Perhaps it was naiveté, but when Doug Ford first claimed that he would repeal Ontario’s newly instated sex-ed curriculum back in February of 2018, I convinced myself that he was simply attempting to appease his socially conservative voter base. I could not comprehend that a politician, let alone a provincial premier, could be so irresponsible, so unethical, so reckless with our youth as to follow through with such a heinous plan.
I was wrong. Not only was Doug Ford not bluffing, but he was so serious about reverting back to the 1998 curriculum that he made reinstating it one of his first priorities upon taking office in June. And make no mistake, if you’ve heard the PC government referring to this curriculum as the 2014 curriculum, this is word play meant to deceive the people of Ontario. The curriculum that was being taught in 2014 is the 1998 curriculum.
If you are unfamiliar with this 1998 curriculum, I will do my best to familiarize you with it. However, with a curriculum with as many holes as this one, it is likely easier to list what is missing from the curriculum rather than including the short list of what is actually taught. The 1998 curriculum makes no mention of consent, masturbation, trans or gender nonconforming identities, sexting or even proper names for genitalia. Students are taught that abstinence is a standard to strive for. The curriculum pre-dates same sex marriage legalization in Canada. It pre-dates the technological advancements that leave our youth so vulnerable.
The 1998 curriculum was inadequate in 1998. It is morally reprehensible to reinstate this discriminatory and exclusive document in 2018. We have come too far to pretend that we do not know the consequences of allowing bigotry to run rampant in our society.
It is not an exaggeration to say that lives are at stake when LGBTQIA2S+ youth face approximately fourteen times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than heterosexual peers and 77% of trans respondents in an Ontario-based survey had seriously considered suicide and 45% had attempted suicide (CAMH). Outside of statistical evidence, we recently saw the effects of homophobic violence and bullying with the suicide of 9-year-old Jamel Myles in Denver, Colorado. These are not simply statistics; these are real human lives with families and loved ones. Children need to know that there is nothing wrong with not conforming to societal standards embedded in heteronormativity and patriarchal gender roles.
In a society with such deep roots in transphobia, homophobia, and heteronormativity, refusing to teach marginalized youth about their identities leaves children susceptible to bullying and violence that can manifest itself in serious mental health issues. It is in this context that the PC government’s choice to eradicate inclusive, progressive sex-education can only be perceived as an act of violence against the LGBTQIA2S+ community. This is institutionalized homophobia and transphobia. We cannot be complicit in this reprehensible attack on queer children.
Not only does this legislation pose great risk to the mental wellbeing of queer and trans youth, but it also has the potential to impact physical health in so many ways. A lack of education surrounding non-heterosexual sex leaves queer youth, particularly young gay and bisexual men, ignorant to the diseases they are at a greater risk of contracting such as HIV. Our society witnessed the dangers of neglecting the severity of HIV in the 1980s. We should know better.
More broadly, failing to teach our youth about consent contributes to a greater risk of the province’s youth experiencing sexual violence. Recently, with the advent of the #metoo movement, the pervasiveness of sexual violence has become unquestionably evident. We need to more to equip our youth with the information needed to stop the perpetuation of sexual violence.
As if the reimplementation of the 1998 curriculum was not disgraceful enough, Doug Ford and his administration has promised to punish educators who follow their conscience and defy this discriminatory curriculum. A snitch line has been set up for parents to report teachers for their failure to follow Ford’s policies. Teachers are forced to refrain from teaching scientific, consent-based, inclusive sex-ed to their students. Amidst Doug Ford’s quest for protecting ‘free speech’ on university campuses, the hypocrisy of preventing educators from talking about consent or gender identity is blatantly obvious.
Along with the ridiculous ‘2014 curriculum’ attempt at concealing this act of institutionalized homophobia and transphobia, education minister Lisa Thompson and the rest of the conservative party will throw around the claim that there was a lack of parental consultation involved in the writing of the 2015 curriculum. They will attempt to purify their intentions while using children as pawns in their regressive agenda, but these are lies. The 2015 curriculum is one of the most well researched and thoroughly consulted education documents in the history of the province of Ontario. The 2015 health and physical education curriculum is 239 pages long and was written over a span of almost 10 years of consultations from psychologists, educators, and over 4000 parents. The 1998 sex-ed curriculum is 42 pages long.
We must continue to show our elected officials that we will not stand for this attack on the safety and wellbeing of our youth. We must support teachers and teachers’ unions who are willing to risk their careers so that their students can learn a sex-ed curriculum that applies to them, that has the power to save their lives. We must put pressure on our government to prioritize our province’s children and their human rights over approval ratings from bigots often referred to as social conservatives. We must do more. We owe it to the children of this province.