By Yulia Federov
Since 1998, Canada has made significant strides in its legal and social recognition of the 2SLGBTQIAP population. In 2000, Bill C-23 was passed, affording homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. In 2005, Canada legalized same-sex marriage. In 2013, Kathleen Wynne, the first openly gay premier in Canada, was elected to office in Ontario.
This country is now regarded as a leader in progressive 2SLGBTQIAP rights.
And yet, with all the progress that Canada has made in the past twenty-one years, the question remains: why must Ontario’s sexual education curriculum be stuck in the late 90s?
When asked about the Ford government’s repeal of the 2015 sexual education curriculum and the reinstallation of the outdated 1998 curriculum, Carly Basian, Owner and Founder, My Sex Ed says” “When you look at the 1998 curriculum you don’t see any mentioning of what gender orientation is, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or the spectrum of sexual orientation.”
“Because it’s not included, that’s implicitly telling students that this is not okay to discuss, this is not appropriate, there’s something wrong.”
Basian, an Ontario curriculum expert in the field of sexual health education, founded My Sex Ed after realizing that teachers were in need of the proper tools and resources to be able to effectively teach sexual health to their students. She regularly leads workshops, and provides courses and guidelines for educators across the province.
Carly Basian acknowledges that the current curriculum ignores many important topics that are relevant to queer youth. One of the main topics left out of this outdated curriculum, which she believes to be crucial for young people to learn, is that of gender identity. “There’s tons of research out there that shows that kids as early as the age of two have a strong understanding of their gender identity, even though they don’t have the words for it necessarily,” she explains.
“If we’re not having conversations about [it], any sort of student that doesn’t fit that norm, they’re going to be a target for bullying and harassment. So to be able to have those conversations […] sets up students for success and to feel safer in school, and have a stronger understanding of their identity.”
Anne Creighton, President of the Toronto chapter of Pflag Canada, a nationwide organization which works with families of 2SLGBTQIAP youth, agrees that gender identity, and other 2SLGBTQIAP topics, need to be taught in schools, especially at an early age.
“We know, both from our own experience and also from the experts, that kids know their gender very young. There are kids coming out in daycare. There are kids coming out in JK and SK. They are very clearly expressing their gender identity in some cases, and that is the age at which you need to [teach] these things.”
One of the major risks that come with the lack of education on topics pertinent to queer youth, is the alienation and continued stigmatization of those youth. “When one in ten people identify as LGBTQ+ it’s not a small group,” Creighton explains. “These kids have traditionally suffered, they’ve suffered by not being acknowledged, and they’ve suffered by being afraid to tell anybody about who they are. So this has made them targets.”
In order to lessen the stigma of identifying as queer, and reduce the chances that a child will be bullied for their gender orientation or their sexuality, Creighton says: “We need [the other] ninety percent of kids to understand that it’s normal, it’s natural and it’s okay to be like this. And that it’s not something weird or bad.”
Basian echoes this idea. “You’re going to have students who identify as trans[gender]. You’re going to have students that come from a family with two moms or two dads. To talk about those family dynamics and different identities at an earlier age, it removes the stigma and it normalizes those different types of identities.”
Both Basian and Creighton recognize that some positive changes will, indeed, be made to the sexual education curriculum come the fall of 2019. For example, gender identity, which was previously taught to grade three students per the 2015 curriculum, will now be taught in grade eight. However, both believe such an important topic should be taught earlier rather than later.
“We [know] that our kids [need] simple messages that it’s okay to be who you are, that there’s nothing wrong with you, and those sorts of reassuring messages need to happen in those early grades,” says Creighton.
The Ford government has not yet proven itself to be committed to the wellbeing of everyone in Ontario—especially those who have notoriously been stigmatized and victimized by society at large. Youth who fall under the spectrum of 2SLGBTQIAP need to have the proper resources and structures that support their healthy development, and promote their inclusion.
While remaining optimistic, Carly Basian and Anne Creighton continue to work toward pushing for a safe and comprehensive sexual education curriculum. “We’re not stopping our advocacy until that curriculum comes out,” says Creighton. “The devil will be in the details—and we’ll see that in May.”