4.22.2010

globe and mail: if stigma kept people from being gay, there would be no queers

It's hard to believe this is still being debated in Canada, but as long as there are bigots like Charles McVety, this will need to be said. Good, thoughtful editorial from the Globe and Mail. If a basically conservative media outlet like the G&M can see clearly on this issue, the Province of Ontario should be able to, as well, and not be held hostage to right-wing protest.

The only thing I dislike about this piece is the use of the phrase "family values" to describe these anti-gay groups. I grew up in a family that valued tolerance, respect and diversity. Progressives raise their children with family values. Same-sex couples raise their children with family values. Calling anti-gay bigots "family values" groups is another linguistic hoax, along with "pro-life" to describe anti-abortion-rights, "ethnic cleansing" to describe genocide and "liberal media" to describe nearly anything left of Bill O'Reilly.

With that caveat, I applaud the G&M for this.
A new sex-education curriculum in Ontario treats homosexuality as a normal part of life, and so it should, in a country in which gay marriage is legal. Sexual health and identity need to be taught in a way that does not contribute, even indirectly, to the shame and stigma that have attended homosexuality through the ages.

Ontario is not the first province in which teaching about homosexuality has been controversial. In Surrey, B.C., the issue of whether books about same-sex families should be on a reading list – in kindergarten – went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2002. (The court said they probably should be.)

Now a coalition of religious and family-values organizations is threatening to pull their children out of Ontario public schools on May 10 in protest against the new curriculum. Charles McVety, a leader of Canada’s evangelical Christians, says it’s unconscionable to teach children as young as eight about gender identity and sexual orientation. Reverend Ekron Malcolm, director of the Institute for Canadian Values, says the teaching of homosexuality should be left to parents. “I believe that it will end up infringing on their thought processes and their desires and ability to make correct choices.” The implication is that children may choose homosexuality because of what they learn in school.

If stigma were enough to keep people from being homosexuals, the practice would have disappeared long ago.

The children of same-sex parents are part of the schools. So are students who may be coming to terms with a feeling that they are oriented toward the same sex. And all students hear the term “gay” from the earliest years in the schoolyard, or at home, or on television. Even young children perceive that the term may be used as an insult. It does no one any good to leave the children on their own to make sense of it all.

It is not the place of the schools to provide how-to instruction on sex, heterosexual or same-sex. But that is not what Ontario’s new curriculum is about. It appears to be sensitive to teaching what is appropriate at different ages. In Grade 3, the curriculum suggests that teachers “describe how invisible differences (e.g., learning abilities, skills and talents, personal or cultural values and beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, family background, personal preferences, allergies and sensitivities) make each person unique, and identify ways of showing respect for differences in others.” In Grade 7, teachers are told to talk about the importance of having a common understanding with a partner about delaying intercourse (“e.g. . . choosing to abstain from vaginal or anal intercourse”) until they are older. This is not very different from how sex was taught 40 years ago.

It is about having respect for differences, a respect that would be undermined if some differences were treated as still unsafe to talk about.

20 comments:

Skinny Dipper said...

(Edited version)

I thought that McGuinty's original plan to support the changes in the Health curriculum was a positive step toward improving the students' understanding of sexuality in the different grades. Students in grade-one should be comfortable in using the terms, penis and vagina. Students in grade-three should know that people have different sexual orientations. It doesn't mean that the mechanics of intercourse needs to be explain--just that two men or two women can love each other. In fact, I think this can be explained to kindergarten students in the following way:

"Some families are led by a mom and dad. Others are led by a mom or day. Still, others have a mom and dad living in separate homes. Some families have grandparents or uncles and aunts living in the home while others are led by two dads or two moms. Finally, some families have two different coloured moms and dads."

The reality is that in many parts of Ontario, children are participating in sexual activities. While they may or may not enjoy the activities, they do need to be aware of health matters related to particular activities. Sure, a girl won't get pregnant by participating in oral sex. However, she may get a life-threatening disease because of this activity. Students in the intermediate grades (7-10) need to role-play in decision-making. Students in grade-six should be aware of the different types of sexual activity and potential consequences.

