A new sex-education curriculum in Ontario treats homosexuality as a normal part of life, and so it should, in a country in which gay marriage is legal. Sexual health and identity need to be taught in a way that does not contribute, even indirectly, to the shame and stigma that have attended homosexuality through the ages.
Ontario is not the first province in which teaching about homosexuality has been controversial. In Surrey, B.C., the issue of whether books about same-sex families should be on a reading list - in kindergarten - went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002. (The court said they probably should be.)
Now a coalition of religious and family-values organizations is threatening to pull their children out of Ontario public schools on May 10 in protest against the new curriculum. Charles McVety, a leader of Canada's evangelical Christians, says it's unconscionable to teach children as young as eight about gender identity and sexual orientation. Reverend Ekron Malcolm, director of the Institute for Canadian Values, says the teaching of homosexuality should be left to parents. "I believe that it will end up infringing on their thought processes and their desires and ability to make correct choices." The implication is that children may choose homosexuality because of what they learn in school.
If stigma were enough to keep people from being homosexuals, the practice would have disappeared long ago.
The children of same-sex parents are part of the schools. So are students who may be coming to terms with a feeling that they are oriented toward the same sex. And all students hear the term "gay" from the earliest years in the schoolyard, or at home, or on television. Even young children perceive that the term may be used as an insult. It does no one any good to leave the children on their own to make sense of it all.
It is not the place of the schools to provide how-to instruction on sex, heterosexual or same-sex. But that is not what Ontario's new curriculum is about. It appears to be sensitive to teaching what is appropriate at different ages. In Grade 3, the curriculum suggests that teachers "describe how invisible differences (e.g., learning abilities, skills and talents, personal or cultural values and beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, family background, personal preferences, allergies and sensitivities) make each person unique, and identify ways of showing respect for differences in others." In Grade 7, teachers are told to talk about the importance of having a common understanding with a partner about delaying intercourse ("e.g. . . choosing to abstain from vaginal or anal intercourse") until they are older. This is not very different from how sex was taught 40 years ago.
It is about having respect for differences, a respect that would be undermined if some differences were treated as still unsafe to talk about.