Catholic sex-ed textbooks discontinued following accusations of 'homophobic,' 'transphobic' content
Pearson Canada has stopped publishing Fully Alive books, will stop supporting digital versions by March
The Canadian arm of an international textbook publishing company will discontinue some sex education books used by Catholic school boards in Ontario by March this year. The move follows accusations they contain homophobic and transphobic content, though the publisher has not indicated the reason it has stopped printing the books.
Fully Alive, a series of textbooks and accompanying teachers' resources published by Pearson Canada, is aimed at teaching students in Grades 1 through 8 about sexuality, marriage and family through the lens of the Catholic faith.
But Kyle Iannuzzi, a 2SLGBTQ advisory committee member and former student trustee at the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), told CBC Toronto Fully Alive is not inclusive of anyone who doesn't identify as heterosexual and cisgender.
"They provide developing minds as young as Grade 1 with sexualized notions of self that adhere with the Catholic faith but are at odds with the reality of science and nature," he said.
"It really fosters an experience of loneliness and I think it contributes to the reasons why self-harm is such an option for queer kids, especially in Catholic environments."
Iannuzzi first filed a complaint with Pearson Canada about the books in June 2022. He said he followed up multiple times but never heard back from the publisher.
Six months later Pearson quietly announced it would stop printing the books in December. But earlier this month, Iannuzzi discovered that digital versions of Fully Alive are still available.
CBC News contacted Pearson Canada Monday to ask why it had discontinued the textbooks and what it planned to do about the online content. The publisher confirmed in an email Tuesday that it has stopped publishing the textbooks and said it will discontinue support for the online content by March. But the company did not respond to questions about why it ended the series.
The Fully Alive series was first published about 30 years ago but was updated between 2007 and 2015. The textbooks were published with the approval of Ontario's Institute for Catholic Education and the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The Roman Catholic church teaches that LGBTQ+ people should be treated with dignity and respect, but sexual relations between people of the same sex are still considered a sin.
The content deemed problematic by advocates occurs in Theme 3 of the Fully Alive books, a sexual education unit titled Created Sexual.
Students are taught in Theme 3 "that sexual love should only occur in a male-female marriage (in which children should only be born or adopted) and that persons should identify by gender with the gender (male or female) attributed to them at birth," says a website run by Paolo de Buono, a TCDSB teacher.
Lasting impact on former students
De Buono, who advocates for students outside of school hours, told CBC Toronto he stopped using Fully Alive in his lessons last year.
"No Catholic teacher should be teaching this type of content to students," he said.
Ian McCombe is a representative of Halton Parents for Change, a group formed in response to the Halton Catholic School Board's decision not to fly the Rainbow flag for Pride month in 2021 — a decision that was reversed in 2022.
"We've heard from people who've graduated from the program that [Fully Alive] caused lasting harms," he told CBC Toronto.
The books are potentially traumatizing for vulnerable young people who are still figuring out their identities or who may have family members who identify as LGBTQ+, McCombe said.
They present a, "very narrow view of the Catholic faith," he added.
In a statement sent to CBC Toronto, the TCDSB said, "Teaching staff at the elementary level can utilize resources such as Fully Alive and exercise their professional judgment in the delivery of the curriculum, including the selection of resources."
The Institute for Catholic Education defended the use of Fully Alive in an email statement, saying parents "rightly expect that the presentation of a family life curriculum will reflect a Catholic view of human life, sexuality, marriage, and family."
The Ministry of Education stated in an email response to CBC News that its expectation is that "all children — irrespective of faith, heritage, sexual orientation, gender, place of birth of colour of skin — [are] fully respected within Ontario's publicly funded schools."
Publisher accused of 'pink-washing'
Before discontinuing Fully Alive, Pearson Canada was accused by advocates of "pink-washing," the practice in which a corporation appears to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community publicly while profiting from the sale of products that promote anti-LGBTQ+ messaging.
"They will give lip service, they will raise rainbow flags, and they will provide all sorts of displays of symbolism in support of the community," said Kristyn Wong-Tam, the Ontario NDP's critic for 2SLGBTQ+ Issues.
"But their … policies will undermine that."
Pearson Canada has previously tweeted support for the LGBTQ+ community on multiple occasions.
"It was nefarious for them to send a Pride message and to raise the Rainbow flag … and at the same time profit from these homophobic and transphobic textbooks," Wong-Tam said.
Declan Amaral, an 18-year-old who attends York University and a former student trustee of the Durham Catholic School Board, agreed.
"I call it performative activism," he told CBC Toronto.
"If you're actually publishing a book, a textbook that has harmful rhetoric and harmful messaging to young youth, especially in the queer community ... not only are you not helping, but you're actually hurting the cause."
Amaral wants people to know there is space for pro-LGBTQ+ teachings in the Catholic faith.
"It's not an issue of the Catholic community versus the education and queer community," he said.
"The issue is just the small minority of people who believe that the old ways of thinking about the way that queer youth exist and their identities can be changed," Amaral said.
"Those folks … can keep their ideas, but they cannot project them onto the youth whose identities are valid and who deserve to feel safe."
With files from Derick Deonarain