Following the Ontario Progressive Conservative (PC) Party’s decision to replace the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum with the outdated 1998 curriculum this fall, public reaction immediately indicated that the latter does not adequately equip children with the information they need to keep themselves safe and healthy in the modern era.
Under the scrutiny of parents, educators, and health professionals, Minister of Education Lisa Thompson has made comments about amending the curriculum to include information on internet safety, but she has not indicated that the 1998 curriculum will be amended to mention LGBTQ+ people or relationships — one of the underlying reasons social conservatives support this repeal.
Ontario needs a curriculum that acknowledges LGBTQ+ families. I know the effects of the 1998 curriculum first hand. When my second grade class found out that my mom is a lesbian, they asked if that meant I was gay too — or if it was something they could catch. When my eighth grade class found out, they asked who was the husband and who was the wife in my mom’s relationship. When my 10th grade class found out that my mom is gay, they asked how she had sex with her partner.
Homophobia remains a large problem in schools, and will no doubt be exacerbated by scrapping the updated curriculum. But to me, the point isn’t that my peers were homophobic. While some were, the majority of my schoolmates were simply curious and uneducated, and they assumed I had answers to questions that no one else would let them ask.
At the crux of the social conservatives’ argument against the updated sex ed curriculum is the belief that it will introduce children to homosexuality. According to a webpage by the right-wing group Campaign Life Coalition, the 2015 curriculum “normalize[s] homosexual family structures and homosexual ‘marriage’ in the minds of 8-year-olds.”
This argument is clearly flawed, considering the fact that same-sex marriage was legalized over a decade ago. In the eyes of the federal government and the court system, same-sex marriage is already normal.
“It’s curious that they think that repealing the sex ed curriculum will mean people don’t know about same-sex couples,” says my mom. “Our children talk about their families in school and we show up at the events!”
She’s right: reverting to a curriculum that predates the legalization of same-sex marriage and important wins for the trans community won’t erase LGBTQ+ families. But the problem isn’t that LGBTQ+ families aren’t seen and heard; it’s that we’re still seen as ‘other’ in a way that forces us to constantly justify our existence.
When I, and the other children of gay parents, become the sole source of information on LGBTQ+ people at our schools, our lives are put under scrutiny in ways that other children’s are not. We are forced to live as posterchildren for the narrative that LGBTQ+ parents are perfect parents — and that we are perfect children — just so our families will be accepted. The reality is that we are not perfect, and constantly having to pretend that we are becomes a burdensome role.
Recently, the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study released the results of the longest running study of children from lesbian parents. It adds to a number of studies that suggest that children raised by same-sex families are no worse off than their peers.
LGBTQ+ families don’t need a study to know that their families are normal families. Families like mine are not a new experiment or phenomenon — they have always existed and will continue to exist with every new government and policy change. The updated 2015 sex ed curriculum that acknowledges queer families cannot undo centuries of discrimination. What it can do is lessen the ignorance we face today.
Makeda Zook, co-editor of Spawning Generations: Rants and Reflections on Growing Up with LGBTQ+ Parents, tells me in an email that the exclusionary 1998 curriculum not only “leaves [queer] families out, it leaves us vulnerable and uncertain about who to trust and who will have our backs when faced with violent attitudes and behaviours.” Zook says the dehumanization that LGBTQ+ families face as a result of being excluded from curriculum “makes violence possible.”
Zook shares that while growing up in the 1990s with two lesbian moms, she felt like she “had to (from a very young age) make the choice between actively trying to hide and remain invisible or risk being bullied and harassed.” She continues, “By repealing Ontario’s 2015 sex-ed curriculum this is the choice we are leaving kids to face now over 20 years after I graduated from elementary school.”
The PC’s decision to revert back to a curriculum created in a time when our families lacked important rights demonstrates that despite victories for queer families over the twenty-first century, Ontario still has a ways to go. Despite this decision, I’ve seen a positive shift since I left grade school, and the publication of an anthology like Spawning Generations leaves me with the hope that by telling our stories, queer families can push for acceptance.
Though he may try, Doug Ford cannot take Ontario back to the twentieth century, and the pushback to this decision in the form of protests across the province makes it clear that LGBTQ+ families refuse to be erased.
Amelia Eaton is a second-year Political Science and Ethics, Society, and Law student at Woodsworth College.