/en/file/lgbt-learning-environmentsLGBT learning environments
Guest writer Laila El-Metoui shares her reflections on why it is important that teachers and trainers provide an LGBT-friendly educational environment
With sexual orientation and gender reassignment now part of the institutional and legal framework in the UK, teachers and their respective institutions can no longer afford to ignore lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual plus (LGBT+) lives and issues within their classrooms. To ignore someone’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is to deny their existence and an important part of their identity. It could be compared maybe to living in a country where no one speaks your language or being vegan in an all meat restaurant. Sometimes it can be very hard to find people to relate to and build your identity.
There is a growing body of research and evidence on the detrimental impact that LGBT+ and non-binary people’s invisibility has on their mental health and well-being. There is also a growing body of evidence on the huge benefits of inclusion and celebration for learners, both in terms of well-being and mental health but also in terms of achievement, retention, success and progression.
Besides the obvious positive psychological benefits of fostering an LGBT+ and non-binary-friendly environment, it can also support your students by preparing them to live in a more inclusive society, developing their ability to express themselves in a range of contexts, and teaching them how to be respectful of differences.
Twilight People: Stories of faith and gender beyond the binary
Twilight People is a landmark project that discovers and celebrates the hidden history of transgender and gender-variant people of faith in the UK’s past and present. This collection is the first source of faith and transgender history in Britain. The project explores the interconnection between faith and gender journeys beyond the binary categories of male and female. The images and stories of over 40 members of the various Abrahamic faith communities – Christian, Muslim and Jewish – and other faith movements were documented by means of oral history, film and photography. The collated materials are mapped, catalogued, deposited and shared with the wider audience via free and accessible channels, including an archive collection, a website, interactive digital hubs, a touring exhibition, events, a booklet, educational resource packs, a mobile app and other current learning tools.
The project title is inspired by a prayer called ‘Twilight People’ written by Rabbi Reuben Zellman. It is often recited for Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a reminder that the twilight is not necessarily a place of otherness, but can be a positive, plural space for everyone. The symbolism of the twilight – a sacred in-between space, a moment of transformation and rebirth – has been used variously in many religions and faiths around the world. The project interprets and shares the ‘hidden history’ of trans and gender-variant people of faith, so that it can be understood, acknowledged and celebrated by members of the wider community.
We have now produced an education pack designed to support the project outputs and develop a range of language and literacy skills. It aims to support schools and colleges with their equality and diversity inclusion strategy. For your organisation it will foster a positive and welcoming environment for all to learn, with benefits potentially including higher retention and achievement rates.
This pack has been designed with flexibility in mind and the author hopes that most of the activities can be adapted for different education settings. The activities have been designed for migrants learning the host country language and for students in adult basic skills courses, but it was piloted with both adults and young people.
Tips on dealing with potential discrimination in the classroom
The model used is one of inclusion and celebration, however, for some people the concepts of LGBT+ and non-binary can at times generate negative reactions. Attitudes towards differences can vary greatly from trying to understand and being inquisitive (sometimes perceived as intrusive) to prejudice and discrimination. Ignorance leads to some common misconceptions and discriminatory behaviours including:
being misgendered (using the wrong name/pronoun);
confusion between gender identity and sexual orientation;
outing; not respecting trust, privacy, or confidentiality;
harassment, bullying, verbal and physical abuse.
Training is essential to equip staff with the necessary skills to successfully challenge discrimination and prejudice. This is a great opportunity to develop your students’ ability to express themselves in a respectful way.
We would like to invite you to join EPALE’s live discussion on how to ensure optimal inclusion in adult learning on the provision and policy levels. The discussion will be in English and will take place on this page on 22 March 2018. It will be moderated by EPALE Thematic Coordinator Simon Broek.
We hope to see you there!
Laila El-Metoui is a London-based education consultant and teacher educator. She runs Lelmeducation , which offers consultancy and training on equality, diversity and inclusion, LGBTIQ integration and other practical tools to improve teaching and learning. She gives regular public talks and presentations at conferences and seminars.