As a supply teacher, I don't teach sex-ed classes even though I am as qualified as any other teacher. Classroom teachers usually leave sex-ed off their lesson plans when a supply teacher comes for the day. Also, supply teachers do not know which students have approval to participate in a sex-ed class. If I were a regular teacher, I would not be preaching the morality of sex-education. I would be teaching about student decision-making as they have to decide on participating in sexual activities based on health reasons and the law which would include mutual consent. I do want to empower my students that I teach.

Parents and religious leaders can preach morality to their children. That's fine with me. As a teacher, I will teach decision-making to my students based on facts. There are families with lesbian moms or gay dads. That's a fact. Whether or not students and their families like this doesn't matter to me. That is their moral choice. I do, however, support treating all people in the school community with respect, and I do expect others do to the same.

impudent strumpet said...

Charles McVety, a leader of Canada’s evangelical Christians, says it’s unconscionable to teach children as young as eight about gender identity and sexual orientation.

By that logic, they'd also have to remove any manifestations of cisgendered identity and/or heterosexual orientation. So no Babysitters' Club (or whatever the modern-day equivalent is), no Harry Potter, no Archie comics, nothing showing biological families...

Dr.Dawg said...

Cisgendered. Love it.

I agree completely about the now-cant phrase "family values." Like "pro-life," it means the opposite of what it seems to mean.

impudent strumpet said...

@Skinny Dipper: As a supply teacher, would you be able to keep enough control over the classroom to teach sex ed effectively? Thinking back to my own school days, kids acted up so much when there was a supply teacher that there was no point in trying to do anything substantial, never mind something as embarrassing (for the students) and giggle-inducing as sex ed.

Skinny Dipper said...

McVety would probably not approve of Harry Potter. It contains witchcraft. Archie Comics is now getting a gay character. The Babysitters Club? It's OK for "family-oriented" girls to read. However, don't let your sissy boy read these books, or he'll end up sissier. Get him to play baseball and go to McVety's church to make him less sissy.

McVety does remind me of a one-time character on the 70's show, WKRP who lashes out radio station manager, Arthur Carlson, for switching the music format from oldies to rock 'n roll.

L-girl said...

"Supply" teacher = substitute? In the US they are called subs, short for substitute. Nothing ever gets learned when there's a sub.

L-girl said...

McVety would probably not approve of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter is the number one book those types are trying to ban these days.

Dozens of earlier books with wizardy and the like go unnoticed by them. But anything that becomes famous and popular immediately goes on their List.

Here's the CLA Challenged Book list (pdf), alpha order: Callenged books and magazines 2009.

Freedom to Read

Tom said...

This infuriates me. Emilio and I were talking about this today. These people gladly take my tax dollars to support their Catholic cult schools yet I cannot insist they teach their children I exist and deserve to be respected.

L-girl said...

Right you are. Make sure you tell Queen's Park how you feel! And/or a letter to the G&M.

Jen said...

@Tom: In Alberta you get to state to the census taker where you want your school tax dollars to go: the public or the separate (i.e. Catholic) system. I wish that were true here. I've given enough through sweat-equity having gone through the Catholic system to ever want one red cent to go to them now.

L-girl said...

Funny that Imp Strump mentioned Archie! Archie Comics introduces first openly gay character. If a middle-America comic book can do it, surely Ontario's schools can show life as it really is.

L-girl said...

In Alberta you get to state to the census taker where you want your school tax dollars to go: the public or the separate (i.e. Catholic) system.

That's brilliant. Although it could lead to trouble for the public schools if enough people disapprove of the curriculum. But I love the idea of choosing not to support the parallel Catholic system.

Tom said...

You inspired me to write a love note to Dalton. I sent it a little while ago

"Your spineless response to people objecting to teaching that gays exist infuriates me. These people gladly take my tax dollars to support their Catholic schools yet I cannot insist they teach their children I exist and deserve to be respected. You also listen to Muslim leaders who are some of the most oppressive people on earth. Shame on you!

