I had to ban an old high school friend from my blog’s Facebook page last night after the Ontario Election was called. After hearing Doug Ford would be the new Premier, she posted “At least my kids won’t have sodomy shoved in their faces at school anymore!”
This now-unfriended “friend” had written her comment in response to my post about how worried my children were when they found out the Ontario PC Party had won a majority government in yesterday’s provincial election. Near tears, one of my teen daughters had said, “They’re going to undo all the work the Liberals did to teach kids about inclusion. What does that mean for people like us?”
My “friend’s” (now-deleted) response saddened me, but it didn’t surprise me. Working as an LGBTQ advocate, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the bigoted comments and tweets on social media since Donald Trump was elected as US President last year. With a similarly unapologetically loud, brash and socially conservative candidate just winning in my home province, I’ve seen many statements along these lines from some of his supporters already, and sadly I expect to see more.
Among the party’s pledges to voters is to remove the existing Health and Physical Education Curriculum (“sex-ed”) from public schools, which was implemented by the now-defeated Liberal government and includes teaching students about gender and sexual orientation.
My daughter came out as trans, and it saved my marriage Having gender identity and sexual orientation included in the curriculum is important to my family: my wife and I are a same-sex couple. She’s transgender, as is one of our four children. Both my wife and my daughter knew from a young age the gender they were assigned at birth didn’t match who they are. Both say that if they’d had gender identity taught in school, it would have saved them years of pain and shame.
I can relate. I was a closeted lesbian for much of my life. When I was taught about sexual health in school, it was purely from a heterosexual perspective: a man and woman get together and make babies – here’s how! To have come out back then, to my classmates, with as little information as we all had, would have been dangerous. Like my wife and daughter, I tried to conform to society’s expectations of me because I saw no other way. It left me miserable.
Some people believe these teachings confuse children, that they put ideas in their heads about who they are or who they’re attracted to. There’s simply no proof of that. Kids learn new information at school all the time about different lives, cultures and religions, yet it doesn’t change who they are or how they live. It merely broadens their minds.
What good health and physical education does for LGBTQ kids or kids from queer families, however, is invaluable. It gives them the language to express who they are and normalizes their experiences. It allows them to see their own realities reflected in the classroom. It creates a more welcoming and inclusive environment by educating their peers.
But why do we have to teach this in school? Couldn’t the kids just learn it at home?
In some cases, yes. Some families create an environment where talking about these issues in healthy ways is supported. Unfortunately, in other families, that environment is lacking for a variety of reasons, including ignorance or bigotry.
How do LGBTQ kids who grow up in homes like these learn about themselves? How do the straight, cisgender children in those homes learn inclusion, if their parents aren’t teaching it? Sometimes, the only safe place for LGBTQ kids is their school. If we take that away by refusing to provide fact-based, age-appropriate, well-rounded teachings, we’re putting lives at risk. To give an example, 47% of trans youth in Ontario have considered suicide and 19% have attempted it. With proper support at home and school, those numbers drop to nearly the same averages as for cisgender (or non-trans) youth.
But these teachings aren’t just about LGBTQ issues. On top of basic reproduction and birth control, kids also learn about body autonomy, consent, abuse and violence prevention, healthy relationships, stereotyping, decision-making skills, and much more. There are many good reasons to support a robust and comprehensive sex-ed curriculum.
My former friend’s response makes me wish our generation had received a stronger education when we went to school. It also tells me we can’t trust that kids will learn basic facts about sexuality and gender and how to be inclusive, outside the classroom.
As parents, we have a big role to play in ensuring our schools and homes are healthy places for all our children. Here are some ways to do that.
- Find out what children are being taught and when. (In Ontario, a lot of misinformation has been spread about the current curriculum.) If you have any concerns, chances are they’ll be put to rest. Many of the fears aren’t based on facts.
- Get in touch with your local MPP to find out where they stand on supporting health and physical education. Their job is to vote in the interests of their constituents. The more they hear from voters who want a strong curriculum, the better.
- No matter what, make a point of brushing up on your own education. The number of girls stepping forward after sexual assault is growing, as is the number of youth coming out. A recent poll in the US found 20% of millennials identify as LGBTQ. Your own child might need your unconditional love and understanding some day.
When we support strong sexual and health education, we’re not only supporting the LGBTQ community, women’s reproductive rights and teaching consent. We’re also championing our children’s right to learn and grow up in a more inclusive world. My old high school friend might not understand how important this education is for all our families, but I hope you do.
In May, Doug Ford said, “For too long the Liberals have ignored Ontario parents. They have introduced the sex curriculum based on ideology.”
Well, Mr Ford, I’m an Ontario parent, and I didn’t feel ignored. And for the record, it’s not “ideology” to be who you are or love who you love. With four years of a government determined to think that way, however, it’s more important than ever we parents get educated, get organized, and fight to keep the sex-ed curriculum strong—for all our kids.