The immediate context for this seminar series is the climate created by the 2010 Equality Act. The Act identifies a variety of settings, including the provision of education, in which discrimination on the basis of nine ‘protected characteristics’ is deemed illegal. Of the nine, three are directly relevant to this proposal: sexual orientation, being in a civil partnership and gender reassignment. In turn, OFSTED has responded by updating its Handbook for the inspection of further education and skills (2012: 38) by identifying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender learners as a group whose ‘needs dispositions, aptitudes or circumstances’ may mean that they ‘require particularly perceptive and expert teaching and, in some cases, additional support.’ This changed inspection framework presents institutions and ESOL practitioners with a set of challenges that are wide ranging and in need of exploration from a range of disciplinary, professional and policy perspectives.
Recent reports (United Nations, 2011; Itaborahy 2012) show that despite the ongoing decriminalisation of homosexuality globally, state-sponsored homophobia in the form of legislation designed to persecute those identifying as LGBT is currently on the increase in many parts of the world. Developments in migration studies now identify ‘sexual migration’ (Carrillo, 2004) as an emerging field of research, with implications for various areas of policy, e.g. immigration and asylum law, health and education, and language education. However, despite notable exceptions (Nelson, 2010) this remains under-researched in ESOL. Indeed, as has been pointed out, sexual diversity remains largely invisible in language teaching generally (Burke, 2000; Dumas, 2010; Gray, forthcoming), with potentially negative consequences for LGBT language learners (Liddicote, 2009).
At the same time, some feminist and queer scholars (e.g. Richardson, 2004) have suggested that because much contemporary LGBT campaigning is rights-focused and overwhelmingly framed within government endorsed discourses of citizenship, there is a risk that the increasingly recognised legitimacy of same-sex orientation is linked with normative models of good citizenship. As ESOL providers have been increasingly tasked by government with imparting a much critiqued model of citizenship to migrants (Cooke and Simpson, 2008), the recent modifications to the OFSTED inspection criteria present the sector with the opportunity to explore models of citizenship that include the concept of ‘sexual citizenship’ (Richardson, 2000), while at the same time engaging with the rights of those ESOL students who are also members of faith groups, many of which are often uncritically assumed to be antagonistic to cultural pluralism (e.g. Huntingdon, 1996, 2004). Thus, in addition to allowing us to identify how best to support the needs of LGBT students and teachers in the light of new institutional and legal frameworks, the seminar series presents a unique opportunity for exploring and making visible the inherently complex cultural politics of LGBT issues in ESOL more broadly.