In September 2010, Ontario children from grades one to eight will have a new physical and health education curriculum (PDF). The provincially mandated program includes comprehensive information on healthy eating habits, maintaining a physically active lifestyle and reducing the spread of common illness through personal hygiene.
The curriculum also contains detailed anti-bullying information. Children learn that bodies come in different shapes and sizes, that people come from different cultural and religious backgrounds, and that not all families look the same. They also learn that not everyone grows up to be heterosexual or sticks to their birth gender, and that none of these aforementioned characteristics give them the right to hurt or discriminate against anyone.
Children in older grades learn about sexual health, contraception and issues of consent around sexual activity. While the curriculum stresses abstinence as the best option, students are given information about what to do if they decide to have sex, as well as the potential consequences of choosing not to follow those practices.
A number of parents, particularly those in the Catholic school system (which is also mandated to teach the curriculum) are upset. The predictably bigoted Life Site News (a Catholic website) states that “the curriculum’s revision is the attempt to instill a sense that homosexuality and transgenderism are perfectly normal.” It is unclear whether parents in Ontario will be able to withdraw their children from classes where information that violates their religious teachings is presented, as is the case in Alberta after Bill 44 was passed last year. The underlying fear in all this, if I understand the bigots correctly, is that if kids learn that queers exist then they’ll turn out to be queer.
I’ve always been a strong defender of religious freedom, which is what this whole situation ultimately boils down to. Parents have the right to impart their religious beliefs to their children and those children, when they grow up, have the right to continue to practice those religious beliefs should they decide to. We all know that most kids don’t end up sharing all if any of their parents’ mores and values as adults, but I’ll leave that aside.
Assuming these kids grow up to espouse their parents’ homophobia, they need to understand what religious freedom means; specifically that there are two components to it. Religious freedom means that you have the right to practice your religion. But it also means that I have the right to not practice your religion. I have no problem with kids learning that homosexuality goes against their religious teachings, as long as they understand that not everyone practices their religion and they do not have the right to hurt or discriminate against those who don’t.
There has been considerable debate in the last few decades within both the religious and scientific communities about whether sexual orientation and gender identity have a genetic origin, are the result of how a person is raised, or are purely a choice. There has never been a conclusive answer on this, but the one thing we know with absolute certainty is that being raised in a conservative religious household does not preclude someone from being queer. Based on my own experience in the queer community, I’d even be inclined to say that a conservative religious upbringing actually fosters queerness, based on the number of queers I know who came from these kinds of homes.
For parents who are thinking of pulling their children out of school because they will learn that some people have two mommies or that masturbation won’t condemn you to the fiery pits of Hell, I have this to say: your child could turn out to be queer and all of your religious dogma will not eliminate that possibility. It will make the process more difficult and painful for them. It may mean that you never see them again, that they become addicted to drugs or commit suicide. But your hatred won’t make them straight. You don’t get to choose your child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, but the choices you make will mean the difference between them growing up to be happy, healthy adults or living a life of pain. Which is more important to you: your child or your religious beliefs? Given the choice, I’m pretty sure which one I would pick.