Cultural tension around sex-ed can be overcome, advocates say

Talking about sex is hard enough among many families, but in certain cultures, the topic can be even more taboo.

Misunderstanding and fear about gender identity stem from lack of discussion

Realtors waded into the debate over the Vancouver School Board's revised policy on sexual orientation in 2014. (CBC)

Talking about sex is hard enough among many families, but in certain cultures, the topic can be even more taboo.

That became apparent a year ago, when the Vancouver School Board enacted a policy to better support transgender students by allowing them to be addressed by the name that corresponds with their gender identity, and to use the washroom of their choice.

The policy drew fire from a group of parents — many of whom are of Chinese heritage. Three parents even filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court, arguing the policy violates basic public morality, and that it would make their children uncomfortable and deny parents important knowledge about their kids.

Jerry Wu, who manages settlement workers with the Vancouver School Board, says the fear exists because sex education is often a very sensitive subject among Chinese immigrants. The topic is hardly talked about, and the lack of communication leads to misunderstanding.

"One time, a parent was asking about why the people are so openly showing themselves with a different sexual orientation," he recalled.

"That was the time I was able to pull out some information and tell them that, look at the study and research. There is a certain percentage of the general public with different sexual orientations. Of course we know not everyone feels comfortable with it, but this is what happens."

To help ease fear, the VSB's Wu says it's important to approach the topic of sex in a respectful manner, to build rapport and trust, and to assure parents that this isn't an attempt to "convert" them.

Communication is key

Gay advocate Dora Ng doesn't think the opposition stemmed from homophobia or transphobia. The parents just seemed to have a deep misunderstanding of what the school board was trying to achieve.

"A common misconception among the group is somebody has told them that the school board, the teachers, are going to teach their children to be gay and encourage them to get a sex change as soon as they are thinking about identifying outside the gender binary," Ng told The Early Edition.

Gay advocate Dora Ng says when it comes to understanding each other's attitudes about sex, communication is key. (submitted by Dora Ng)

"There's a lot of fear within the group."

Ng also stresses the importance of getting out of the mind set that people such as the Vancouver School Board have the perfect, progressive sex education curriculum that must be taught to immigrant communities.

Perhaps a cultural tailoring of the curriculum could be considered. At the end of the day, communication is key, and the onus is on both parents and children to talk about sex, Ng said.

Listen to the story: Sex education for Chinese immigrants

With files from Elaine Chau

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