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Not only since I’ve been doing talks about LGBTQIA2S community within ELT, but a lot since then, I’ve been asked about the possibility of there being a related teacher association endorsed/organised Special Interest Group (SIG), specifically in IATEFL. For simplicity sake (at least for this post, though there is an argument to be made for or against), I’ll refer to this as Queer SIG (QSIG).

The SIG purpose–not unlike all other SIGs in terms of the special interest itself–would be to have a self-selected grouping together of members interested in and practising queer pedagogies as well as providing a forum, collection of talks, etc., to discuss queer issues within the ELT environment, for example, the practical classroom space, institutional support, teacher training and ongoing development, and policy. As an endorsed official SIG from a teaching association, this usually involves membership money, volunteer hours towards organisation/protocol, and a variety of expectations on providing the above more concretely than say, an informal Facebook group would.

I’ll address a few considerations that come to mind for me here before drawing any conclusions and largely relate this to the IATEFL context as it is the teaching association I belong to.

What QSIGs already exist?

It makes sense to first look for existing education-related examples as a starting point and I found a few, none of which I belong to.

  • American Educational Research Association Queer Studies SIG: We are committed to fostering empirical, interpretive, and critical educational research relating to queer issues, and to network individuals and organizations conducting or supporting such research. Their website doesn’t appear to have been updated in about a year, though tweets are more recently active.
  • International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions LGBTQ Users SIG: As part of our professional commitment to provide access to information, librarians are charged to support the full range of users’ informational needs including those of lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people. That said, substantial discussions of issues related to library services for LGBTQ community members have not taken place at IFLA. The LGBTQ Users SIG will address this gap in professional knowledge by offering opportunities to engage in discussions about this often invisible user group. Updates on minimal website have been recent, though not much in terms of recent news or activity appears.
  • TESOL International does not have an official SIG (i.e. their “Interest Sections”), but it offers a discussion-based platform (presumably: it’s under login/password gate) labelled Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Trans PLN.
  • Are there others?

So this is all I could find that specifically named Q as its main focus. There are various other SIGs from teaching associations where Q seems to either be identified or implied as one group under the umbrella (links go to descriptions from which I’ve drawn this conclusion): BRAZTESOL Voices SIG, IATEFL Inclusive Practices & Special Education Needs (IPSENSIG), IATEFL Global Issues SIG, KOTESOL Social Justice SIG, JALT Gender Awareness in Language Education SIG and Global Issues SIG. So, let’s move on.

Does Q belong as its own SIG or fall within a SIG with a broader audience?

This is tricky from my perspective. On the one hand, segregating Q issues out into its own group can perpetuate the othering that tends to already occur with the community itself, but… . Having a separate SIG partially removes it from inclusion among a broader audience, potentially relegating it to the fringe and seemingly looked upon, frankly, as a ‘special interest’ (ba dap bap tshhh). Normally, this tends to make my skin crawl. I often suggest that a first step in being more inclusive is through normalisation–a regular inclusion of individualised Q narratives among many in ELT–BUT this may not account for ways in which Q matters require discussion from the many stakeholders in ELT (educational institutions, publishers, teachers, learners, government, managers, teacher training, etc.). Q does deserves its own attention and comes with unique challenges that impact each of these stakeholders alone and in combination. Pretending like it fits among other interest areas does not allow for focus beyond one-off discussions that may get buried among all the others or be diluted to a superficial depth of discussion within another interest group. This point mimics how I respond to the irony of having Q-focused conference talks or events when one point that is often made in them is to not isolate Q or relegate Q to its own event.

For example, when Q is by default included in a broader SIG, it becomes one of a diverse array of talks within that SIG’s broad focuses or may also straddle multiple SIGs. To illustrate, my recent IATEFL conference talk was selected for IATEFL IPSEN’s showcase day of talks (a collection of talks selected by the SIG itself from all proposals tagged to be related to a certain audience). I tagged it both Materials Writing SIG and IPSEN SIG when submitting, but ultimately organisers (not the SIGs themselves) suggested that without the Q part, the point of the talk would be meaningless and therefore it fit into IPSEN. Upon reflection, I’m not convinced the opposite argument couldn’t also be made (i.e. without the materials part the point of the talk would be meaningless, too). For those interested in SIG-selected talks, mine was the only Q-focused for either SIG (IATEFL 2019 Programme,p. 37-43).

