In the 5 weeks since the Ontario PCs’ cabinet was sworn in it has become increasingly apparent that when Premier Doug Ford was sloganeering about his government being the first “For the People”, he didn’t mean LGBTQ2 people or anyone who cares about child safety or building a more inclusive Ontario.
The PCs have moved hastily to scrap the 2015 heath and sexual education curriculum put in place by their predecessors. In doing so, they are rewinding Ontario classrooms to the 1998 version of that curriculum until they “consult with parents” to reformulate a replacement.
The 1998 curriculum was outdated for at least the last decade it was taught. It is deeply heteronormative, having been developed before same-sex marriage was legalized in 2005 or any of the many LGBTQ2 rights advancements which followed. It is mum on topics of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, and it does not cover critical issues for our modern age, such as online safety. Perhaps most ironically – given the #MeToo movement which triggered Ford’s successful leadership bid – it is silent on issues such as consent.
In sum, the PCs have made it one of their top priorities to put in place an outdated curriculum that is light on facts, does not acknowledge the equality of LGBTQ2 people or their relationships, is discriminatory and inconsistent with the protections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Ontario Human Rights Code, and is negligent in protecting young people from harm or exploitation in the time of ‘sexting’ and social media. As LGBTQ2 inclusion advocates, we are repulsed by this dog-whistle about our families and deliberate act of erasure – as though we are too unsightly for Ontario classrooms. This is deeply disturbing and unacceptable.
Those looking for a saviour of modern values and common sense among Ford’s caucus appear to be destined for disappointment. As Toronto Star columnist Bob Hepburn recently opined, there does not seem to be any grown-ups in the Ford government who are willing to push back on the Premier’s bully tactics and obtuse policy choices. If we didn’t know better, we would go further and question whether there are any parents at the cabinet table either, given the ministers’ willingness to stand by while Ford’s curriculum meddling maligns LGBTQ2 kids and their families and endangers youth.
Take Deputy Premier Christine Elliott. We were appalled to read news from last month in which she said that teachers can discuss issues not included in the province’s sex-ed curriculum in private but not in front of the classroom. Not only is this at odds with the professional standards of teachers, but one can almost hear the subtext of “Shoo! Shoo! Back in the closet!” underlying her comments. Worse, as an advocate for Ontarians with disabilities, we are stunned by Elliott’s about-face on inclusion and disregard for the chill this policy casts on queer students. It is noteworthy that she said this just weeks after marching in the Toronto Pride parade with a banner decreeing that LGBTQ2 people have a home in her party.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson – whose office has been directing this fiasco – has also been clear as mud on the subject. She has yet to unequivocally specify what, exactly, will be taught in September and whether her government has deemed LGBTQ2 content too deviant for classrooms. As educators have confirmed, her climb-down claim that the 2014 curriculum would be taught in the fall – and not the 1998 curriculum – is a complete fabrication. The curriculum taught in 1998 was taught until 2014. We have been disappointed to see others parroting the same falsehood.
Caroline Mulroney, Jeff Yurek, Ross Romano, and Monte McNaughton, among others in the PC caucus, are parents of young children. As advantaged and intelligent people, they perhaps mistake their own ability to convey important lessons omitted from the PCs’ curriculum as a capability shared by most parents – which is simply not the case. Likewise, many LGBTQ2 young people are uncertain whether their family will accept and support them if they come out. Without an affirmative learning environment at school, this can perpetuate a deep sense of shame and negative self-worth with lifelong repercussions.
And lest we forget those PC officials who conduct their political lives from a glass closet or were elected with the support of gay voters, but have remained quiet about the Premier’s hostility to LGBTQ2 people. Their silence is deafening. Its message is as loud and clear as the Premier’s decision to make Sam Oosterhoff the Parliamentary Assistant for Education. Oosterhoff is a young, homeschooled MPP who is staunchly opposed to sex-ed. His appointment epitomizes ‘Ford Nation’ disdain for LGBTQ2 Ontarians.
Indeed, the PCs’ sex-ed strategy is a political and public policy quagmire. Most of those who opposed the Liberals’ curriculum are opposed to any sex-ed in Ontario classrooms, and will likely never be happy with the outcomes of the PCs’ new consultation process. The professed need to consult parents is itself a misrepresentation, as the 2015 curriculum was perhaps the most consulted-on policy in the Ministry’s history. There is no need for more. The only reason to use the 1998 curriculum as the starting point for further engagement is to obscure a backslide to less enlightened and inclusive content.
And let’s be clear: the government’s insistence on “consulting parents” is asinine. “Parents”, in this political context, is code for interest groups with animus toward LGBTQ2 people – like those headed by Ford supporters Charles McVety and Tanya Granic Allen. But even actual parents of school-aged children are not experts or professional educators. Despite their best intentions, most parents are simply not equipped to teach their children about sexual topics in a consistent, informed manner that reflects modern realities, nor are children as comfortable asking questions of their parents. Just ask any public health practitioner – or teenager – and they’ll tell you that parents simply do not always know best.
The 2015 curriculum is comprehensive and age-appropriate, and ought to remain in place. It is responsive to the needs of youth from vulnerable groups, including in the north, where access to health resources can be more limited. As the Grand Chief of Treaty 3 recently stated, “Despite ongoing efforts, many Indigenous young people have difficulty completing high school or accessing post-secondary education … and may not have access to the same guidance at home as their peers. One of our responsibilities in responding to crises like missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and youth mental health, self-harm, and suicide must be to provide Indigenous young people with information about healthy and safe relationships, sexual orientation and gender identity, and resources related to consent and gender-based violence. By putting in place antiquated sex-ed curriculum, the Ontario government is abdicating that responsibility and putting young people at risk.”
We couldn’t agree more. Ontarians deserve better from a government operating “For the People”. As watchdogs of diversity, inclusion, and youth wellbeing in our region, we are deeply disturbed and disappointed by this government’s aversion to fact-based education and public policy which protects young people and equips them to navigate our modern, cosmopolitan society. In 2018, a sex-ed strategy that fails to go beyond the birds and bees deserves a failing grade from all Ontarians.
Submitted by Red Lake Pride, Borderland Pride (Fort Frances), Rainbow Alliance Dryden, Welcome Friend Association & Rainbow Camp (Thessalon), Pride Manitoulin, Elliot Lake Pride, Fierté Sudbury Pride, Fierté Timmins Pride, North Bay Pride, and the Northern Ontario Pride Network. Contact them at StandUpForSexEd@gmail.com.