Mike Baynham
Mike Baynham

A former Chair of the British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL), the research interests of Mike Baynham include literacy studies, migration narratives,multilingualism and translanguaging. He has recently begun developing research in the area of LGBTQ and language and was involved with the Queering ESOL Seminar series, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. He is preparing a monograph with Tong King Lee on Translation and Translanguaging.

Queer voices in the ESOL classroom


Recent developments in frameworks for equity and inclusion have extended from considerations of gender and race to include other dimensions such as disability, age and sexuality. In this paper I will consider the implications for the ESOL classroom of issues of equity and inclusion raised by non-normative sexuality. The examples I draw on will largely be from recent developments in the UK but where possible I will provide illustrations from elsewhere in the world.

The focus on LGBTQ inclusion in education more generally and ESOL in particular arises in the UK as a consequence of the 2010 Equality Act, which named sexuality as one of its protected categories. I will briefly introduce this legislative framework and talk about the ways that it impacted on ESOL teachers in the UK and the initiatives which have sprung up to help teachers address the issue of LGBTQ inclusion in their classrooms. A particular initiative which I will describe is the Queering ESOL seminar series which aimed to explore LGBTQ inclusion in ESOL provision. I will review the topics covered in the seminars and the insights that each generated for advancing LGBTQ inclusion. After this introduction I will go on to consider some key theoretical concepts for understanding the dynamics of LGBTQ inclusion. These will include the constructs of heteronormativity, homonormativity and homonationalism. I also consider the implications of intersectionality, race and gender of course, but also including poverty and economic precarity, in such diverse contexts as ESOL classrooms. I will also discuss the impact of homophobia and homophobic abuse, the dynamics of coming out.

I will go on to discuss three ways of understanding the positioning of LGBTQ teachers and students in a sexually normative world.  Firstly in terms of invisibility/visibility: how visible are LGBTQ lives in the activities, practices and artefacts of the ESOL classroom? Secondly in terms of silencing and voice: are LGBTQ voices currently audible in ESOL classrooms and artefacts or is there a culture of silence around manifestations of non-normative sexuality?

Thirdly concerning space: are ESOL classrooms safe, inclusive spaces for students and teachers whose sexuality is non-normative? Clearly these dimensions overlap and I will use examples from classrooms, teaching materials, artworks and creative writing to illustrate these issues. Finally I will turn to the question that animated our seminar series, that of queering the ESOL classroom. What does this mean? Whose responsibility is this? What are the ethical and political issues involved? For example how do we protect the privacy of LGBTQ teachers and students, including their right not to be out if they don’t want to be?  I will argue that queering the ESOL classroom is not something that can and should be left to LGBTQ teachers and students, it is also a project for those who are called "straight allies", a project for all concerned with effective and inclusive language teaching and learning. I will go on to consider the role of materials that engage with LGBTQ issues and their role in opening up an inclusive conversation in the classroom, while also considering what is involved if the classroom conversation turns nasty and reveals homophobic attitudes or behaviour.

I will finish by suggesting that we need to consider the ESOL classroom within a bigger frame, as part of the lifeworld of students and the trajectory that brings them to leave their countries. We should see the ESOL classroom as part of the process of queer migrations.