Kitchener-Waterloo

Local LGBTQ advocates pan provinces changes to sex-ed curriculum

Cait Glasson of Spectrum Waterloo Region says moving classroom discussions about gender identity from Grade 6 to Grade 8 means those conversations are happening too late.

Moving gender identity education a 'dreadful idea,' Cait Glasson of Spectrum Waterloo Region says

The Ontario government came out with a revised sex-ed curriculum on Wednesday, updating one that was released by the former Liberal government in 2015. (weedezign/Shutterstock )

Local LGTBQ advocates and sexual health advocates are panning changes to Ontario's sex ed curriculum announced on Wednesday. 

Teaching gender identity in Grade 8, rather than Grade 6, is a "dreadful idea," says Cait Glasson.

Glasson, who is president of the LGBTQ community space Spectrum Waterloo Region, says when she was a child, she knew at the age of four that she was a girl and not male.

Her parents punished her for saying so, and she had no way of looking up what she was going through because there was no word for it, she said.

"I literally didn't have a word for what the experience I was having was," she said.

"I don't know if you ever tried to look up something when you don't know what the word for it is but it's really hard."

It's why Glasson says the province changing when students learn about gender identity, pushing it two years later to the end of Grade 8, is the wrong move.

"With trans-affirming care that's available these days, kids can access puberty blockers, which will allow them to postpone their puberty until they're, in the eyes of the medical establishment, old enough to make a choice about what puberty they want to have," she said, adding age 13 is too late for that. 

Cait Glasson is president of Spectrum, a safe space for LGBTQ community members in Waterloo region. She says Grade 8 is too late for students to learn about gender identity. (Joe Pavia/CBC)

Talking about consent

The province announced changes to the sexual education curriculum on Wednesday. The new curriculum revised the previous Liberal government's curriculum, which was released in 2015.

Along with pushing education on gender identity to Grade 8, the curriculum will see students in Grade 1 learn about what consent means, and adds lessons on cannabis use, concussions and pornography.

TK Pritchard is the public education manager for the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region and says the change to discuss consent more explicitly in Grade 1 is a good move.

"It does build on the 2015 curriculum, which does talk about your body parts being part of you and that if someone touches you inappropriately that you should be able to tell someone. The new curriculum says that more explicitly, which I think is really important," Pritchard said.

Pornography dominates discussions, expert says

Lyndsey Butcher is executive director of the Shore Centre, formerly Planned Parenthood. She says she's concerned about the move to push gender identity discussions to the end of Grade 8.

"We feel that that's just far too late to be talking to our students about gender identity, about being transgender, about supporting their trans peers," she said.

But she's pleased pornography has been added to the curriculum for students in Grade 6.

"I think it's important that they get the information they need to sort of look at that critically and understand that that's not real life and to understand that those are actors ...  that what they're being exposed to is not necessarily representative of a healthy relationship," she said.

She said in a program the Shore Centre runs for boys in Grade 8, pornography "dominates" the discussions, and they talk about what they've seen and why their own partners might be unwilling to do the same things in real life.

Opt out policies 

The province has also told school boards they need to create a policy to allow parents to opt out of having their children in class when these topics are covered.

Exemptions are not new. Religious and conscientious exemptions were allowed under the previous Liberal government. What has changed is the requirement for school boards to have a policy in place to address exemption requests

It's a move all three — Butcher, Glasson and Pritchard — question.

"It's a terrible idea because it's not the parents' education, it's the kids' education," Glasson said.

Parents should be the first educators on these kinds of topics, but Butcher says some parents feel uncomfortable or reluctant to have an open conversation on topics like this.

"While we do believe that parents absolutely have a critical role in providing sexual health education and information about healthy relationships to their children, the school also has a role in ensuring that every single child in our community has access to accurate information on how to keep themselves safe and healthy," Butcher said.

Pritchard said the way things are worded, "it sets a precedent that there's a reason to pull students from class."

"All of this information — the conversations around consent, around media that's online, around relationships, around body parts — all of that is incredibly important and not all parents are having those conversations or feel like it's a conversation that they're able to start," said Pritchard.

The PCs spent more than $1 million on online consultations on the curriculum.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the focus of the curriculum is safety and that the province is "giving young people the tools they need to succeed."

TK Pritchard is the public education manager at Waterloo region's sexual assault support centre. (Submitted by TK Pritchard)

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