On one hand, Q impacts all sorts of other interest areas and should. Other Q-focused talks might be selected for some reason for another SIG because it fit there just as well (e.g. Queer managers might fit into Leadership & Management SIG talks) and so Q talks can reach a wider range of attendees. However, attendees interested in attending all Q-focused talks need to keep an eye out on the program and move around rooms. I guess that’s not such a big deal, though remaining in one room of Q-interested people and Q-focused talks, while having my day planned out like this might be a nice change…

On the other hand, while Q talks do tend to be well-attended at IATEFL at least, their spread can dilute the possible depth of conversation that we could use and sometimes be collapsed into the SIG’s broader perspective. Sometimes this might be fine because there is an obvious crossover. For IPSEN, as an example, including Q perspectives into the classroom is inclusive practice and so there are things I talked about that likely transfer to other marginalised groups. Having said that, I’m not sure that ideas from my talk were built on by those that followed it throughout the day to create a cohesive, rigorous dialogue, especially about Q in ELT itself. It just can’t. Additionally, IPSEN’s mandate (remit?) also includes issues involving racism, dyslexia, colour-blindness, physical ability challenges, anxiety, ADHD, and so do Q challenges and pedagogy discussion belong together among these special education needs? In inclusion and diversity, yes. In approach, not always. Much of the same can be said about Q as a Global Issue, really.

QSIG on its own might end up speaking to the choir (or maybe that’s good). It’s pretty likely that the people who select QSIG as part of their TA membership are highly interested in it that they forego the benefits (such as they are) of other SIGs. This arguably could result in fewer people being exposed to the awareness raising of Q issues that is so very important within ELT. Conversely, this group would likely be invested enough to enjoy going beyond an introductory level of discussion that tends to be where isolated Q talks or articles from a SIG stay to deep diving into the more complexities of tangents Q pedagogy can entail. Additionally, having an entire day (or two: PCE and Showcase Day) of Q-focused talks would require there be enough of them to fill all the slots and possibly encourage more speakers to propose Q-focused talks as a result.

This year, I count 3 at IATEFL Conference (Note: each one is tagged with at least two SIG topics, MD being materials development).

Then there are some practical considerations of having a QSIG. Additionally, for an official SIG to operate, there needs to be an ample number of members and volunteers. I’ll speak to the IATEFL context itself. When you become a member of IATEFL, you automatically enrol into one SIG of your choice. Beyond that, additional SIG memberships cost £20.00. Not a lot, but still to some it can be. Even while I’m very invested in Q itself, I’m not certain I’d opt for it as my sole SIG when other areas of interest (some of which may include Q as mentioned above) might provide me with a wide-range of contacts, discussions, and events opportunities. Additionally, IATEFL SIGs already tend to be globally quite small in numbers, with 16 of them for the entire membership (the average is 270 members–I calculated this on my own from access to membership numbers as a TDSIG Coordinator). Only a small percentage of each SIG’s membership attends their pre-conference event (at extra cost), so while a group of 25 is OK for a workshop (quality not quantity, so they say), it still needs to be financially viable and have a critical mass reach for events, PCE or otherwise, as well as publications. Unless there decreases the number of current SIGs, I’m pretty sure the argument against would include overlap, money, and the recency of IPSEN creation.

Beyond these other points, we can’t deny the fact that in some teaching contexts, joining a QSIG might be viewed as an identifier that you yourself are part of this community, the public ‘outing’ of which not all teachers are want to do for a variety of good reasons. This too may create an unfortunate limitation on membership.

So, should we or shouldn’t we?

Ideological answer: yes. Practical answer at this moment: no.

I do wholeheartedly recognise the need and desire for a platform for QSIG-interested people to come together, build contacts, discuss ideas, and improve the present and future through advocacy. Perhaps a visible and active group with a presence on social media, website, and forum? Something not tied to a TA itself?

Additionally, I’d strongly argue for current SIGs (and their TAs) to increase opportunity for Q-strands at events, Q-focused events themselves (e.g. ELT Malta Conference PCE 2018), and webinars (e.g. BrELT Queer Day), alongside broader interest areas so options to come together in online and face-to-face events are available more readily than they are now.

What do you think? Anyone want to take charge here?

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