The Ontario sex ed repeal can’t erase queer families, only perpetuate ignorance

Without proper education, LGBTQ+ families remain seen as ‘other’ in a way that forces them to constantly justify their existence

The Ontario sex ed repeal can’t erase queer families, only perpetuate ignorance

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Progressive Conservative (PC) Party’s decision to replace the 2015 Health and Physical Education curriculum with the outdated 1998 curriculum this fall, public reaction immediately indicated that the latter does not adequately equip children with the information they need to keep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.

The eggs we eat can’t actually hatch

The pressing need to dispel sexual misconceptions at all levels of education

The eggs we eat can’t actually hatch

Twice this past year, I have found myself having to explain that the type of chicken eggs we eat aren’t able to actually hatch into chickens. Each of these conversations began with someone questioning why, as a vegetarian, do I still eat eggs, despite the fact that they are basically “unborn chickens.”

I explained that chicken eggs are not the same as chicken fetuses. Like in human females, some eggs become fertilized and some do not; only the ones that are fertilized become fetuses, and the ones that do not are expelled from the female’s system. This is the same process with chickens, only in the form of hard-shelled eggs.

What was striking was that, instead of clarifying things, this comparison made things more confusing. I discovered that many of the individuals I spoke to had not learned the basics of female anatomy, fertilization processes, and contraception.

Misunderstanding the basics about sex seems to be widespread. Sex education varies tremendously across jurisdictions, resulting in wide knowledge gaps.

For example, sex education is monitored locally in Canada, with programs and curricula varying from province to province and creating wildly different classroom expectations depending on the location.
[pullquote-features]These discrepancies are seen across the board, meaning that it is left up to parents to teach some of the more controversial lessons in sex education. If the parents lack either prior exposure to information or the willingness to have taboo conversations, the student inherits an information deficit.[/pullquote-features]

Students in Newfoundland and Labrador learn about sexual abuse in the second grade, while teachers in Manitoba are not mandated to even approach this topic. Even more surprisingly, Quebec doesn’t have an official sexual education program at all: rather, it embeds the lessons into other subjects.

These discrepancies are seen across the board, meaning that it is left up to parents to teach some of the more controversial lessons in sex education. If the parents lack either prior exposure to information or the willingness to have taboo conversations, the student inherits an information deficit.

This is not to mention that sexual education — or the lack thereof — inherently involves opinions and value judgements. Different families, religions, and cultures have different ideologies on when having sex for the first time is appropriate and on the moral issues related to contraception and abortion.

No matter the belief system, improper education leaves youth vulnerable to unsafe practices. This variance is further amplified given the sheer international diversity of sex ed perspectives: 20.6 per cent of Canada’s population was born abroad and 25 per cent of the student body at the University of Toronto is comprised of international students.

Clearly, a lack of knowledge about sex education is not without consequence. Sexually transmitted infections continue to be prevalent in Canada and around the world; learning about these risks is essential to mitigating them.

Yet, a lack of knowledge is not the only problem in the nation’s approach to promoting safe sex; the system that is in place does not provide easy enough access to contraception. While condoms are sporadically provided for free in universities across Canada (they are available at the Sexual Education Centre and Health Services at U of T, as well as in some dorms), they remain expensive for many. Cheaper and more accessible options for safer sex should be more widely explored.

Lauren Groskaufmanis, a student at Duke University School of Medicine, previously taught sex ed to adolescents in North Carolina high schools. She explains that she is not aware of any sex ed programs that do not teach abstinence as the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and STIs, no matter how progressive the program.

“You can’t teach abstinence only because it’s not preventative,” Groskaufmanis says. “Providing teenagers access to condoms doesn’t raise the rate of sexual activity, neither does education.”

Instead, prevention of STIs and unplanned pregnancy is most effective when sex education is paired with access to contraception and other health resources. The American Academy of Pediatrics made guidelines in 2013 that recommended providing free condoms, finding that condom use increased when free access was provided by the school system.

[pullquote-features]Providing adequate resources and a solid educational basis provides protection to students, who can be vulnerable to the dangers of unsafe sex.[/pullquote-features]

At U of T, while students benefit from the free access to safer sex supplies offered at some locations, some students may be embarrassed and unwilling to take advantage of this option if they are to be seen doing so in public. This creates varying barriers for student access and, consequently, varying levels of safe sex.

Providing adequate resources and a solid educational basis provides protection to students, who can be vulnerable to the dangers of unsafe sex. It also accommodates for the impractical idea that all students come into university with thorough knowledge about sex.

Therefore, the University of Toronto should prioritize sexual education at the university level, by strengthening and expanding upon existing programming, and by improving access to contraception on campus.

As beneficial as the resources currently available may be, they are not sufficiently widespread to help all students. For instance, while the Sexual Education Centre provides contraception and resources and works hard to promote sex positivity on campus, some students are not comfortable reaching out to make use of these services. Making sexual education more prevalent on campus may encourage those students to reach out.

For students who invariably have different exposure to sexual education, providing access to contraception and education in university will reduce problems at university and further on in life. Free contraception and universal sexual education are the best ways for the university to reduce misunderstandings about sex and the inevitable problems that occur ― they would accommodate for the fact that students in university are inevitably having sex.

 

Sunniva Bean is a second-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Sociology and International Relations.