Now Reading
Gay sex ed catches Canadian diversity with its pants down

Gay sex ed catches Canadian diversity with its pants down

A debate on changes to Ontario’s sexual education curriculum is shattering the myth of Canada as a role model for inclusivity and diversity and exposing our nasty side.

Canada’s most populous province, the third jurisdiction in the world to legalize gay marriage and currently under the leadership of the first openly gay head of government (Kathleen Wynne, pictured) in the English speaking world, has been thrown into the spotlight this week as the details to the long-overdue update to the Health and Physical Education lesson plan became public.

The announcement led to a swell of social conservative outrage and protests outside of the legislature building – a reaction easier to ascribe to the American Bible Belt than the purported Canadian bastion of rights and freedoms for sexual diversity.

The new health and sex ed curriculum was first announced in 2010 and quickly rescinded amidst nakedly homophobic rhetoric and an evangelical claim of gays and lesbians preying on children. It is dastardly enough to teach Grade Two students that cyberbullying is wrong and wickedly encourages Grade Three students to appreciate friendships regardless of skin color.

Since the horrors of anti-bullying messages and racial diversity have been incorporated into various aspects of the public schooling system for decades you don’t need straight As to spot the classroom’s new bogeyman. The real outrage of the protesters is that it includes sexual orientation and gender identity as topics to be broached around the age of nine – at the discretion of experts.

To outsiders it may seem strange that a place so often billed as a liberal utopia is debating in 2015 about whether or not we should be teaching children that LGBTI people do indeed exist.

Our elected lesbian premier having a homophobic insult flung at her by a political rival in the legislature over the matter is hardly the picture of an enlightened Canada. It didn’t help either that his colleague used the debate to denounce children being taught evolution in our schools.

These instances are, however, symptomatic of a larger cultural shift in the Canadian identity.

While Ontarians debate what their children should be taught in schools a transgender rights bill is passing through the nation’s senate and quickly becoming farcical with the suggestion that while we’re passing laws about trans people we might as well also have them barred from using public washrooms. To push that agenda crusaders have even claimed transgender rights would give fresh access to pedophiles in toilet stalls.

The politics of division have grown in the last decade from the coded (a wink at the idea of repealing gay marriage laws to rally a conservative base) to the unapologetic (the erasure of gay history and images from new immigrant materials to curry favour in socially conservative immigrant communities). It has been such a gradual shift that we barely noticed.

The move was in fact taking place beneath our feet as the world and the definition of rights and freedoms changed without us. With gay marriage as our last great legislative success we hit pause and became content to rest on our laurels. We are, after all, the home of Lester B Pearson and that peacekeeping thing we used to do – so proud that Americans would deign to pretend to be us when they travelled the world.

The rest of the world is catching up or surpassing the place we found so lofty 10 years ago and we’ve built precious little in that time.

Teaching that some people have two daddies shouldn’t be headline news, the controversy should be a national embarrassment. The fact it is must be a wakeup call that the character we’ve enjoyed for so long has fallen into disrepair. Note too that the new generation who will soon be tasked with taking it forward has been taught to embrace the status quo over new ideas and challenges.

If we truly want Canada to be a global leader in human rights, the first place to work isn’t the tepid international finger-wagging we’ve become complacent with, it’s the home we’ve neglected.

When we are inspired by the values and people who have made us do great things in the past it isn’t hard to get top marks. But if our petty squabbles over sex ed are any indicator right now, when it comes to human rights, Canada needs to stay after class.

You can follow Travis Myers on Twitter here.