Also I own a small business and the HST is making it harder for us; our business landlord is increasing our rent now that you have changed the tax structure and are charging him a full 13%. It does nothing but damage to small business owners. Paying GST and HST separately is very simple to do at any Canadian Bank. I tell every customer who will listen that we are raising our prices due to Dalton McGuinty and your HST. You think the people are fooled with your little short term tax break over a lifetime of higher costs due to HST? They're not. Ontario is anything but business friendly and you managed to make it worse. Shame on you and your party."

L-girl said...

Contact McGuinty here

Here's mine:

Dear Premier McGuinty:

I am deeply distressed by your decision to pull the progressive sex
education curriculum from Ontario schools because of the objections of
a minority of radical right-wing bigots.

The children of Ontario need and deserve an honest sex education
program, and they need and deserve tolerance.

I understand that two years of professional efforts went into creating this curriculum. You are throwing that all away because you fear recriminations from a small minority of radicals. Meanwhile, the
public suffers.

I agree wholeheartedly with the Globe and Mail editorial that said
that refusing to teach children about homosexuality continues to
stigmatize gay young people and leads to intolerance among their
peers.

I urge you to re-think your re-think. Please do not allow Ontario to be bullied by a vocal but misguided minority. If a few people make good to pull their children from the public schools, that will hurt their own children, but it shouldn't hurt everyone else's, too.

Please do the right thing for Ontario and re-instate the sex ed curriculum.

Sincerely, etc.

impudent strumpet said...

Archie Comics introduces first openly gay character.

!!!!! You know, that, in and of itself, would have been enough to stop me from ever having been homophobic. I became homophobic as a kid because I had only ever heard homosexuality described as a problem, so I assumed it was a problem. I stopped being homophobic when I saw media representations (and, although I didn't realize it at the time, real-life examples) where it just is. She's a lesbian and...there she is. Nothing's happening. This is boring. Hey, there's some leftover lasagna in the fridge.

And, actually, the most beneficial part of my sex ed worked the same way. The "your changing body" book my parents gave me had a glossary that, in addition to medical and anatomical terms, included the more common sex acts. This is what the word cunnilingus means. No thou shalt or thou shalt not, no technique, just simply telling me that this is a thing that exists. And with that knowledge, I was able to think about it when I started to become interested and identify my own values and preferences and comfort zones without the influence of anyone else (whether an authority figure with different values or a would-be lover with different tastes or the older girls in the locker room or whatever personal baggage my mother might bring into The Talk).

L-girl said...

You know, that, in and of itself, would have been enough to stop me from ever having been homophobic.

Brilliant example of why we normalization in media matters.

I was about to go off on advertising and why it matters for these things... but I'll save it for a post.

johngoldfine said...

"Supply" teacher = substitute? In the US they are called subs, short for substitute. Nothing ever gets learned when there's a sub.

For the most part that was certainly my shameful experience subbing in local high schools way back in--could it be?--1972.

On the other hand, no one really expects anything of subs and the lesson plans one is handed and expected to do are tedious jokes, so if one is of a mind and has a few days, one can get away with trying strange and good stuff.

I had a jhs class I read classic ghost stories to for a week. I had a class of segregated 12 year-old troublemakers for two weeks who I taught tie-dyeing and orienteering to. (I still see those guys' names in the local court news, but that was always implicit in their segregation from the good kids.)

But as you say, I had many one-shot sub days when I came home ragged, frayed, broken, richer by a day's pay and inestimably poorer in spirit and pride.

L-girl said...

That sounds really cool. That's the kind of teaching I enjoy - off the books, so to speak.

I also have a bad impression of what subs can do from my mom. When she lost her teaching job to budget cuts (last in, first out), she quit rather than work as a sub.

Still waiting to hear if that's what "supply" means. I think it does.

impudent strumpet said...

The answer is yes, a supply teacher is a substitute teacher. I just wrote a whole explanation of why we use both terms, and then I got an error message and have no idea whether it went through.

L-girl said...

Thanks. Stupid blogger!