On Saturday morning, May 25, Gender- and Sexuality-Inclusive Curriculum Task Group (GSIC) in collaboration with SUGender launched the GSIC ELT Initiative by conducting a meeting at Karaköy Minerva Palace with local ELT professionals and graduate students. Ten attendees were present in this first meeting. The participants gathered from Bahçeşehir, Beykent, Koç, Medeniyet, Medipol, MEF and Sabancı universities.
The GSIC ELT Initiative aims to make university-level ELT gender- and sexuality-inclusive in Istanbul. Earlier this year, the initiative invited local ELT professionals who are either doing research and working in this area or are interested in gender and sexuality topics to join the initiative. The initiative plans to have monthly meetings for a year and encourage collaboration among academics, instructors and ELT graduate students to develop materials that are gender and sexuality inclusive.
Why the need for this initiative?
The desire to do active work on queer inclusion in education, particularly in ELT, began when the task group members found common ground after a presentation on intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989) that they both attended, which sparked a series of conversations on gender and sexuality, heteronormativity , personal educational experiences and histories, and the common concern for the general lack of legitimate gender and sexuality representation and inclusion in learning and teaching environments. Heteronormative constructions often present a narrow view of identity that permeates many aspects of pedagogical materials and practices. By privileging heterosexuality, heteronormativity leads to misrepresentation, marginalization, and/or an ignorance of queer identities which could have detrimental implications, pedagogically and otherwise on people who identity as queer. It is important to include explicit and complex representations of non-normative identities in order to combat discrimination and raise awareness on how heteronormativity interacts within institutional systems and creates inequalities and oppression.
We started our presentation with an introduction to the initiative’s mission and aims and shared our story with the attendees. We then invited the attendees to write down their expectations regarding the proposed monthly meetings; effectively working together as a cohesive group and attending meetings. We followed this with a whole group discussion. To provide an opportunity for some team-building and have the attendees start thinking about sexual and gender identities, we used the sample class discussion questions in Nelson’s article* (1999) for a group mingle activity. The participants shared and expressed their thoughts with one another in a lighthearted and non-threatening way.
In order to better understand and identify the needs of the participants joining the initiative, we designed a needs analysis survey. As some participants did not get the chance to take the survey before the meeting, we asked them to spend some time answering the questions. The results show that all teachers who took the survey had no training on LGBTQIA+ inclusive pedagogies/practice. They all stated that they would like to have training on LGBTQIA+ terminology, themes and issues. 66.7% said that they had not used materials that are inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people, topics and issues in their lessons. Of the 33.3% who used inclusive materials before, five stated that they adapted their institution’s or outside materials while only two stated that they designed their own materials. 75% responded that they had raised LGBTQIA+ themes and/or issues in class without planning. Some said that the topics arose as a result of student initiative, while others said that they avoid heteronormative inquiry and use gender-neutral language, impart positive and inclusive thinking, raise students’ awareness of sexism and address discrimination.
We followed this with a presentation on basic terminology on sexuality, focusing on defining gender identity and sexual orientation as distinct categories. Our next topic was intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989). Intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989) is a helpful tool in investigating heteronormativity and systems of oppression and inequities. Elizabeth Coleman kindly accepted our invitation to give a brief introduction to Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality. Coleman shared a short definition of the concept, talked about how the concept emerged and explained it with a few examples. She mentioned that an individual may experience multiple forms of oppression and/or discrimination. She added that by taking into consideration how these identities overlap within a person, an intersectional approach helps in understanding the complex and multiple forms of disadvantages a person may face. Lastly, we talked about the importance of allyship and what defines an ally.
Both Justin and I chose three foundational articles each as suggested reading for the next meeting in June and gave short summaries of them. We also shared with the participants our online literature folder so that everyone could have easy access to the articles and invited all to share their own articles to add to the folder for future suggested reading. We proposed summer reading and invited everyone to make contributions to the reading list.
Future meetings will begin with discussion of literature to provide everyone foundational knowledge on queer topics in ELT and inspire ideas for developing materials. We found that this first meeting was very promising and productive. We are eagerly looking forward to our second meeting in June.
●When is it not important to identify someone as trans [non-binary] [cisgender]?
1) According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, heteronormativity refers to the assumption that everyone is heterosexual, privileging heterosexuality as the only natural sexuality and superior to others. Accessed May 2019.
2) Queer Theory asks for an interruption of the limiting structures and forms of thinking created by heteronormativity to broaden the experiences of perception, interpretation, representation and imagination. (See Sumara & Davis, 1999)