New sex-ed curriculum raises concerns

Press Release

Borderland Pride is the LGBTQ2 Pride organization for the Rainy River District. As part of our mandate, we are watchdogs of diversity, inclusion, and youth wellbeing in our region.

Our advocacy has included speaking out about the Ford government’s proposed changes to Ontario’s 2015 Health and Physical Education Curriculum (HPEC), commonly known as “sex-ed.”

With [last Wednesday’s] announcement of a new HPEC for the province of Ontario, it is clear that the voices of organizations like ours–as well as those of educators, labour, students, parents, school boards, and equity-seeking groups–were effective in preventing critical topics like sexual orientation and gender identity from being eliminated from the classroom.

We wish to recognize Ontario’s new education minister, Stephen Lecce, for his efforts to navigate a difficult portfolio and deliver a curriculum that, for the most part, will continue to provide a modern, inclusive, and fact-based approach to topics such as consent, online safety, and LGBTQ2 identities and diverse family types.

However, doing so has come at great expense to taxpayers to arrive at largely the same result.
The 2019 HPEC itself raises some new concerns.

For instance:

  • While sexual orientation will be taught in Grade 5 (one year earlier than in the 2015 HPEC), gender identity has been put off from Grade 6 to Grade 8.

As we heard in the litigation earlier this year, the Grade 6 age is critical to the development of identity and is when many students begin forming their sense of self-concept–one which we hope will be positively modeled and supported by the environment around them.

That said, we are encouraged by the Ministry of Education’s express statements that educators have discretion to use their professional judgment to introduce topics in contexts that are meaningful, supportive of their students, and within the broader scheme of the curriculum.

That was made clear by the Ministry during last winter’s court hearings on this issue, and again in the launch of the 2019 HPEC and its technical briefing by Ministry officials.

We caution that vulnerable youths who are less likely to get important health information outside of the classroom, and those from groups that struggle to complete their education, may be disproportionately impacted by any delay in providing important HPEC content.

  • The expectation that school boards create a policy allowing parents to exempt their children from the human development and sexual health education components of the curriculum is also problematic.

This disproportionately impacts LGBTQ2 or questioning youth–a group that is at three times higher risk of attempting suicide or self-harm than other young people.

We have concerns about entrenching a legal mechanism which, to many, infers that LGBTQ2 people are indecent and that parents are entitled to advanced notice that their children will learn about them.

When we design public school curriculum, there is no legitimate reason for balancing students’ safety, wellbeing, and healthy development against the whims of homophobic and transphobic interest groups.

We live in a diverse society and our education system should equip all young people to navigate it.
The relief that many are feeling with the roll-out of this new curriculum does not excuse the process we have seen unfold to get here.

The premier vigorously campaigned on a pledge to scrap Ontario’s first LGBTQ2-inclusive health curriculum, and then did so and wound back the clock on sex-ed by over 20 years.

When political leaders take actions and positions like that, and fuel misunderstanding about a marginalized group, it is both dangerous and irresponsible.

It emboldens hatred and gives new life to bigotry and other barriers faced by LGBTQ2 young people and families. We have seen that south of the border on a regular basis, and it is disturbing to see it seeping into Canadian politics as well.

It is with this in mind that we look ahead to a federal election that may be characterized by a debate around so-called “conversion therapy.”

The federal Liberals could have banned or criminalized conversion therapy at any time in the previous four years, but by letting it become an election issue, we may once again see LGBTQ2 safety become a political football.

A true signal of our society’s strides toward inclusion and equality for LGBTQ2 people and families will be when that no longer happens for political gain.

Borderland Pride and its allies will continue to speak out on matters of LGBTQ2 inclusion and youth safety.