Activists should be proud this week. The fact that Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced on Friday that her government will not exclude vital lessons around LGBTQ+ sexuality, consent, and social-media literacy from Ontario’s sexuality education curriculum is proof that the massive wave of public push-back in support for sex-ed is working. The overwhelming majority of parents, educators, and young people who stood up to fight for sex-ed were impossible to ignore. It’s a win for sex-ed but what the government announced is a compromise between what they want and what parents, teachers, and young people are asking for.
Ontario’s plan for the sex-ed curriculum still fails to meet the rights and needs of kids. We need to remain vigilant.
Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum will remain a step back from where we got to in 2015. The minister said that the curriculum will delay teaching about gender identity and expression until Grade 8, which is the latest they can possibly push it within elementary school curriculums. These compromises may seem small but they have serious implications for students and their families, particularity LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. Now is the time to recognize that protest works and that we should continue to push until no child is left behind.
First, some context: according to UN experts and the 2018 UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, no curriculum in Canada meets the highest quality standards for sex ed. Almost no kid in Canada is getting the complete education they need to live full, healthy lives. Those few who do are fortunate enough to have exceptional supports that are often offered by sexual health experts who have made it their mandate to build capacity in schools or with children themselves. But this is the exception, not the rule.
The inconsistent, patchwork nature of quality sex education throughout Canada is nothing less than a human rights violation. That is why a recent letter sent from a large group of UN human rights experts to Prime Minister Justin Trudeaudemands that Canada immediately intervene to ensure that young people across Canada, in every jurisdiction, have equal access to high-quality sex ed. And that is why Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is campaigning for better sex ed everywhere in Canada.
Playing politics with the health of kids is a dangerous thing for any government to do. Thankfully, the public has proved that it has no intention of sacrificing the well-being of young people because of unwarranted fears based on misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.
We should feel proud that parents, educators, and young people were successful in pushing back against what could have been an unmitigated disaster. But we should also remain deeply concerned that the new curriculum will not meet the needs of our kids.
The fact that children will not be taught about gender identity until Grade 8 may not seem like a big deal but it will have a huge negative impact. The notion that including gender diversity in classroom discussions is not “age-appropriate” is patently untrue, as well as dangerously stigmatizing. Most children will develop a sense of their gender identity between the ages of two and five. How is that child meant to feel when people are telling them that their thoughts, feelings and indeed, their whole self is not “appropriate” to express? For kids who are gender diverse, or gender creative, knowing that gender expression and diversity exists and that it is normal will have real consequences for their mental and physical health. This isn’t about politics, this is about real people and their lives.
All kids need to learn about gender identity. Gender roles that teach boys to be tough and unemotional and girls to be submissive and pleasing have serious consequences too. These messages, so pervasive in society and media, must be actively managed through gender-sensitive, gender inclusive, age-appropriate sexuality education that begins in kindergarten.