The180·The 180

Former Muslim objects to watered down sex-ed at Toronto school

Toronto's Thorncliffe Park Elementary School has adjusted its sex ed curriculum after ongoing protest from parents, many of whom are immigrants whose objections were rooted in their faith. But Pakistani-Canadian blogger Eiynah says that kind of religious accommodation goes too far.
Protests against Ontario's sex ed curriculum, like this one in 2015, led to a recent change at Toronto's Thorncliffe Park Elementary.

Toronto's Thorncliffe Park Elementary School has adjusted how it will deliver Ontario's new sex-ed curriculum.

Last year, parents pulled their children from the school's sex-ed classes, citing religious and cultural beliefs. 

Experts and officials at both the Toronto District School Board and Ontario's Ministry of Education have said the changes are minor and that they want to see kids in class and learning. 

But Eiynah, a Pakistani-Canadian blogger based in Toronto, says the decision to appease parents at Thorncliffe is an unreasonable accommodation. 

Multiculturalism has come to mean that people will silently and politely accommodate all sorts of things, but that's really not what it should mean. Diversity is wonderful and we should embrace our differences, but making accommodations on our basic values goes too far. - Eiynah

Eiynah is a pseudonym. She has asked for anonymity because of the frequent threats she has received for her writing.

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length.

If you were the sex-ed teacher, and you supported the curriculum, wouldn't you welcome the chance to educate these students a little bit? 

Here's the thing, we have to make up our minds about what it is we are trying to get across. If we just want to cave to demands of religious communities it can go off in all sorts of directions. What if people want to change the science curriculum? Being offended by anatomy is unacceptable. It's the Muslim girls that need to learn about their bodies; they need to have the exposure to the vocabulary and to the ideas that women are equal or there's nothing shameful about terms for our anatomy. Who's standing up for them? 

Could the case be made that these children need more sex-ed not less? 

Absolutely. I write a blog that used to be mainly geared to a Pakistani audience and I'd feature stories about sexuality. The kinds of emails I'd get from kids and teenagers was just shocking — people thinking they're going to die because of masturbation, or not understanding what will get them pregnant — these are serious conversations that need to happen and may be in the best interest of the religious parents themselves. 

Parents argue that its their right to teach their children about these topics. What do you make of that argument? 

To me, as a minority, that's especially surprising because this topic also deals with another minority group — the LGBTQ. If people were to speak that way about Muslims - 'Oh we will decide when we teach our children about racism'  then that would be unacceptable to the Muslim minority right? Teaching these kids about consent, teaching them about STD's, teaching them about preventing pregnancies - it's all part of the same conversation and once we draw the line at being offended at teaching kids the names of their genitals, then how far will this go? So for them to speak the same way about another community who needs their help, they should be able to understand what it's like.

And in your experience when they say they will have these conversations - do they?

No - for the most part it's just a delaying tactic. This is my own community and I know exactly what it's like. It's not a gay-friendly environment. A lot of kids suffer because of that. A lot of kids are shamed because of that. Their existence is denied. When I wrote a children's book, My Chacha is Gay, a lot of people were happy at first to have it addressed from a Muslim point of view. But the outrage from parents caused schools to back down and away from the project. They said it was offensive to the culture and that gay people just don't exist.

So the argument made to you was the homosexuality doesn't exist in Islam?

Yes exactly.

These protesters insist they aren't homophobic. What do you make of that?

It's not true. They don't want to teach their children about equality for everyone and then insist they are not homophobic - it's a blatant lie. It's just phrased better to make it more palatable.

Not all the parents protesting the curriculum are Muslim - how much of this is about specific religious belief and how much of this is about conservative tradition and values in general?

I think a lot of it is religious belief which overlaps with conservative values. Not necessarily Islamic beliefs, but conservative Christian values, or anyone adhering to scriptures that are over a 1000 years old will naturally have different ideas than people who basing their thoughts on the values of today.

Your blog deals with sexuality and Islam - what sort of feedback do you get to your writing?

I get death threats, rape threats and I've actually lessened the amount I write about sexuality even though it was really satisfying to help the people who needed it. Many of them were so silent and so afraid to associate with me that many of them would write to me privately saying they would have loved to share my blog but it was so taboo they couldn't. The blog would show thousands of readers - but silence.

I'm sure when you started your blog - you felt you were working towards something and the changes to the curriculum would have helped you in that goal, but now it looks like those changes are going to be watered down quite a bit.

Absolutely, it just feels like the same thing all over again. The same kinds of compromises under the guise of multiculturalism and it really just abandons the powerless within the minority -the women, the LGBTQ, the atheists, the agnostics - the children we need to lift from that background so they can join the rest of the world.  It really hurts to see the government caving into unreasonable demands for what is a really a very reasonable sex-ed curriculum.

It's funny because I'm sure if you asked the school administrators why they made this decision - all their answers would sound very reasonable and accommodating and 21st century.

Right but accommodating intolerance is not progressive. It's not 21st century. It's an either/or scenario in a lot of people's minds: you either hate Muslims and you're intolerant of them or you just accept everything that comes from a religious orthodox group making demand based on ancient scriptures. It doesn't have to be either/or. You can stand up for Muslims and their rights and you can also stand up for secularism and science and equality.

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