February in the United Kingdom is LGBT+ History Month, whereas in the US, it's Black History Month. The UK Black History Month is October, whereas the US LGBT+ History Month is October - confusing, no?
As an ELT professional and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, it's important to me that people from my community are recognised in ELT materials. I realise that this is a huge challenge, but one I'm prepared to face, along with my colleagues at IDEAL+. Of course, there are many countries around the world that still recognise being homosexual as criminal - these are basic statistics, but an overview:
- 7 countries carry a maximum life sentence for being homosexual
- 8 countries carry a death penalty for being homosexual
- 23 countries carry a maximum 10 years' prison sentence for being homosexual
- a further 21 countries carry prison sentences for being homosexual
It is clear that beliefs are not going to change overnight or immediately. Other sources claim that in over 70 or 80 countries, it is illegal to be homosexual.
So where does this leave the ELT industry? We should cater for the majority, not the minority of markets, where human rights for LGBTQIA+ people are upheld. But will ELT publishers do that? Will they 'take the risk'? I hate this - 'take the risk'. It's NOT a risk to represent LGBTQIA+ people; we exist and we are a protected characteristic. Section 28 is no more, yet we are still seeing a lack of representation in education, and especially ELT education.
As I mentioned before, it is LGBT+ History Month, and looking on Twitter, I have yet to find any reference to this on any of the ELT publishers' Twitter platforms - please do correct me if I'm wrong - I'd LOVE to be wrong on this. The biggest question here is 'Why?' - the majority of ELT publishers post something about Valentine's Day, yet not about LGBT+ History Month. Are they scared that they will be seen as 'pushing an ideology'? Ridiculous, as being LGBTQIA+ is not an ideology - we are a protected characteristic, so why aren't we represented?
ELT materials need to start being more inclusive (and not just LGBTQIA+ - there's a whole host of marginalised groups who remain invisible). And of course, being LGBTQIA+ is NOT just about being white, middle-class, non-disabled and a man. Intersectionality demonstrates that, just like society, the LGBTQIA+ community is made up of more than just whiteness, more than just middle class, more than just being non-disabled and more than just men.
You may have seen the above flag, commonly called the Progress Flag. As with any image, there are both positive and negative views about it.
As far as I'm aware, this is what the colours mean:
- the stripes from top to bottom:
- red = life
- orange = healing
- yellow = sunlight
- green = nature
- blue = serenity
- purple = spirit
- the chevron on the left, pointing towards progress but indicating that further progress is needed:
- white, pink and light blue = people in the trans community
- brown = queer people of colour
- black = those living with HIV/AIDS
Seeing a post on a popular social media site, which showed a prominent company flying the Pride flag for LGBT+ History Month, I was really pleased - but then I noticed the negative and hateful comments underneath it. I reported it, but the social media site came back and said that the comment didn't contravene their policy. Since when were negative comments about the LGBTQIA+ community not hateful? It is attitudes like this and the dreadful inaction that will perpetuate the discrimination against my community. Social media sites have a responsibility, not just to the LGBTQIA+ community, but to other marginalised groups to rid their platforms of this hatred and ignorance.
It is important for all members and allies of the LGBTQIA+ community to be aware of and learn about the history of the struggles, but also the positive actions that are taking place in education.
I can recommend these three books as a good place to start:
- Celebrating Difference by Shaun Dellenty - this is on my 'to buy' list, but I feel that it is essential reading.
- Big Gay Adventures in Education edited by Daniel Tomlinson-Gray - I attended the book launch for this, and to hear some of the contributors talking was incredible. A definite must-read.
- 50 Years Legal by Simon Napier-Bell - I've just started this, but I'm already hooked; personal accounts of the 50-year battle for equal rights.
As part of the new collective, IDEAL+, we created our first resource for ELT practitioners, showing that LGBTQIA+ stories can be included in materials. I have to say a massive thanks to Sue Sanders, LGBT+ History Month and SchoolsOut for allowing us to use the text on Lily Parr. This is a free resource, and can be downloaded from our website here.
If any ELT publishers are reading this and feel like they want to get in touch with me or IDEAL+ about being more inclusive in their work, please do contact us.
If you've got to the end of this, thank you for reading.