Everytime I see a photo of parents at Thorncliffe Public School teaching their children outside of the school — in protest, they say, of Ontario’s updated sex-education curriculum — a number flashes in my head: 73.
Why 73? Why not 1,460, the number of kids who attend the school, according to Thorncliffe’s principal, Jeff Crane? Or 679, the number of kids who didn’t go to school last week because their parents kept them home? Why a number at all?
It really comes down to statistics.
According to a Forum poll commissioned by the National Post in 2012, about five percent of Canadians identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It should be noted that there are many problems with finding an accurate percentage of LGBT people. The article notes that in a previous Statistics Canada survey, statisticians were unsure how many people actually self-identified as being in a same-sex marriage.
Some American studies report that as many as 20 percent of people are attracted to the same-sex; other studies conclude that about 3.8 percent of Americans self-identify as LGBT. With such varying figures floating around, five percent seems a reasonable number to extrapolate for Thorncliffe.
Five percent of 1,460 is 73. Give or take, there might be 73 students at that school who will, or already do, identify themselves as LGBT.
These kids watched their school empty out in May as parents protested the curriculum, and then saw it happen again in September. Some of them may be sitting out on a lawn, learning math from their parents instead of from a teacher. Or they could be watching these parents from inside the school, seeing the outrage against a curriculum that teaches that it’s ok to have different sexual orientations and gender identities (a lesson that doesn’t happen until Grade 3).
These students may not be aware of the more explicit shows of homophobia and transphobia — it’s likely they haven’t seen the posts on Thorncliffe’s Parents Association Facebook page that protest the inclusion of kindergarten books featuring same-sex parents, or the posts in the larger Facebook group, My Child, My Choice, echoing many of the same sentiments.
But, as Nicholas Hune-Brown writes in his article about the opposition to the sex-ed curriculum in Toronto Life, “the undercurrent of homophobia has been impossible to ignore.”
These children only need to look at the number of parents protesting or pulling their kids out of school to learn that there is something about sex and being LGBT that inspires hate. They may even only have to look at the behaviour of their own parents. And it’s not just with students at Thorncliffe — it’s in every home where parents have decided to protest rather than explain.
The history of LGBT people is littered with those who grew up hating themselves and hating others because they were taught that their identity was considered wrong. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, LGBT people have higher rates of depression; are at double the risk of experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder; and face a widely increased risk of suicide and drug abuse compared to heterosexual people.
And then too, there are the rest of the students at Thorncliffe — 1,387 of them are learning the same things, but will assume their heterosexuality is “right,” and that anything else is cause for fear and hate.
It doesn’t have to be that way. What is admirable about the updates to the curriculum is that they teach students that there is more than one way to live a life and that “normal” is what we make of it. But for a child to learn that lesson, they need to see it reflected at home too.
There’s an episode of Mad Men where ad man Don Draper is approached by a young blue blood, Horace Cook Jr, who wants to buy millions in advertising to promote his doomed investment in the sport jai alai. Draper goes first go to the boy’s father, to ensure that they aren’t, in essence, stealing this man’s money. But Cook Sr doesn’t care — he believes his son, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, needs to learn a lesson about failing. “We didn’t know what kind of person we were making,” he laments.
The protesting parents may be sure in their beliefs and their identities. But the kids — the 73 that may be LGBT, the 1,387 that are watching, and every child across the province — are watching, and learning.
What kind of people are their parents making?