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Sexual education revisions must go ahead, Ottawa groups say

Youth Services Bureau, Ten Oaks Project, Planned Parenthood endorse 2010 sex ed plan

The Ten Oaks Project, which runs a camp for youth in queer families, says that "greater representations of diversity in schools is of key importance." Credit: Paul Galipeau

On Tuesday, April 20, Dalton McGuinty defended the province’s new sex education curriculum, which was the result of more than two years of consultation with experts, educators and parents and represented the first revisions made to the curriculum since 1998.

Two days later, McGuinty — under pressure from Christian and family groups — shelved the curriculum, stating that it needed to be reworked.

Since then, Facebook groups, bloggers and activist groups have been touting reasons and gathering support on why the new curriculum should be implemented.

On Tuesday, three prominent Ottawa organizations — the Youth Services Bureau (YSB), Planned Parenthood Ottawa and the Ten Oaks Project — joined the ranks of those supporting the proposed 2010 sex ed curriculum.

Derek Antoine, the communications and resource development advisor for the YSB, says that accurate information is important for a young person  — especially someone who is questioning their identity.
 
“It can make a difference for a youth who does not feel accepted because of his/her sexual orientation or gender identity,” wrote Antoine in an email. “It can prevent a youth’s life from being seriously altered after contracting an STI. It can help a youth prevent unintended pregnancies.”  

Heather Holland, executive director of Planned Parenthood Ottawa also supports the proposed curriculum.

“The changes in the proposed curriculum are very positive,” Holland writes in an email to Xtra. “The changes are inclusive and support equity and diversity.”
 
Children do have questions about gender identity and sexual orientation — and they will seek answers from peers and other unreliable sources if they aren’t addressed in sex education, she says. Incorporating these topics into the curriculum would provide an opportunity to share accurate information in an age-appropriate way.

“Kids are taught about heterosexuality from birth, this is just part of the lesson of sexual health education and it is really key to introduce these concepts early — I think it’s good and where we should be at,” says Holland.

Holland thinks the discussions last week that led to the withdrawal of the sex ed curriculum took the changes out of context.

 “What it is about is fostering understanding and mutual respect — a harassment-free school environment, and the inclusion of sexual diversity issues in the curriculum is key to that,” says Holland.  “These are topics that kids have questions about, and parents have different comfort levels in responding to questions. School is our only formal educational institution that has contact with nearly all youth.”

Holland also stresses that the development of the curriculum changes involved extensive consultation with parents and educators and that she was disappointed to see the Ontario government back down on the curriculum “in response to what seems to be a vocal minority.”

Also yesterday, the Ten Oaks Project, a organization that supports children and youth from queer communities, endorsed the 2010 curriculum update.

In an email, Mark Schaan, president of the board of Ten Oaks, wrote that although the project does not have a standing policy on the issue, its directors agree.

“We believe that greater representations of diversity in schools is of key importance, and this is in part why we have dedicated our own resources to try and ensure this occurs,” he wrote.
 
“We think it is of great importance that children and youth have opportunities to become comfortable with their own sexuality, their gender identity and their family structure, as well as the sexualities, gender identities and family structures of others.”

On Tuesday, McGuinty said that the Ontario’s new health curriculum may be going ahead in September 2010, after further revision, but that it may not include the proposed new sex ed guidelines.

Holland, however is optimistic about the revision process.

“I think that there may be some additional revisions, but I am optimistic that the call for a more progressive curriculum will still be met,” says Holland.

As part of Masturbation Month, Planned Parenthood Ottawa will be holding a letter-writing evening on May 11 at the Raw Sugar Café, which will provide an avenue for its members and volunteers to express their views to the Ontario Government.