3 myths and 3 possible reactions to LGBT inclusion in ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) 

Language acquisition can be hindered if learners are not in an environment which is conducive to fostering a welcoming atmosphere, where all feel free to talk about themselves, their identities and personal lives. This is particularly relevant to LGBT and (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) ESOL learners. However, ESOL learners can sometimes display strong homophobic views, linked to culture, religion and or personal beliefs. (Laila El-Metoui 2014)

Furthermore, adult ESOL materials tend to have a strong heteronormative content with few LGBT friendly teaching resources available to ESOL practitioners. Despite the paucity of resources, one can still embed LGBT lives and issues within the ESOL curriculum, at any level. In addition to creating resources, there are now more and more resources being created and made available.

Under the Common Inspection Framework, OFSTED identifies LGBT learners as a group vulnerable to discrimination. Educational institutions have to demonstrate how they address homophobia and transphobia.

This is not about delivering a ‘gay lesson’ but about fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment with a strong focus on language practice and language acquisition.

Based on her experience of LGBT inclusion in 25 Further Education Institutions in over a decade, Laila El-Metoui examines 3 common myths to embedding LGBT within the ESOL curriculum and offers some strategies for addressing 3 possible students remarks. She also offers links to free ready made teaching resources and staff development training materials.


1. This cannot be done with lower ESOL levels 

Students may have a lower level of language but they do not lack the concept.

LGBT can be embedded at all levels, using the theme of family for example and looking at different families, some ready made lesson plans and teaching resources can be found on the  links below:

2. This is not respecting their culture / religion

Embedding LGBT is about meeting British legal and institutional frameworks.

We are lucky in the UK to be protected by the Equality Act 2010 and the Ofsted CIF. ESOL students are migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who may themselves identify as LGB and or T. Bringing this topic in the classroom leads to greater understanding of the need for respect.

3. It’s too confrontational

Using a potentially controversial topic in the classroom is a great opportunity to develop language of opinion.

From a linguistic perspective, teachers should aim to elicit the difference between

  • an insult and an opinion
  • understanding, accepting and agreeing
  • normal and normative
  • religious teaching and personal interpretation

The subtlety and indirectness of English can at times be a difficult concept to grasp for cultures that have a more direct way of expressing needs or opinions.

It’s important to get the students to think about the impact of what they say and how this can affect the recipient. Challenging homo/bi/transphobia in the classroom is not about changing people’s minds. It’s about developing students’ ability to express their opinions in a non-offensive and more respectful way. All opinions and views are valid as long as they are not harmful or hurtful to others.

Teaching English is not just about the language. It’s about developing critical thinking skills, encouraging students to question things and find out answers for themselves. It’s about supporting them to become independent learners and take ownership of their learning.

Further strategies can be found in this video:

Exploration of Equality and Diversity in the ESOL classroom | British Council Seminar


What students might state / ask 

1.’There are no gays in my country’ 

Students may not be aware of the existence of LGBT people in their home countries, given the fact that it is illegal in over 79 countries in the world. 

2.It’s a sin / against my religion 

It is not the case of one size T-shirt fits all. Each religion, faith and belief is on a spectrum and some Liberal and progressive voices within these religions tend to view LGBT people more positively _and_religion_topics#Homosexuality_and_religion

3. Which one is the man / woman? 

As Ellen Degeneres once said “Asking who’s the ‘man’ and who’s the ‘woman’ in a samesex relationship is like asking which chopstick is the fork.”

This theme provides a great opportunity to understand what can be perceived as a new concept for some and develop the ability to express opinion in a non confrontational manner.

The ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) context provides an excellent opportunity for challenging homophobic social representations, and for enabling students to explore alternative representations regarding sexuality and sexual orientation contextualised within a broad range of ethnic backgrounds.

Further Reading to support of the need to embed LGBT within ESOL:

LGBT issues in English language teaching in the UK 

British Council, ESOL Nexus Research Awards 2013. Exploring LGBT Lives and Issues in

Adult ESOL Final Report – March 2014 

ESRC Seminar Series Nov 2013 to June 2015. Queering ESOL, Towards a cultural politics of LGBT issues in the ESOL classroom /  

Skills Funding Agency’s Research into Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Equality in Adult Learning

Laila El-Metoui is an ESOL specialist and independent Education Consultant.

Her staff development training sessions include LGBT inclusion and Prevent training for managers and teachers with practical ideas for inclusion in lessons.

visit or email her

Hear Laila talk on 7th February at the Museum of London

LGBT National Festival of LGBT History 2016: schools and families day.

6 thoughts on “LGBT & ESOL

  1. Wow! So amazing for me to even think about what you are tackling!
    Here in the U.S things seem to be back sliding. It seems that we are in the death throes of white male nationalism. That it is going to be a while before it is cremated!

  2. I have been following you for a while now. And one stage we talked (in a professional forum) if we should include so called taboo subjects. I really need your expert opinion on this. I will shortly contact you. Our college is quite progressive about this and I have been chosen to develop materials to be embedded or directly teaching LGBT in ESOL classes at all levels. Well done for your all work. You are inspirational!

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