Credit: lvcandy/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty; The Canadian Press/Chris Young; Francesca Roh/Xtra
3 min

Ontario’s education minister wants you to know she has gay friends

But how do we talk about the bullying of LGBTQ2 kids without using the words ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’?

The world celebrated International Day of Pink, meant to raise awareness of bullying and discrimination — specifically homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and transmisogyny — on Wednesday. But in the Ontario legislature, a call to discuss LGBTQ2 education transformed into a bizarre refusal on the part of the province’s Conservative government to acknowledge queer and trans kids at all.

Ontario’s NDP LGBTQ+ critic Terence Kernaghan called on Minister of Education Lisa Thompson to speak about protecting queer and trans students. The exchange that transpired was a strange devolvement into word games and the name-dropping of supposed gay friends:

Kernaghan: Across this House, across party lines, we have a duty to act. On the International Day of Pink, what is the minister doing to ensure LGBTQ+ students feel safe in Ontario’s schools?

Thompson: I am pleased to say that I am standing with all of my colleagues today wearing pink to demonstrate our commitment and our conviction that every person matters, no matter what colour, stripe or relationship that they have . . . What we’re doing is making sure we have a modern and age-appropriate curriculum in health and physical education to make sure students right out of the gate are learning about what healthy relationships look like.

Kernaghan: Speaker, it would be nice to hear the minister be able to say the words “homophobia” and “transphobia” on this Day of Pink, because that is what this day is about.

Thompson: Actually, those words don’t exist in my vocabulary because it’s about the actions that really matter. I’m thinking of my friend Craig; I’m thinking of my friend Frank. I am thinking about my family members whom we embrace. We don’t classify and we don’t use terms to label. We embrace relationships. We embrace healthy relationships and that is what our curriculum is going to reflect when it’s released in September next year.

The exchange comes just weeks after the Premier Doug Ford’s Conservatives tabled a new sex-ed curriculum, in which LGBTQ2 identities are addressed but not until Grade 8 — the last possible opportunity for elementary school students to receive sexual education.

Following Question Period, Minister Thompson told reporters: “I have friends and family that I just love to pieces and I will defend them to the nth degree. . . There is no room for any type of phobia in our education curriculum in Ontario, especially homophobia and transphobia.”

For further response, we called MPP Kernaghan to discuss the exchange and the state of LGBTQ2 education in Ontario.

Xtra: Can you speak to the importance of the Day of Pink, and why you felt it was necessary to bring it up in the House?

Terence Kernaghan: It’s not just about a pink shirt. It is about standing up for others. But unfortunately I asked that question of the minister of education, and she refused to use the words “homophobia” and “transphobia” in the first response. So I asked her again, and she again refused to answer. It was just absolutely shocking that the minister of education, who’s charged with helping create safe and inclusive classrooms, was unwilling to use those words. And it’s truly scary.

Xtra: What struck you most about Minister Thompson’s response to your question?

Kernaghan: When the minister mentioned to her friends Craig and Frank, I just . . . You don’t get to do that. You don’t get to take away things that help create a safe and welcoming society for LGBTQ2 communities, and then just name drop people as though that makes you okay. That’s not okay. Ontario deserves better from this government.

Xtra: After Question Period, Minister Thompson used the words “transphobia” and “homophobia” with reporters and in a photo addressing the Day of Pink on social media. And she did so again today after you prompted her in the House to address her earlier comments about LGBTQ2 students. What’s your response to that?

Kernaghan: It’s a day late and a dollar short. She could have used those words on the actual Day of Pink, but obviously, that was too difficult for her to do. And it makes one wonder why that was too difficult.

Xtra: Going forward, what do you hope to see from Minister Thompson with regards to LGBTQ2 students and their education?

Kernaghan: I’d like LGBTQ2 individuals and families and realities represented in Ontario’s health and physical education curriculum. Gender identity has been moved from Grade 2 until Grade 8, and that makes no sense. As a [former] teacher, I know that there have been students that, as early as Grade 1, they’re struggling with their identities. I’m lucky to have known quite a number who have had a strong and supportive family. Not everyone does.

When we look at the sum total of the actions of the [Conservative] government, we know that children are watching. Children are smart. They see the actions of political officials, and the words that they use matter.

Editor's note, Apr 11, 2019: A previous featured image on this story incorrectly used a photo of MPP Lisa MacLeod, not Lisa Thompson. The image has been updated.

This story is filed under Education, Politics, Ontario, News
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