01/12/2019 09:52 EST | Updated 01/12/2019 09:52 EST

Toronto Students Fight Doug Ford's Cuts With Modern Sex Ed Conference 'Mic Drop'

“This curriculum is an issue that affects every single student.”

Student organizers work on a banner ahead of their event Mic Drop, a one-day activism conference held at The 519 in Toronto on Jan. 11, 2019.

TORONTO — This time last year, high school students Tessa Hill and Frank Hong didn't know each other.

The seventeen-year-olds attend school on opposite ends of Toronto; Hill goes to art school in the western borough of Etobicoke and Hong attends high school in East York.

It was Premier Doug Ford who brought them together. Both teenagers were dismayed when his government cancelled Indigenous-led curriculum writing sessions and repealed the new sex ed curriculum introduced in 2015. At an event on Friday, they taught more than 100 of their peers about the topics that are now absent from Ontario's official curriculum.

"This curriculum is an issue that affects every single student," Hong told HuffPost Canada. "Specifically, they're targeting LGBTQ youth. But they're affecting entire populations."

This curriculum is an issue that affects every single student.Frank Hong

The updated curriculum introduced concepts like consent, queer relationships and gender identity to classrooms for the first time. It was met with protests by some parents.

Students at Hill and Hong's event, which they called Mic Drop, spent the day at workshops on consent, how to support survivors of sexual violence, the history of colonization, how to stand up for LGBTQ2S+ peers who are being bullied, and how to talk about sex ed with religious communities.

Hill first became an activist at the age of 13, when she and a friend started a petition to get consent taught in classrooms. They met with then-premier Kathleen Wynne and succeeded. Consent was included when the curriculum was re-written in 2015.

"I think consent is such a vital part of our lives ... not just in the context of sex but any relationship, any interaction," she told HuffPost Canada. "Consent is a basic building block of being a human being."

Chris Young/Canadian Press
Former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne visits a daycare in Toronto on May 18, 2018.

Wynne remembers Hill well. When she heard Hill on the radio talking about Mic Drop on Friday morning, she decided to drop by the event to show her support.

"Their voices are so important. They always have been. But really, when the progress is under attack, their voices are even more important," Wynne told HuffPost Canada.

It's a very strong antidote to the despair that I can feel about what's going on.Kathleen Wynne

"It just makes me feel so good about young people, about the future, about the work that will continue to be done. It's a very strong antidote to the despair that I can feel about what's going on."

Roza Nozari, who works at the centre where Hill and Hong held their conference, said all the ideas for the conference came from the high schoolers themselves. Nozari is the co-ordinator of anti-violence initiatives at The 519, a centre for LGBTQ2S+ people in Toronto.

"This is a direct message to Ontario's decision-makers that youth are rising, and they're teaching each other the skills," Nozari, in a T-shirt that read "Babes for Peace," said. "They have knowledge and they have skills and they've started to organize for themselves.

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Hong predicts that there will be "an uprising" against Ford's government in the future.

Young people are "all out" on these issues, he said, and "they won't hesitate to organize ahead of the next election."

Hill said it's frustrating to hear conversations in the media about how to get more young people to care about politics. She said the point of Mic Drop was to create networks of high school students who already care about politics, and teach them the skills they need to advocate for issues like consent, LGBTQ2S+ rights and Indigenous issues.

"The thing is: we do care," she said.

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