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LGBT and TEFL

Two women kissing; two men kissing.There are a couple of main areas of concern regarding LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) people and issues in TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language).

  • being LGBT in different countries
  • being an LGBT teacher
  • LGBT materials

This article looks into each of these areas.

LGBT Teachers & Countries

Of course there are LGBT teachers. However, it is not so much about being an LGBT teacher as about where you are working as an LGBT teacher. In general Asia and Eastern Europe are less tolerant than the West, and the Middle East is less tolerant than all the others. A lot depends on the country and places like Russia‏‎ where the government actively persecutes LGBT people are obviously going to be more problematic.

In many countries it makes no difference what the sexual orientation of the teacher is but in some places it does make a major difference.

In the following countries homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death:

Iran‏‎, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia‏‎, Somaliland, Sudan‏‎, UAE‏‎, Yemen

In the following countries homosexuality is considered illegal:

Afghanistan‏‎, Algeria, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Comiroa, Cook Islands, Cyprus‏‎ (Turkish part only; the Greek side is fine), Dominica, Egypt‏‎, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait‏‎, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia‏‎, Maldives, Mauritius, Morocco‏‎, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Namibia, Nauru, Nigeria, Oman‏‎, Pakistan, Palau, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Qatar‏‎, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore‏‎, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Tanzania‏‎, Togo, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Western Sahara, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Also note that whilst in the following countries homosexuality is not illegal, there are various levels of tolerance.

  • China – perhaps due to the atheist nature of many people, LGBT teachers face less problems than might be expected.
  • Russia‏ – recent events have shown an aggressive stance by authorities towards LGBT people and there are proposals to introduce a law outlawing “promotion” of homosexuality. Probably best to keep quiet about your sexuality here!
  • South Korea – the country is quite conservative and homophobic. Although there are gay-friendly bars in Bangkok, for example, LGBT teachers have been known to lose their jobs when parents or school owners have realized their orientation.

LGBT Lifestyle & Schools

To begin with comes the issue of finding work. In most cases your sexuality will simply not arise or be considered during the application process so it is usually nothing to worry about.

If you are already in a relationship and want to move abroad with your partner you will firstly face the problems which all couples face regardless of their gender, that is finding work in the same location, making sure you earn enough for two, visa issues and so on. See the link below for more on this.

To get around some of these issues some gay couples have decided simply to apply for work as “friends” and put on a show for the schools. If you are comfortable going down this route, then it might be something worth considering.

Next comes actually working in a school.

In most schools in most countries the issue of your sexuality simply won’t arise. It’s less a matter of “don’t ask, don’t tell” as assuming you are straight and aside from your school owner trying to fix you up with their niece or nephew or other unattached single your love life will not be an issue.

However, if your sexuality does come out you might well find a problem coming from some parents who – when they find out that their child’s teacher is gay – suffer a brain trauma and complain to the school owner. As most TEFL jobs are in private schools, the owner (regardless of their own feelings) is sometimes forced to make the choice between employing a gay teacher and losing business; and in many countries it’s easy for them to dismiss a teacher without any consequences or tribunals being involved.

By all means if you want to fight your corner then feel free to do so, but bear in mind that it is often easier to keep your social life and your school life completely separate. Many LGBT teachers simply grin and bear it and pretend for the sake of their job.

LGBT Materials

Given the commercial nature of the ELT‏‎ there is unsurprisingly little reference to LGBT culture in most commercial ELT material. Scenarios which may be recognised by the teacher are often so subtle to be missed by students and other non-native speakers.

Notoriously in the New Headway English Course (Soars & Soars, 1996) the section discussing W.H.Auden’s famous poem Funeral Blues carefully avoids even mentioning that it was written by a gay man for his dead lover. And as Scott Thornbury (see link below) points out, although the word gay is one of most frequently used words in English (it is in the top 2,000) it is not mentioned in any ELT coursebook‎.

The major ELT Publishers obviously want to make money and their books tend to be bland and safe, not at all designed to question or provoke the imagination. This applies regardless of which market they aim towards so books which are acceptable in the most conservative countries will also be published for the most liberal countries (though obviously not the other way around).

Useful Links

LGBT TEFL Teachers – where do you fit in? – a simple (and anonymous) poll on lgbt teachers in TEFL

Country Guides – more details on living and working in different countries around the world

Applying as a Couple‏‎ – getting work as a couple

Window Dressing vs Cross Dressing in EFL Sub-Culture, by Scott G. Thornbury‏‎, 1999

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