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Frigid contexts, lgbtqia+

A world map showing, by colour, the countries where same-sex sexual acts are criminalised
Criminalisation of same-sex consensual acts, ILGA

The title of this post comes from Joshua M. Paiz’s insightful book, Queering the English Language Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers (2020). If you haven’t come across this book before, I strongly suggest that you get it, buy it and digest it. Paiz uses the term frigid contexts to mean ‘those spaces where citizens and foreign nationals may face sanctions ranging from expulsion from the community, a lowered social credit score, arrest, or even execution for non-normative gender or sexual identities.’ (Paiz, 2020:143). We know which spaces, or markets, is being talked about here.

In some feedback I received on my own resource, LGBTQIA+ identities in English Language Teaching, it was recommended that I include some guidance on how to persuade management of schools to incorporate LGBTQIA+ representation in the classroom – and I completely agree. I’ll be working on this.

However, perhaps it is wise to first address the spaces where LGBTQIA+ people are criminalised. Referring to a quote from Paiz again;

If including LGBTQ+ readings would lead to termination, harassment, arrest, or loss of life, I would advise against using them. (Paiz, 2020:143)

Unfortunately, I think I have to agree. If incorporating LGBTQIA+ identities within a classroom context where students or teachers lives are put in danger, then it’s not wise to do so. It is an unfortunate fact of today’s global society that LGBTQIA+ people are criminalised merely for existing.

But what can we do?

Reading the Afterword in Paiz’s book, where the above quotes come from, is transformative. If you only read one part of the book, I recommend the Afterword.

For me, queering the classroom doesn’t automatically mean ‘making it queer’ in terms of sexuality or gender identity. To queer the classroom in my eyes is to challenge the normative view presented in materials and classrooms; to get students questioning the strict social norms that have governed educational practices. To coin Tyson Seburn’s phrase, to disrupt the normative, (Seburn, 2021).

Although not directly referencing queer identities, by having students question ‘less policed identities’ (Paiz, 2020:144), we may be able to help students consider identities which aren’t the norm and thereby help them to discover more about the world around them. Whether this may be women’s rights, body shapes, mental health, challenging racism, socioeconomic differences or disability rights and accessibility, we can certainly disrupt the norm in places where LGBTQIA+ people are criminalised.

To paraphrase Paiz, we must equip our students to be able to challenge and question the norm, if not for sexual and gender identities, then for other marginalised communities. Giving them the language to discuss and question inequalities, oppression and discrimination will, indirectly, support the LGBTQIA+ community as well as support for all marginalised communities. By doing this, we’re creating a safer space in our classrooms, and maybe, just maybe, a queer student (or teacher) in a criminalised setting may just find a voice to advocate for marginalised communities that they may not be a part of, but may in fact, be able to help advocate for themselves.

I’d like to sincerely thank Joshua M. Paiz for their book – it’s an invaluable asset that I believe all ELT practitioners should have.

References

ILGA World map – https://ilga.org/ilga-world-maps

Paiz, J.M. (2020). Queering the English Language Classroom: A Practical Guide for Teachers. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing

Seburn, T. (2021). How to Write Inclusive Materials. ELT Teacher 2 Writer

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