Ontario’s LGBTQ+ youth are at risk and the provincial school system’s state of flux is causing further damage.
Sex education has been a prominent discussion in Ontario since Kathleen Wynne implemented the new curriculum in 2015. In August of 2018, an interim health curriculum for elementary schools was implemented which reverted course content to the 2010 curriculum. High schools are still abiding by the 2015 version but that does not guarantee that is what is being taught in high school classes.
According to Egale, 64 per cent of LGBTQ+ students reported feeling unsafe at school, in comparison to 15 per cent of non-LGBTQ+ students.
Multiple LGBTQ+ resources centres report at least half of LGBTQ+ students have thought about suicide and are 14x more likely commit suicide than non-LGBTQ+ folk.
The Canadian Mental Health Association found 47 per cent of transgender youth in Ontario had thought about suicide and 19 per cent had attempted suicide.
After speaking to some LGBTQ+ graduates of the Ontario school system, there is a common sentiment that sex education was not adequately taught.
Jess Callaghan, who is a queer, non-binary individual that graduated high school in 2009, said they didn’t learn what dental dams were until they played a game of Cards Against Humanity with their friends years later.
Aisha Bogovic, a gay woman who graduated high school in 2015, said she suppressed her sexuality for years because of “heteronormative sexual scripts that were perpetuated in the classroom.”
Both Callaghan and Bogovic said they researched sex outside of the classroom. However, Bogovic said that “looking for information on the internet can lead to [youth] being misinformed and can result in negative consequences.” With all the misinformation on the internet, it is important that youth are given adequate sexual education.
Daniel Grew, who is a bisexual man that graduated high school in 2016, said that his perception of sex was created because of porn and media.
“TV shows, movies, all drove my ideas of how it was supposed to be,” Grew said.
The 2015 sex education curriculum attempted to be more inclusive to LGBTQ+ folks by bringing the discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation to the curriculum. However, some teachers did not feel like they had the resources to adequately support their LGBTQ+ students.
Out of the three Ontario teachers interviewed for this story, every single one of them said they did not have the resources to support the LGBTQ+ youth in their classroom.
A high school gym teacher
located in York Region, who wished to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of this subject, said some of her cohorts have yet to adapt to the 2015 sex education curriculum despite it being implemented three years ago.
There are no firm regulations in place to ensure that teachers are teaching the updated curriculum. And parents are not likely to check in for physical education classes either
“I have had parent-teacher-interview nights where I have sat there and I’ve done absolutely nothing because there are no parents that have come to see me. And if they do, they’re like ‘oh we just popped by because the math teacher wasn’t available,’” she said.
Disinterest among parents is a concern, especially for LGBTQ+ youth. According to the Calgary Sexual Health Centre, only one in five LGBTQ+ students could talk to a parent comfortably about LGBTQ+ related topics. In comparison, three quarters of LGBTQ+ youth feel comfortable talking to a friend about LGBTQ+ topics.
Elena Merenda, assistant program head of the early childhood studies program at the University of Guelph-Humber, said that the relationship between educators and parents is important.
“It is the job of the educator to provide children with facts. It is the job of the parents to then weave in cultural and religious morals and values.”
Merenda identified the creation of an open classroom as an important strategy to reduce the harm caused to children who are deemed different, in order to achieve safer education for all.
“We often make the mistake in education to say 'don’t bully one another we are all the same,' but we are not the same. And when you tell children we are the same that is when bullying happens,” Merenda said.
"In my elementary school, a lot of people got bullied. I got bullied [for] acting a little bit different than others. There were always cliques, everywhere. People were just mean. It was not a safe space at all," Laura Castro, pansexual woman who graduated high school in 2015.
Creating safe spaces for children to ask questions and learn about different people and identities at a young age allows them to gain a factual understanding of different groups and people before societal norms implement misconceptions.
Thava Thavarajah, grade seven teacher in York Region, works to create a safe space where students can feel comfortable discussing these topics in the classroom.
Thavrajah implemented an activity in his classroom where students identify different characteristics that make up their identities. This ranged from sexual orientation, ethnicity, education level and even gender identity. From these characteristics he invited a discussion on representation of minority groups in the society.
Having a group conversation about identity in his class is important for Thavarajah because when students don’t feel included, he said they are likely to pull themselves away from society. He related this to how LGBTQ+ youth can feel when they are overlooked in classes.
“If you don’t educate everybody about the LGBT community and create awareness and acceptance, you’re literally taking a life away . . . by not making those kids feel included in the classroom,” Thavarajah said.
Rick Dyal, grade six teacher in York Region, has not confined LGBTQ+ issues to just health class. According to him, conversations come up in all subjects, especially in social sciences and language classes.
Dyal said the concept of orientation “comes up in everyday conversation when you’re in a classroom talking about how to treat each other. Orientation is everywhere in the curriculum, it’s not health.”
The school Dyal teaches at is one of the first elementary schools in York Region to implement an equity club. He said “there’s a fear among educators to … have this club in our school because we knew there would be backlash in the community.”
In the same breath Dyal asks, “at what point do we sit there and [recognize] we are fearing opinion from the community when our job as educators is to teach the human rights code of Canada?
That’s my job, I have to do that."
Created by Katelyn O’Brien