Living in the last province to update its curriculum since then, Ontario’s children have missed out on important information regarding issues of gender, sexuality and personal health, which confront them regularly. The messages they receive don’t often come from debates or protests that catch the attention of their parents.
They come instead from a multitude of sources including teen magazines, online platforms, chatrooms, targeted advertisements and conversations with peers, which misinform, sensationalize, confuse and sometimes scare our kids.
I am a member of Toronto Pflag, an organization that unites parents, families, friends and allies with Lesbian, Gay, BIsexual, Trans, Queer, and Questioning individuals. We are often fortunate to be invited into schools, sharing our stories in grades 2 to 12. As the parent of a child who identifies as LGBTQ, whose schooling presented its own challenges, I am encouraged by how eager, honest and curious the kids are in discussing my own child’s experiences.
These are vital opportunities to communicate about topics desperately needing discussion, complimenting the parental frameworks of many different religions, cultural backgrounds and value perspectives which each play a role in guiding thought processes and actions. Toronto Pflag does not go in to schools to influence or encourage children into becoming someone they are not. We are there as a role model, engaging in open discussions about things we can and cannot change, celebrating differences and uniting through inclusion, and to explain how to be an ally for those who are different.
Younger kids are especially eager, often appearing at our elbows as we pack up to say in quiet voices, "Hello Miss, I know I am different", or "How do you know if you are gay?" In one conversation I will never forget, a young girl in Grade 3 asked, "How does it feel having a lesbian daughter?" I replied that it was the best thing that had ever happened to me, opening up a whole new world, enriching my life beyond words. After listening intently she said, "I hope my mom feels that way." and skipped back to her seat.
As the debate rages on, I see protests from parents who fear that educating children on the issues means teaching them to say yes to sex. That simply isn’t the case.But as a parent who gets to speak to kids I can tell you they are thirsty for facts. Their teachers need to be reliable sources for all kinds of information including the new information in the health curriculum.
The curriculum teaches that our children have choices when it comes to their bodies; with a right to be who they are, to better understand and feel good about themselves. They will learn how to stay safe and use the education they receive to make informed, appropriate decisions.
At noon today we will join with Toronto Mayor John Tory to raise the Pride flag at City Hall, recognizing this year’s "Youth" theme for the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
Like the little girl in grade 3 who skipped back to her seat, hoping for her mother’s support on issues of sexuality, children of all ages have questions about their bodies, gender and sexual health as they try to understand their feelings and experiences.
These children will welcome the new health curriculum. They are already engaged and keen to learn.
President, Toronto Pflag