As the film Mean Girls famously said: “Don’t have sex. Because you will get pregnant and die.”
Despite the obvious joke in this, Ontario’s Ford administration seems to have adopted this view in stride. Doug Ford’s provincial government has made drastic changes to the sex education curriculum adopted by the Ontario Liberal Party in 2015. That curriculum was an updated, progressive one that dealt with relevant issues surrounding sex and gender. Influenced by right wing and religious fears, the premier has disregarded the obligation of professional and educational actors to educate students about biology, sexuality and consent.
Ontario’s sex ed curriculum has come under fire in the past by these conservative groups, who claim it indoctrinated youth into liberal mindsets or circumvents religious beliefs. The changes affect the ability to educate students about multiple gender identities, gender fluidity, consent, mental health and other important issues. To many, this is a massive step backwards. These plans will have adverse effects on students, both in the classroom and real life.
Changes will negatively affect students
The sex-ed curriculum was introduced to foster informed, progressive students within a supposedly progressive province. By adhering to right-wing and religious fears, Ford’s administration fails its student populace. Ford’s revised curriculum harms LGBTQ2S+ and gender non-conforming students. Those with different sexual and gender identities are entitled to informative, safe spaces within their school. The previous curriculum normalized sex and gender for its students. This would have far-reaching effects beyond the classroom, particularly on mental health and de-stigmatization.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, transgender and non-heterosexual people are “14 times more likely to attempt suicide” than cis-hetero individuals. Normalizing sex and gender beyond its limited current scope is vital. Educators, who have an ethical and professional responsibility to shape tomorrow’s world, cannot do so without a proper curriculum. Changing the curriculum puts rights at risk.
Sex education does not exist to go against religion or advocate for sexually active lifestyles. According to non-profit Advocacy for Youth, informative sex education has helped increase the use of condoms and contraception. This statistic derived from research on sexual education programs which showcased that sex-ed led to more informed and responsible students. There is no greater strength than an educated populace who can make knowledgeable decisions. Education gives students the tools to articulate and advocate consent, their bodily autonomy and identity.
Ford’s changes are also incredibly antiquated: religious fears influencing policy and believing that school is the monopoly on education reflects on how out of touch the Ford administration is. The onus was placed on schools to make students both informed and tolerant of various sexualities, genders and issues. In today’s digital age, the internet and its unregulated information puts students at risk of consuming inaccurate or hateful rhetoric.
Students have a right to know
Ford’s concerns, even with sex education, are political. Although he has no educational or health background, any advice or concern expressed by educational and sexual health experts were ignored. The safety of LGBTQ2S+ students are instead usurped in favour of forces that should have no sway. Ford’s policy is a populist one, particularly framing the Ontario education system as a sector that must answer to the demands of the “people” (concerned parents). Such maneuvering will only have harrowing effects on social stigma, mental health and the very lives of students.
The lines between concern and fear-mongering are blurry. Sex-ed should not try to please everyone. The state should not operate according to subjective morality. It is not the job of the state to tell us “Don’t have sex. Because you will get pregnant and die.” Instead, policy making should operate within what is expected in a free and democratic society. Religious dogma and political opinions shouldn’t sway the established rights of the populace. Students, simply and unquestionably, have a right to know.