Blair Bigham is a resident emergency physician in Hamilton.
Doug Ford continued to discriminate against LGBTQ students last week with his threat to punish teachers who don’t stick to the 1998-era sex-ed curriculum, which fails to mention sexting, same-sex couples and consent. He’s gone so far as to set up a snitch line that parents can call should they feel their kids are being taught modern issues.
He says he’s standing up for parents – but he’s failing Ontario’s children. Education experts agree: the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation all spoke out against the government’s stance, and numerous school boards have vowed to continue teaching components of the 2015 curriculum while court challenges, including one by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have been launched.
At its core, the Conservative attack on the curriculum isn’t about kids learning about body parts, or sexting, or online bullying, or consent. It’s about ideology. Mr. Ford’s base doesn’t want schools teaching that there are gay families, transgender people, and that anal and oral sex exist. The reversal aims to keep Ontario’s youths in the dark about a small but very real part of the student population, and by doing so, threatens to leave gay students out of discussions about sexual health.
Make no mistake: The decision to reverse the curriculum and fight teacher opposition to the rollback was fuelled by homophobia and has made sex education a commodity offered only to straight students.
The move is overtly discriminatory. You can’t teach youth about safe penile-vaginal sex and not safe anal sex without being exclusionary. By leaving out gay students from the conversation, you risk not conveying critical information about sexual infections, HIV and safe-sex methods.
Sexual health isn’t only about condoms and gonorrhea. It’s about being a confident, secure human being who can have thriving relationships. A 2011 school survey found 64 per cent of LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school; 21 per cent reported physical harassment or assault because of their sexual orientation. The 2015 curriculum took steps to create an inclusive classroom, the foundation for an inclusive society, in line with requirements of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Health Canada that curriculums be inclusive of LGBT students. As PHAC states, “sexual health is a major, positive part of personal health and healthy living.”
I remember growing up in Toronto at a time when my teachers, my friends, my parents – everyone, as far as I can recall – thought it was wrong to be gay. Not until I reached university did I finally feel I could acknowledge to myself that I was different. And that was in Toronto. When I read the 2015 curriculum, I thought back to my child self, and wondered if the years of confusion and loneliness I experienced might have been different had I been taught that being gay was okay, and that one day, I might even be one of two dads who adopt a kid and raise a family.
Mr. Ford has done a poor job convincing Ontarians he isn’t homophobic. He skipped Pride parades as city councillor and after his election in June, and in 2014 denounced the parade as “middle-aged men with pot bellies running down the street buck-naked.” When Mr. Ford won the PC leadership, contender Tanya Granic-Allen, the most socially conservative candidate, was the only rival who stood beside him. He appointed as parliamentary assistant to the education minister MPP Sam Oosterhoff, who hadn’t been born when work on the 1998 curriculum began, campaigned against sex ed, citing his Christian background, and has denounced the All Families are Equal Act.
Ontario’s new direction risks erasing a generation of progress toward shaping a society where LGBTQ people can feel safe and proud. Every Canadian province teaches children about sexual orientation; in Quebec, it’s done by the age of five. Several U.S. states have “modernized” their sex-ed curriculums to be inclusive of LGBTQ youth. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), LGBTQ youth "are more likely than their heterosexual peers to be threatened or injured with a weapon on school property and to skip school because they felt unsafe” and are more likely to take their lives. “Supportive schools,” says CDC, "foster pro-social attitudes and positive health behaviours among students.” Around the world, sex-ed curriculums in Europe, New Zealand and Australia provide inclusive sexuality teaching to students.
Mr. Ford is desperately trying to strongarm Ontario’s teachers into delivering a curriculum that is harmful by omission to appease his conservative base. By doing so, he risks dragging Ontario into the past, clinging to homophobic ideals of a bygone era and depriving LGBTQ children of a safe and healthy future.