(Liam McGunnigle, Queen’s University)
Following Ontario’s most recent provincial election, Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has already caused discrimination amongst various groups represented throughout the province. The interim sex-ed curriculum, which affects students at both the elementary and secondary levels of education, creates a misunderstanding of some of the rights minority groups possess. The sex-ed curriculum, which had been modernized by the Liberal government of 2015, was a more inclusive, a more representative system of education – this curriculum allowed students of the province to truly comprehend the functionality of a diverse country. Whether this diversity is visible or not, it is vital that students create their own understanding of this to defeat discrimination, hate-speech, etc.
However, the recent change from a Liberal government to a Progressive Conservative government, led by Doug Ford, has developed a learning environment in which students are to inform themselves. Some of the major changes brought on by the interim sex-ed curriculum include: LGBTQ+ representation, Indigenous representation (specifically First Nations, Métis, and Inuit individuals), gender identity, gender expression, and consent. With all of these changes, there will be huge discrepancies between the knowledge possessed by children from the 2015 curriculum and children from the 2018 curriculum. Not only do these ambiguities create misunderstandings of sexual realities on the personal level, but they also create divisions of understanding between levels of society which, based on age, should be very close.
Some of the biggest changes to the curriculum regard LGBTQ+ education. The 2015 sex-ed curriculum made an effort to implement education on sexuality and sexual orientation starting in elementary school, and then progressing into the secondary level. This begins in grade three by conceptualizing sexual orientation and gender identity to students. By Grade 6 and 7, students were beginning to learn about different sexual orientations, such as homosexual, bisexual, asexual, etc. In Grade 8, students were learning about different gender identities, such as transgender, transsexual, intersex, etc. The newly elected Progressive Conservative government has planned to erase the information provided on LGBTQ+ education. So far, all the new curriculum does is gesture toward LGBTQ+ identity as ‘a challenging topic to cover;’ students are simply told that gender identities and sexual orientations other than heterosexuality exist, but do not learn about them. The interim curriculum mentions the word “transgender” only once—in the glossary—and even then it is mentioned under the non-preferred term “transgendered.” This curriculum misrepresents the trans community, the LGBTQ+ community in general, and the diverse groups represented throughout Canada, specifically in Ontario.
Besides being exclusive, the education system does not enable students from the LGBTQ+ community to understand or explore their sexual orientation and gender identity while going through physical changes. The curriculum is structured so that students learn about topics like puberty and reproduction before any introduction to sexual orientation and gender identity. This implies that there is a generalized period of growth – students are assumed to all go through puberty at the same age, they are expected to understand sexual orientation and/or gender identity at a certain age, etc. This is simply not true. It is vital that students understand their sexual orientation, gender identity, puberty, physical changes and reproduction simultaneously. This is crucial for a student’s understanding not only of humans as sexual beings but as individuals with differing identities, and takes precautions that were not as well-known when the teachers in these programs were themselves being educated.
Through the internet and a huge range of activist and awareness groups, resources and information available to students outside the classroom. Why, then, does this same information need to be censored in education? The heteronormative and cisgendered culture that surrounds the interim sex-ed curriculum isolates the needs of students that are neither heterosexual or cisgender. The major problem presented within this new education system, especially for LGBTQ+ students, is the generalizations and dismissiveness of students’ cognitive and physical development. Take a cisgender homosexual male student as an example. The heteronormative lessons that he would be learning in his classes would not be applicable to him. In Grade 5, he will be discussing heterosexual reproduction, rather than being exposed to different sexual relations people could have in the future. In Grade 7, he will be learning the risks of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), but will not receive any information on the different STIs that he is more at risk of within his future sexual relations. Finally, in Grade 8, he will be introduced to the various sexual orientations and gender identities that individuals are born with. Undoubtedly this student will become confused because he is unfamiliar with the ways in which he is developing. This is just one example—any student in the LGBTQ+ community would endure a somewhat similar situation.
Altering the Ontario education system in a way that creates an even more challenging environment for students in the LGBTQ+ community excludes the wide range of sexual orientations and gender identities in Canada. Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has seemingly disregarded the importance of an inclusive sex-ed curriculum, and without that type of curriculum students are pushed aside and left to find information for themselves. Teachers and educators are supposed to provide students with the information they need to grow academically and personally, but denying this part of so many students’ identities creates division amongst educators and students. Students that are not cisgender or heterosexual are becoming an afterthought in favour of promoting a separated, rigidly structured nation that is only accepting of the societal norms, and refuses to learn to embrace or even acknowledge the differences that Canada prides itself on.
DiNovo, C. “Ontario’s Sex-Ed Curriculum Reversal Puts LGBTQ Children In Danger.” HuffPost Canada, July 12 2018.
Hauen, Jack. “The Differences between Ontario’s Interim Sex-Ed Curriculum and 2015′s.” The Globe and Mail, 4 Sept. 2018.
Jeffords, Shawn. “Ontario’s Human Rights Commission Joining Sex-Ed Legal Challenge.” Global News, 9 Oct. 2018.