Friday, February 27, 2015

Is Homophobia Behind The Anti-SexEd Movement In Ontario?

Short answer.

Of course. It's part of it. For some.

One cannot, with a straight face, say that acknowledging the existence of  sexual diversity is premature in the third grade, by which time children have been inundated with media that depict families led almost exclusively by a mother and father, and periodically by a single parent formerly in a heterosexual relationship. 

I'm talking about sexual diversity here -- not sex acts -- the simple notion that loving and stable families are built upon different kinds of legally recognized relationships.

But some will try. We begin with Sue-Ann Levy, who writes for The Toronto Sun newspaper: 
No, because homophobes are typically heterosexual, with the exception closeted gays presenting as straight. Ms Levy is neither of these by her own account.It's also a pretty darned curious comment considering by grade three, children have seen classmates dropped off or picked up by two mums, two dads -- you get the picture. They've also seen this:

Vast series of books like Mercer Mayer's Little Critters or Stan and Jan Berenstain's The Berenstain Bears are readily found in great quantities in bookstores, homes and in school and public libraries. They are good-hearted stories about mum and dad and the kids. I was a teacher-librarian in three different schools where I stocked these books. I don't see them as particularly doctrinaire, unless one goes out of their way not to display other titles -- far fewer in number -- that show other family structures.

An excellent example is the picture book My Chacha is Gay, by a friend of mine named Eiynah who is an artist and blogger. I've lost count of the many languages her book has been translated into and the many countries where it's been shared children and families. I've long since lost count of the horrible physical threats heaped upon the author on social media. There's no sex whatsoever. The raciest image in the book is Chacha (Urdu for paternal uncle) holding the hand of his boyfriend Faheem.

My Chacha is Gay from Eiynah NM on Vimeo.

I shared this book with my grade three class last year, one of perhaps a hundred or more books I read to them, including titles by Robert Munsch and Phoebe Gillman, as well as books about Harriet Tubman and Dr King and Terry Fox. Lots of interesting books about all kinds of things.

A blogger broke the scandalous story of my reading My Chacha is Gay with this frothy little post (left), the product of an investigation that led him all the way to my Twitter feed. The same photographs I Tweeted here appeared in my class blog, available to all parents and widely read.

It was a scandal that would be blogged out a few times, along with a piece I wrote about LGBTQ-themed literature for children, in which I reference a small number of books. If you put all those titles together, they would fill a small plastic bin amongst a school library collection of thousands.

I witnessed a rather visceral assault on another elementary teacher after she Tweeted out a photo of an LGBT-themed book she shared with her class. A blogger posted about the perceived indoctrination. A search of her Twitter feed revealed that was only one of hundreds of activities in her room that year. She had undertaken amazing lessons in math, language, health, social studies and science. But let it be known that you read one book about a boy who likes dresses or a girl with two mums, and some will say you are part of a vast conspiracy.

So much for transparency.

But back to Sue Ann Levy's Tweet. The row was sparked by comments made in the Provincial legislature by Monte McNaughton, who, in his quest to become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, has positioned himself as point man in the battle against Ontario's new Health and Physical Education curriculum.

From The Globe and Mail newspaper story (emphasis mine):

Tory MPP Monte McNaughton tried to grill Ms. Wynne on the curriculum. But the Premier, the first openly gay head of government in the English-speaking world, swiftly turned the tables. She pointed to one of Mr. McNaughton’s comments from the previous day, in which he said, “it’s not the Premier of Ontario’s job, especially Kathleen Wynne, to tell parents what’s age-appropriate for their children.”
“What is it that especially disqualifies me for the job that I’m doing? Is it that I’m a woman? Is it that I’m a mother? Is it that I have a master’s of education? Is it that I was a school council chair? Is it that I was the minister of education?” Ms. Wynne thundered. “What is it exactly that the member opposite thinks disqualifies me from doing the job that I’m doing? What is that?”
Mr McNaughton later walked back his comments, saying he was alluding to very serious allegations against the Wynne government regarding interfering in a by-election in Sudbury, a potential breach of Province's Elections Act which police are now investigating.

It was a specious bit of damage control. Mr Mcnaughton's former boss Tim Hudak lost the 2014 Provincial election spectacularly with a promise eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs to pave the way for 1,000,000 private ones. Mr Hudak had run afoul of both caucus and the party executive in making this campaign promise, costing him his leadership. Independent analysis of the plan suggested his calculations were off by a factor of eight. Had he won, what a sight it would have been to see a Liberal education critic rise in the legislature to question Premier Hudak's authority to preside over an updated math curriculum.

But I digress.

The Premier remains adamant that homophobia plays a role in the opposition to the curriculum. Supporters of the grade three is too young argument never suggest a grade at which it is appropriate for a classroom discussion acknowledging -- and helping children to contextualize -- what they already see around them. Her comments:

As I posted previously, organizers of the Queen's Park protest maintained an event page on Facebook Protest to Stop or Revise SEX ED curriculum Start Sep 2015, as well as a closed group page. Both pages have multiple administrators, and organizers posted frequent reminders to limit placard messaging to parental rights and issues of age appropriateness, avoiding references to homosexuality and religion.

So instead of making the homophobic comments that were de regueur in the 2010 anti-curriculum backlash, protestors resorted to messaging like the above. 

Now, does that mean that all criticism of curriculum by the Queen's Park protestors or others is homophonically inspired? Of course not. Where I continue to feel some empathy with skeptical parents is in the apparent lack of public consultation, or at least communication about the development of the document. However, where people see this curriculum as an expression of the gay agenda or a conscious effort to groom children, no amount of transparency will ever be enough.

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