It started with a bit of hysterical, Orwellian camp: a teddy bear with its arm in a sling, a stop sign and a plea to “stop corrupting children.” But the campaign — and its attendant website — was little more than a shell.
Stop Corrupting Children directs surfers to the Institute for Canadian Values, a project founded by über-conservative bellyacher Charles McVety. The Institute’s other campaigns include a petition to oppose the legalization of sex work and a petition to withdraw funding for Pride Toronto, or as they call it, the “sex parade.”
McVety is, then, the king of the prudes, scared of sexuality in general and horrified by gay sex in particular.
So it is no wonder that he opposes Ontario’s sexual education curriculum. It seems he and his ilk are opposed to sex ed in any form.
Never mind that his central claim — that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty wanted to teach sex to eight-year-olds — is patently false. Eight-year-olds would be taught respect and tolerance for difference — and what is scarier than that? And what better bogeyman than the prospect of anal sex how-to manuals being put into grubby, preteen hands?
In January, the province released an updated sexual education and health curriculum, the first in 12 years. But after McVety’s complaints, McGuinty said on April 22 that the province would pull the 2010 curriculum, pending a “rethink” and further consultations with parents. The curriculum could be delayed, shelved indefinitely or altered to appease its critics.
McGuinty now says that all of the updated health curriculum will be implemented — except for the parts about sexual education. Score one for the king of prudes.
There is no doubt that supporters of sexual education were caught off guard by the speed — and the level of vitriol — in the anti-sex-ed camp, as well as the lightning speed of McGuinty’s capitulation.
In the first days of the story, progressive voices began to organize on Twitter and Facebook. But little was accomplished until after the curriculum was yanked.
There were some early adopters. The AIDS Committee of Toronto and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario were among the first to get their ducks in a row, two days after reports of McVety’s campaign first surfaced.
“All students in Ontario deserve access to accurate and age-appropriate education about their sexual health,” wrote John Maxwell, director of policy and communications at ACT, at the time.
By the third day, Queer Ontario and the AIDS Committee of London also endorsed the plan. Egale Canada released a statement condemning McGuinty’s about-face. Online, those who were angry were encouraged to email their provincial leaders.
“It is a harrowing reminder of how the right wing uses fear-mongering” to drive public policy, the AIDS Committee of London’s Paul Sutton told Xtra at the time.
Now, those who support the 2010 guidelines are organizing in earnest. A diverse coalition is forming as health workers, parents and queer groups rally behind a demand that the 2010 curriculum updates be taught starting in the fall of 2010 as originally planned.
As activists dig in for the long haul, they are mobilizing supporters to email their MPPs, the leaders of the provincial parties and Leona Dombrowsky, the province’s minister of education.
The Ontario Physical and Health Education Association has also organized a petition at ophea.org.
Queer Ontario’s Nick Mulé says that the curriculum would have been “a step forward,” but that future guidelines should include more material that doesn’t characterize sex only in terms of risk.
He is also wary of McGuinty’s pledge to conduct additional consultations.
“We need to make sure that they don’t put aside the first round of consultations,” which included sexual health professionals and academics, he says.