New premier Doug Ford, shamelessly pandering to social conservatives, decided to scrap the revised 2015 Ontario Health and Physical Education curriculum, and revert to a sex-ed curriculum from 20 years ago, which lacks a comprehensive understanding of gender expression and the concept of affirmative consent.
This new curriculum could have saved lives. I know from experience. Let me tell you what it was like growing up as a gay kid in the late 1980s and early '90s.
The bullying started in the first grade. I was called a "girl." By the age of six, my peers had already learned the idea that girls were lesser than boys, and a boy who was, or seemed, different from others was a justified target for ridicule.
By the third grade, back in 1990, the bullying took on specific elements of homophobia, and I was called every slur under the sun. One particular classmate looked me in the eye and said, "My dad says you're a f**." I was eight years old.
This continued, every day, all throughout my remaining years in that elementary school. "Homo. Gaylord. Gay. F**. Girl. I bet you have AIDS."
These words were shouted at me as I walked home from school, as I was shoved in school hallways, as I was physically assaulted during recess; these were words I heard every single day of my childhood, directed at me with malice. Going to school every day was terrifying.
By age 11, I was having serious suicidal thoughts. Most nights I would cry myself to sleep. I wanted to die.
My peers had no guidance to lead them to realize that what they were doing was not only wrong, but incredibly harmful.
The truth is that most of my elementary school peers were likely not specifically taught or instructed by their parents to be anti-gay, but homophobic sentiments permeate culture, and kids pick up on them. All that is needed is for one bully to plant the seed, and the group mentality will help it grow.
What seems to be certain, however, is that my classmates' parents hadn't talked to them about gay people in a meaningful way. They certainly had not taught their children to treat gay people, or people they suspect to be gay, with respect and decency.
But there was no educational discussion in school about gay people either, so my peers had no guidance to lead them to realize that what they were doing was not only wrong, but incredibly harmful.
The 2015 sex-ed curriculum revision had started to correct that, as it addresses the reality that in every school there are LGBTQ kids, and students with LGBTQ parents or family members. LGBTQ people exist in every type of family dynamic, in every city, in every country, in every religious and cultural group, all over the world.
We have always existed, and we'll continue to exist and outlast every fight against us.
My nieces and nephew, all under the age of 10, know their Uncle Raymond has a boyfriend. This is not, and was not, confusing or shocking for them. Children with LGBTQ parents or family members don't struggle with understanding or embracing them. Children are remarkably adaptable and open before they have been taught to hate.
Children are taught how, and whom, to hate. The opposition to this curriculum is inexorably tied to parents who want to teach their children what, and whom, to hate.
I've witnessed the anti-LGBTQ tenor in the objections to the curriculum, in the signs being held at the rally against it at Queens Park and on literally every comment section in online articles.
It's particularly painful to see parents so hatefully broadcasting their bigotry toward LGBTQ people, and not just because these are the types of people who will be raising their children to harbour anti-LGBTQ beliefs, but because many of these parents do indeed have an LGBTQ child. It's completely lost on these people that harbouring and espousing anti-LGBTQ beliefs and sentiments will not ensure their children are heterosexual.
Trust me when I say these children are aware of their parents' bigotries, and are living in fear of what will happen if and when their parents find out the truth.
The revised sex-ed curriculum would have been one of the only affirming influences in the lives of LGBTQ youth.
I was extremely fortunate in that the family I was born into was, and is, decidedly progressive. My parents, who had gay friends, were married by an openly-gay minister. The church I was raised in, the United Church of Canada, was open-minded, and embracing of LGBTQ people.
Life at home was the only safe heaven. As a gay man, a queer person, that is extremely lucky, and still to this day unfortunately rare. Very few of my queer friends were born into families as progressive as mine.
LGBTQ communities are strong with survivors who grew up in households where it was not OK to be themselves. Knowing your family will disown you, hate you, kick you out of the house, possibly even physically harm you if they find out who and what you are; this is the main reason why LGBTQ youth suicide rates are so high. This is still the reality for far too many of us.
The revised sex-ed curriculum would have been one of the only affirming influences in the lives of LGBTQ youth. It would have informed kids, the same age as my childhood tormentors, about the realities of LGBTQ people. It would have said to LGBTQ youth that they're not sick, broken or sinful, and that there's absolutely nothing wrong with them; they're exactly who they're meant to be, and they're valid and valued people of worth.
Progressive-minded parents will continue to do the right thing and teach their children the realities of life: that LGBTQ people are people of equal worth and value, and should be treated with fairness and respect. These parents will also no doubt teach their children about bodily autonomy, affirmative consent and safer sex.
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But this curriculum was going to be most beneficial to those kids whose parents oppose it, most of whom don't even understand what they're opposing, as every conversation I've had with the detractors has made it clear they haven't read the curriculum.
If my classmates were old enough to call me a f****t every day from the third to sixth grades, surely they'd have been old enough to learn that LGBTQ people exist, and should not be bullied.
I cannot stress this enough: there are LGBTQ kids growing up in anti-LGBTQ households here in Ontario. By scrapping this curriculum, the Conservatives are removing what could have been the only influence in their lives that would let them know that, contrary to what their parents and society may have told them, they are indeed beautiful, and valued, and valid people of worth who deserve to be celebrated.
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