).” -Mers “Queer-informed Approaches and Sexual Literacy in ELT”
From this quote, we can see one reason it’s important to be an advocate for LGBTQ-issues in the English language classroom. This is because it helps students to meet the goal of being more thoroughly communicative in the target language. Becoming communicative means more than just knowing vocabulary and grammar, it also means have enough cultural awareness to facilitate thoughtful and respectful communication with others. Given the increased visibility of LGBTQ peoples around the globe, it is important for students to be able to interact with these people and to discuss these issues in respectful ways. A simple example comes from working with lower proficiency students. I once overheard a student asking another if they thought some celebrity was “a gay.” While this is a seemingly minor issue of the inappropriate use of an article. However, the illocutionary force—how the utterance is perceived—may paint the student as intolerant of LGBTQ individuals and the sociopolitical issues that they are facing. Therefore, there is the need to equip students with the communicative skills that they will need to take part in these conversations. And, many studies have shown that students are eager to engage with LGBTQ topics because it has become a part of their lived experiences either by being LGBTQ themselves because they have LGBTQ relatives or friends and because of the increased visibility of LGBTQ topics in media. Therefore, it is important to be an advocate educator in this regards by making space for LGBTQ visibility and engagement in our practice as teachers.
Queer theorists have therefore coined the term “heteronormativity,” which refers to making heterosexuality—and only heterosexuality—seem normal or natural. -Nelson, “Why Queer Theory is Useful in Teaching”
Another reason that it’s important to advocate for LGBTQ inclusivity is to resist heteronormative worldviews. These worldviews will often cast non-heterosexual students and educators as either deficient or in need of remediation to bring them in line with heterosexual norms. This move towards heteronormativity means that students and teachers may feel the need to conform to take part in the classroom. Heteronormativity creates an invisibility around what is for many a vital aspect of their identities. And, this invisibility can have substantial negative educational impacts. It can lead to disengagement from the class. It can lead to increased workplace strain for the educator, which can contribute to teacher burnout. By being an advocate educator, we can create spaces where students and our colleagues can thoughtfully engage with issues of sexuality and how they come to play in educational contexts.
So, how does one being an LGBTQ advocate educator? This is something that the field of TESOL is beginning to engage with. There have been a few actionable suggestions so far. These recommendations include making more space in the curriculum for LGBTQ topics, increasing the visibility of LGBTQ people through target readings, and working with teacher educators to train new and early service teachers to think of new ways to queer their own practice, to make their own teaching more inclusive. Since this conversation of how is still at its beginnings, I would encourage all of us to join that conversation.
Merse, T. (2015). Queer-informed approaches and sexual literacy in ELT: Theoretical foundations and teaching principles. Language Issues, 26(1), 13-20.
Nelson, C. (2002). Why queer theory is useful in teaching: A perspective from English as a second language teaching. In K.H. Robinson, J. Irwin, & T. Ferfolja (Eds.). From Here to Diversity: The Social Impact of Lesbian and Gay Issues in Education in Australia and New Zealand (pp. 43-53). New York: Hawthorn Park Press.
Nelson, C. (2009). Sexual Identities in English Language Education: Classroom Conversations. New York: Routledge