Toronto

TCDSB chair embraces new sex-ed curriculum after learning son was abused as child

The chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board has changed her mind about the province's new sex-ed curriculum, after learning her son had been sexually abused when he was 11.

Angela Kennedy says parents need to have the facts regardless of religious, cultural values

Angela Kennedy, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, changed her mind about Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum when she learned her son had been abused 2:01

Would Ontario's new sexual education curriculum have helped Brian Kennedy avoid sexual abuse when he was 11 years old in the 1990s?

That's a question that the now 30-year-old teacher and his mother, Angela Kennedy, have grappled with since Angela took a stand against the new curriculum late last year as chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB).

Angela's concerns stem from her Catholic beliefs. But Brian argued against denying students that information, suggesting the curriculum could help students stay safe.

Now, the school board chair has had a "change of heart."

"I can't change what happened to my son," said Angela. "But I can help other parents to understand that if they open that dialogue, perhaps their child is going to have a healthier life."

The sex-ed curriculum introduced by Ontario's Liberal government last fall teaches students about consent, masturbation, gender expression and the correct names for body parts.

Shame kept story buried

Brian didn't acknowledge the abuse he suffered as a child until he was around 25 years old, and he didn't tell his parents until even more recently. He said that a big part of that was due to "shame around complicity." 
When Brian was 11 an older boy in his neighbourhood manipulated him into doing sexual acts. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

He said that when he was 11, an older boy in his neighbourhood manipulated him into doing sexual acts for promises of money, which he never received.

"The abuse ended when he tried to kiss me," Brian told CBC News. "I stopped that. I was like, 'I know that this is wrong. I know that this is sexual, that this is for someone that you love.'

"So if I had the knowledge and understanding of the rest of my body and my sexual health, I think I would have been able to say that this is wrong right from the beginning."

Brian said that telling his parents was hard, because he knew they would feel a "sense of responsibility" and "a lot of guilt," even though it wasn't their fault.

1st job is keeping kids safe

Angela now says that while there are parts of the curriculum that don't align with Catholic values, she's fine with that because "they're facts."
Now a teacher, Kennedy says that before children can learn, they need to be safe. (Kennedy family)

"I think it's very important for parents of all faiths to embrace the curriculum," she said.

"Then they can have a dialogue about their religious values, their cultural values, but have it at the starting point of the facts."

Brian, who is a high school teacher with the Catholic school board, said that before students can learn, educators have to make sure they're safe.

"As a teacher and as a survivor, I understand the importance of having that safety," he said.

As an educator, he was frustrated when his mom spoke out against the new curriculum on CBC's Metro Morning last year, but conflicted because it was "someone that I love and that I think has done a really great job raising me."

"I was very angry that someone who was the leader of my board held those views, because I don't think it's rooted in facts and knowledge," said Brian. "I think that as an educator it's important that we don't avoid knowledge and we don't avoid facts just because it might be a little difficult to talk about."

So Brian decided to bring up the topic at a family dinner. 

"Usually I don't try and get into political conversations with my mother, at least until dessert has been served," joked Brian, but that night, he said, they had "a bit of a knockdown drag out." 

I can't change what happened to my son, but I can help other parents to understand that if they open that dialogue perhaps their child is going to have a healthier life.- Angela Kennedy, chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board

"More dialogue and having a safe space that's full of knowledge and love as opposed to secrecy and shame is important," Brian added, and after explaining that to his mother he left her with a lot to think about.

"I reflected a lot," said Angela. "What I decided was you can still hold your beliefs and have your Catholic values, but it's very important for parents to have the facts so then you can begin the dialogue and talk to your children."

"I hope people will see that this is a genuine change of heart, that I'm doing it for the right reasons."

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