Toronto
2 min

Religious freedom versus tolerance

A forum was held last week by Market Lane Public School officials to address concerns from parents who felt that anti-homophobia programming, triggered by homophobic comments overheard by a teacher, violated their religious beliefs.

On Nov 16 approximately 150 people came out to the meeting, held in the gym at the St Lawrence Community Centre. A panel of officials from the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) discussed the board’s commitment to equity and human rights, which includes anti-homophobia education.

During the question and answer session, one parent expressed concern that his religious rights were being trampled because his son “was shown a video of two men kissing.” The panel responded that the videos that had been shown to Market Lane students were age-appropriate and addressed the issue of bullying, teasing and respect for the family structures of kids with same-sex parents. None of the videos screened showed men kissing.

The panel also refused a request to be notified of anti-homophobia education. Although parents can remove children from sexual education classes because of their religious beliefs, there can be no exemption from human rights discussions, noted board officials.

“There is a misconception that anti-homophobia education is sex education,” said Michelle Flecker, an equity worker with TDSB. “It does not involve explicit descriptions of sexual activity. It discusses diversity within our families.”

“Can you imagine the school sending out a warning to parents that we would be addressing racism in the classroom? What kind of message would that send?” asked Patricia Hayes, a human rights worker with the board. “Can you imagine how kids with same-sex parents would feel if your kids walked out on a discussion about their families? It would create a toxic environment for LGBT children.”

Some parents cited a lack of communication about the board’s policy as a focus of concern. “New parents had no input on these policies and don’t understand them,” said one concerned parent. “Why was this information not sent to parents on the first day of school, and why is it not translated?”

Another parent didn’t understand why the anti-homophobia training wasn’t included with the curricula parents are shown. Principal David Crichton replied by saying the material was integrated into a number of classes. “This is not a distinct subject area,” he said. “A discussion addressing these issues can occur within a number of topics in the classroom.”

The National Film Board’s Sticks And Stones, which had been screened for the students during the anti-homophobia workshop, was shown at the meeting. It interviews kids from same-sex families about their experiences of being teased at school.