Social History

1969 – On May 14th, 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and the Canadian government passed Bill C-150. The Criminal Law Amendment Act decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults. This was the first step towards equality and acceptance for the homosexual populations living in Canada and was met with both celebration and extreme controversy. 

1985  In June, a teacher and librarian at Davisville Public School was the victim of a homophobic hate crime. He was murdered in High Park, beaten to death by 5 youths. This tragedy influenced the City of Toronto School Board to implement one of the first programs to combat anti-gay discrimination and violence in Canadian schools.

1991 – The Toronto Coalition for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth was formed. This functioned as an open forum of social service professionals, heath care providers, educators, youth, parents and anyone interested in improving the quality of life for LGBTQ youth in Toronto.

1996  The Toronto District School Board launched the Triangle Program. This is Canada’s first alternative high school program, which offers gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight and transgender students with structure, support and community while obtaining their high school education. 

2002 – A student by the name of Jeremy Dias, successfully sued the Algoma District School Board on the grounds that Sir James Dunn Collegiate staff members would not allow him to start school clubs for nonheterosexual students. He later used the money he received from the case to found Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative, which now runs under the title of the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity.

2008 – Teacher Debbie Samson started the first elementary school Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in Ontario at Sunnyside Public School. She is later awarded the Rainbow Visions Award, by the ETFO, for her work in creating safer school environments for LGBTQ youth. 

2011 On October 14th, Jamie Hubley, the son of an Ottawa City Councillor committed suicide. His death came after a month of him blogging about the anti-gay bullying he was facing at his school. The incident sparked the It Gets Better Project, with several Canadian media outlets and political figures posting videos in Jamie’s honour.

2012 Jamie Hubley’s tragic suicide also lead to the passing of the Accepting Schools Act (Bill 13) the following year. This bill created clearer and stricter guidelines for responses to bullying in schools, as well as ensured that all publicly funded schools in Ontario allow students to start a GSA if they please. 

2013 – The video Both/And was released and documented Lee Hicks, a grade 6 teacher at Palmerston Avenue Junior Public School in Toronto, and his journey while transitioning and continuing to teach. With much of the material being created at his school. 

2015 – The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) hosted their annual meeting in August and delegates from all across the province voted to approve the first Transgender Policy. This demonstrated the ETFO’s goal to equity and social justice for all.

2018 – The Ontario Government, led by Doug Ford, rescinds the recently updated 2015 sexual-education curriculum. In turn, they enforce that a new interim sexual-education program be taught which is largely the same as the last health curriculum update, from 1998. 

Curriculum History

The origins of LGBTQ+ curriculum history begin in universities throughout the 1970s. In 1971, the York University Homophile Association (YUHA) offers what many consider to be the first gay studies tutorial offered at a Canadian educational institution. In 1973, Operation Socrates was published by the University of Waterloo and the Canadian Gay Liberation Movement. Approximately four thousand copies of the booklet were published, and were intended to be handed out to High School guidance departments in an attempt to educate youth. This project was met with controversy due to the fact that it was funded using a $9000 government grant. In 1974, Professor Michael Lynch from the University of Toronto offered a course titled “New Perspectives on the Gay Experience”. The course was only taken by thirteen students and quickly became the subject of controversy. The Toronto Star intended on running a story about the course, however the story was dropped due to the publication not being convinced that this course was not a means of converting people to the homosexual lifestyle. While the origins of LGBTQ curriculum history may have begun in Canadian universities, the Ontario government did not begin to take LGBTQ issues seriously until after the High Park incident of 1985, where Kenneth Zeller was murdered (ETFO, 2016, p 3-5, 20).

While the government of Ontario began taking LGBTQ issues more seriously after the High Park murder in 1985, curriculum reform would advance at a proverbial snail’s pace for some time. However, this began to change in 1995, when the Toronto District School Board created The Triangle Program (ETFO, 2016, p. 8). The Triangle Program was (and still is) a one of its kind Alternative High School, designed to educate and nurture at-risk LGBTQ+ youth. The school follows the Ministry of Ontario curriculum, however lessons are infused with issues and content that are relevant to the LGBTQ+ community. The school currently boasts curriculum that is designed to peak the interests, concerns, and educational needs of the LGBTQ+ community. They also boast social support, along with smaller class sizes designed for more one on one teacher interaction (The Triangle Program, 2018). Due to the smaller class sizes, only around 600 students have passed through the institutions doors, but many of those students have gone on to be successful in post-secondary education (CBC News, 2016). The school is also a resounding success with students, based on the testimonials one can find on the website. It is worth noting that while the Triangle Program has proven to be a success with at-risk LGBTQ+ youth, as of 2018 it is still Canada’s only LGBTQ+ high school (The Triangle Program, 2018).

While the public school boards have become relatively open-minded about LGBTQ+ curriculum over the years, Catholic school boards have shown more resistance, with the defence often being that same-sex relationships and so-called gender theory go against Catholic values. In 2012, Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten put forth the argument that all publicly funded schools should offer a gay-straight alliance. In response, a document was put forward by OCSTA (Ontario Catholic School Trustee’s Association) agreeing to have such support groups, but refusing to call them gay-straight alliances on the grounds that the term was too political, and that it went against Catholic values. However, this would not be the only time that Catholic values would be used by a Catholic school board in order to resist incorporating LGBTQ+ material in the curriculum (Sheila Dabu Nonato, National Post, 2012). In 2017, the Catholic school boards of Alberta began demanding their own sex-ed curriculum. Among other things, they were opposed to teaching students about homosexual relationships and lifestyles, as well as the disassociation of gender identity from biological sex (Janet French, The Edmonton Journal).

In 2015, former Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and the provincial government put forward a proposal for a progressive revamping of the Ontario sex-ed curriculum. While there were sweeping changes across the board, I would like to focus on how this curriculum treated LGBTQ+ students. Educators were encouraged to consider transgender and gender non-conforming students, students were taught to respect differences, and students also learned about different gender identities such as two-spirit, transgender, and intersex. Students were also taught about support services that they had access to if they were struggling with bullying or coming to terms with any part of their identity (Jack Hauen, The Globe and Mail, 2018). This curriculum was ultimately about putting the needs of the twenty-first century student first, and was celebrated by the LGBTQ+ community.

However, in 2018, Doug Ford ran for Premier of Ontario on several controversial promises. One  such promise was to repeal and replace the 2015 sex-ed curriculum. The logic behind this platform was that many of the topics being covered in the 2015 sex-ed curriculum should be exclusively discussed with a parental figure. Once in power, Ford kept to his word and repealed the 2015 sex-ed curriculum. However, due to the fact that a replacement had not been drafted yet, it was decided to put an interim curriculum that borrowed heavily from the 1998 curriculum in place while a new one was drafted. For the LGBTQ+ community, this meant that almost all references to gender identity and same-sex relationships disappeared (Jack Hauen, The Globe and Mail, 2018). While Doug Ford promises a new curriculum, it is not set to be put in place until the 2019-2020 school year (Paola Loriggio & Shawn Jeffords, The Globe and Mail, 2018), and will likely neglect several areas of discussion that the 2015 curriculum addressed.

The future of LGBTQ+ educational content is up in the air, and will vary drastically from province to province. However, if the public outcry that the Ford government has received for their actions is any indication, it appears that there are a large number of people that are willing to continue fighting for safe and inclusive classrooms, that feature inclusive content.

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"In addition to time, craft also demands a conscience — a sense that it matters how well things are done, made, written, or spoken. ​"

Jim Burke on teaching English (2010)