Some LBGTQ students anxious about going back to school

Ottawa-based transgender activist Fae Johnstone says students are confused about the interim sex-ed curriculum and anxious about what the changes will mean for them.

Activist and educator Fae Johnstone fears sex-ed curriculum reversal could harm students

Fae Johnstone worked to organize a rally to protest changes to the province's sex-ed curriculum. Johnstone says the most recent curriculum addresses current topics that kids are dealing with. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

The province's newly released interim sex-ed curriculum is stirring up fresh confusion about what teachers can tell students when classes resume in September, according to educators and activists alike.

A lesson plan is being temporarily implemented to replace the now-repealed modernized version put in place by the former Liberal government in 2015.

It was delivered to school boards and posted online Wednesday after repeated requests from educators who sought clarity on the issue.

According to Ottawa-based transgender activist and educator Fae Johnstone, students are confused about the interim sex-ed curriculum and anxious about what the changes will mean for them.

Johnston spoke to CBC Radio's All In A Day host Alan Neal last Friday during Pride Week. What follows has been edited for length.

Q. When you think about what kids could be facing right now; somebody who's thinking about how to navigate heading back into the high school zone, if they're thinking about their sexuality or gender identity, what kinds of things are going through their minds?

A: From the get-go a lot of kids are still feeling anxious, especially if they're starting at a new school. If they're just coming into their new identity, it can be really stressful. But I think this coming fall is going to be, in particular, a time of anxiety for a lot of these kids and their families. 

Q. Why this fall in particular?

A: We have a new government that has repealed the 2015 update to our sex-ed curriculum. That might not sound like a big thing to some people, but the curriculum they're going back to is from 1998. It doesn't mention LGBTQ identities, and it doesn't talk about important information like consent, healthy sexuality, healthy relationships, or even how to keep yourself safe online. I, personally as an educator ... am very concerned, both for our kids' ability to access this really crucial knowledge but also for their safety in schools, because what does it say to homophobic students, or transphobic students, or God forbid teachers or even parents, that we have a government that is willing to throw LGBTQ kids, in particular, under the bus?

Trans youth advocate Fae Johnstone says the repeal of the province's sex-ed curriculum is cause for concern for LGBTQ children returning to school. (Sept 2017, International Association for Youth Mental Health Conference)

Q. Does it change anything that the existing sex-ed curriculum will not change for high school students?

A: I don't think so. There's a process and a flow to these things. You don't just discover math in Grade 9. Throughout your experience in school you're supposed to be learning about different identities and communities. The 2015 curriculum talks about invisible and visible differences and having conversations about those things in the primary years. And that's not included anymore. Younger kids might still have gay parents. Younger kids still have experiences with their gender and sexuality that might not fit the norm, and they deserve to know that their identities are going to be validated and respected in their classrooms.

Q. What do you tell a child right now, who's scared, and questioning, who's looking for that bit of confidence to face school right now?

A: I tell them they'll find their friends. And I tell them to be intentional about who those friends are. I'd say there are so many phenomenal support groups that are out there that they can access, where they can meet other kids like them. A lot of kids don't know a lot of other trans kids and it's nice that you can share that thing in common with. But I'd say, you're going to survive it. School is an unpleasant experience for many of us, but we take strength out of it, resilience out of it, and we come out of it more ready to tackle the world. And that's as true for trans kids as it is for everybody else.