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Ontario sexual education curriculum under fire

Hundreds protest against changes outside of Ontario legislature

A crowd gathered at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Feb 24 to protest Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum, which was introduced the previous day by Education Minister Liz Sandals. A counter-protest emerged in support of the new curriculum, which will aim to teach kids about issues like sexual diversity, cyber safety and consent, beginning this fall. In the above video, Daily Xtra hears from parents and politicians from both protests.

The updated Ontario sexual health curriculum will introduce topics like gender identity and sexual orientation at earlier ages — but not everyone is happy with the proposed changes.

Liz Sandals, the provincial minister of education, announced the changes at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Feb 23. “We believe that as a province we have a responsibility to give kids the information that is developmentally appropriate,” she said.

The curriculum, which had not been revised since 1998, has been updated to reflect changes to Canadian and Ontario law, including the legalization of same-sex marriage and the inclusion of gender identity and expression in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Ontario students in all four publicly-funded school systems will now learn the correct terminology for body parts, including gentialia, in Grade 1. In Grade 3, students will be expected to explain why differences like gender identity and sexual orientation make people unique, and in Grade 6 they will discuss the effects of stereotypes relating to homophobia and assumed gender roles, among other issues. And in Grade 8, gender identity and expression — including two-spirit, transgender and intersex — and sexual orientation will be explored in how they can relate to building a more positive self-image.

The updated curriculum will also cover online bullying, consent and safe sex.

Parents, along with students and other community stakeholders, were consulted about the updates, according to Sandals.

But at a protest in front of Queen’s Park on Feb 24, demonstrators loudly decried the new curriculum, angry that what they feel is explicit curriculum content being introduced to children at a young age. Several protesters who spoke to Daily Xtra said that they felt parents had not been consulted enough and that parents should be solely responsible for teaching their own children about sex.

Monte McNaughton, the Conservative MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, briefly joined the protesters and spoke with reporters.

He said the turnout of about 300 protesters showed that parents felt left out of the consultation process. “The consultation process was a farce,” he said, adding that he believes parents were cut out.

When asked what specifically he opposed in the updated curriculum he said that parents are concerned what their children will be taught starting in Grade 1.

A small group of counter-protesters demonstrated in support of the new curriculum, including NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo. “In my faith tradition and in all the faith traditions I am aware of, sexuality is a gift from God,” she said. “It is about time we taught our children what that gift is about and of course, the dangers as well.”

However, DiNovo also said that she believed that the new curriculum could have been more progressive. Some sex educators have called for a focus on sexuality as a “natural and wonderful part of human experience,” she noted.

Isabel Carlin, a sexual health educator, told Daily Xtra on Feb 23 said that she is happy that the new curriculum is moving to a more holistic view of sexual activity.

“It’s really not as radical as the opponents of the curriculum are talking about,” she says. “It’s basically telling students what they are going to find out eventually anyway, in a safer, regulated environment.”

However, Carlin points out that some children will have parents in same-sex relationships or even have same-sex crushes earlier than the third grade. The curriculum could go further by introducing the concepts earlier and by using less heteronormative language, she says.

The new curriculum will be introduced in Ontario schools in September. Sandals says that any parent who objects to the curriculum can withdraw their child from that particular lesson.