I support the integration of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual studies into the curriculum. I believe that our public education system should reflect the values, knowledge and beliefs that we wish to uphold in our society. I also support and encourage the debate of educational curriculum issues, and respect the rights of individuals and subgroups to accept or reject them, but note that a society requires a reason-based common body of knowledge and laws, otherwise a democracy cannot exist.
My opinion reflects commentary from a 2018 documentary called The Cleaners, which examines the effects social media has on society, and, the invisible influence of those who moderate and control these networks from behind the scenes. Antonio García Martínez, a former product manager for Facebook, was interviewed in the documentary, and he lamented the negative effect Facebook has had on democracy:
“It used to be the case that every citizen had a right to their opinion, and now every citizen has the right to their own reality, to their own truth, to their own set of facts. Facebook very intentionally flatters those sets of facts, by showing you what you want to hear effectively. And effectively filtering out what you don’t want to hear by and large. Democracy requires that we actually have a common set of both rules of behaviour and ground truth that we sort of debate around. And if you don’t have rules of behaviour or you don’t have a basic ground truth, democracy becomes impossible.”1
Recently, Doug Ford’s Ontario provincial government rolled back a revised edition of sex-ed curriculum. The 2015 revision, which would’ve replaced a still-outdated 2010 interim document, that was revised from 1998’s health and physical education curriculum, inclusively addresses LGBTQ+ issues, including gender identity, stereotyping and expression (among many other sexual health issues, such as consent and online behaviour)2. By removing these issues from the public education system, you also attempt to remove them from societal debate and therefore put existing LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms at risk.
As our project clearly shows, LGBTQ+ curriculum inclusivity has been empirically shown to be a societal good. Within our support section, we focus on student safety and describe how inclusiveness creates a safer school environment, decreases mental health issues, increases academic performance and improves attendance and participation from at-risk groups such as transgender students. Again, as we presented, arguments against inclusiveness “range from the outright homophobic to the ignorant” or are religious-based. While the freedom of religion is a constitutionally protected right, our legal system has no absolute duty to accommodate religious claims that, as noted within the 15 (2) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, create undue hardship on community “health, safety and cost”3. Therefore, undermining LGBTQ+ curriculum inclusion is detrimental to society – not just for LGBTQ+ peoples – as it public education that has been shown to increase the overall health and safety of all our communities, inside and out of school.
In this context, it is with dismay that I view the current political climate of Ontario under Premier Doug Ford, which is putting LGBTQ+ rights and freedoms at risk. Earlier in November 2018, at an Ontario Progressive Conservative party convention, delegates successfully voted to discuss the removal of all “gender identity theory” from the in-progress revision of the province’s sex-ed curriculum4. While Ford voted this motion, the fact that it was passed at all is worrisome. Global News reported that the original 2015 curriculum was in line with curricula in other provinces, including areas of gender identity5. So, if the removal of gender identity is not on the table for Ford’s government’s vision of updated sex-ed curriculum, what exactly is going to be changed? Not knowing this is even more worrisome.
As a society, we cannot afford to live within our customized social media realities any longer. While our opinions can be catered to on all kinds of corners of the internet – from enlightened to highly dubious ones – we must force ourselves to walk in others’ proverbial shoes. We must check our perspectives against our privileges, our life experiences, and whenever possible, source well-researched content and scientific documents whenever possible. This is the challenge of democracy, and considering the evidence, including peer-reviewed sources from our group’s presentation, it is both empirically and morally right to include LGBTQ+ curriculum within our education system.