Something brewing beneath transphobic ads in Ontario
On September 28th, Charles McVety’s Institute for Canadian Values pushed a proposed curriculum for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) into the forefront of the Ontario election, with a full-page ad published in the National Post. The ad read, “Please! Don’t Confuse Me. I’m a girl. Don’t teach me to question if I’m a boy, transexual [sic], transgendered [sic], intersexed or two spirited…” as if diversity and anti-bullying education might somehow cause gender confusion for kids who aren’t trans. When Post publisher Douglas Kelly released an apology two days later, he acknowledged that the ad “exceeded the bounds of civil discourse… in its tone and manipulative use of a picture of a young girl; in the suggestion that such teaching “corrupts” children, with everything that such a charge implies; and in its singling out of groups of people with whose sexuality the group disagrees.” Even so, Sun Media, which almost seems to be fishing for a human rights complaint against it in order to more pointedly campaign against Human Rights Commissions, picked up the ad, running it in the Toronto Sun. Following McVety’s lead, the Ontario PCs have been distributing their own fliers warning about “Cross-dressing for six-year-olds.” PC leader Tim Hudak is now defending those fliers, and The Globe and Mail also notes that many of the points on them are deliberately misleading:
Still, the PC flyer warns parents against classrooms that would introduce concepts such as “cross dressing for six year olds” and “reclaiming Valentine’s Day [by celebrating] sexual diversity with a kissing booth.”
The statements aren’t based on what was proposed, however. The Valentine’s Day example was an idea to give [Hershey’s Kisses – M] chocolates to students who complete a “school climate” survey. As for cross-dressing, the Liberals said “there is no such thing.” The page cited in the PC flyer is a list of “Significant International” gay and lesbian individuals, including Ellen Degeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Virginia Woolf and Harvey Milk.
The flier (like McVety’s ad) is a litany of omissions and distortions (i.e. sexual identity isn’t even brought up until 8th grade discussion), and more than half of it is devoted to an allegation that the 2011 K-12 Curriculum recommends not informing parents, and that parents don’t have a say. In reality, Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism: A K-12 Curriculum Resource Guide speaks of “Sending a school newsletter home at the beginning of each term” as a “best practice for keeping parents/guardians/caregivers informed of all upcoming equity topics in the classroom,” although lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT)-specific subjects aren’t necessarily singled out. This curriculum, by the way, was already abandoned by the McGuinty government, which seems to be the biggest deflection in this debate.
And by displaying such blatant ignorance and willful distortion and omission of facts, conservatives are demonstrating in plain and clear fashion why this education is necessary.
In 2011, LGBT-positive education became a battlefield.
Similar outrage was raised over TDSB’s Days of Significance 2011-2012 calendar, since it noted days like the Transgender Day of Remembrance and the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers… along with the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, Feast of the Theophany and nearly a hundred other Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Baha’i, UN, Orthodox, Shinto and other holidays or commemorative occasions. This calendar is provided for teachers’ reference, and “is a collection of dates that are notable for either equity or educational focus, recognized by the United Nations, the Federal Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario, the City of Toronto, and the Multifaith Council of Ontario.” In other words, kids aren’t required to learn about them, but teachers have the reference, in case they become noteworthy during relevant subjects or current events. But that doesn’t stop SunTV and radio personality Charles Adler from whining that the campaign against bullying is only about “name calling and hurt feelings,” and fearmongering the idea that this will somehow be used to educate students to become trans sex workers (either that or else emotionally scarred by them — I haven’t been able to determine which):
This battle is occurring concurrently with several conflicts over LGBT youth and trans rights in Canada and the U.S. Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) became controversial after two schools banned rainbows and all expressions of support for LGBT people, tried to ban GSAs, and then allowed “SIDEspaces,” on the provision that they adhered to doctrine that stated “gay is not an identity,” that gay students are “immoral and sinful” and that LGBT people were required to live a life of chastity. Burnaby enacted an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy, and a parents group emerged in defiance, claiming that protecting LGBT students was an open assault on the rights of Christians. The Edmonton Public School Board has also proposed an anti-bullying ordinance, although Alberta also has the world’s only parental rights clause in its human rights charter which requires advance notice and full exemption of any children whose parents don’t want them to hear it — a clause that took over a year to implement, due to fears over how it would be exploited. Much of the rhetoric occurring in all these places has been borrowed from a conflict in California over the FAIR Education Act, which calls for inclusion of positive LGBT role models in history teaching. Groups like the Traditional Values Coalition have ramped up the panic with rhetoric about LGBT-positive diversity education “molesting the minds of young impressionable youth,” spun in a way to subconsciously associate LGBT-positivity with pedophilia — something that McVety has obviously followed the lead on:
“This is really sexual exploitation of children. And yes that’s a strong term and a strong charge, but this is truly sexually violating little boys and girls,” he told LifeSiteNews.
Following the lead of US conservatives, Canadian far-right groups have taken to referring to any inclusion of LGBT mention as “sexually explicit material,” and claiming that the moves are “aimed at eradicating all traces of Judeo-Christian morality from the education system.” It’s a no-compromise agenda which at its heart is actually less about parental rights (although it will exploit them for outrage) or fears of confusion (which requires one to believe that childrens’ and teens’ minds are empty vessels which will accept anything you put in them — something any parent can tell you doesn’t happen) and more about the fear of the growing acceptance of LGBT people in society. The new chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, Dr. John Eastman, explained why the marriage-focused organization is funding the fight against a curriculum, suggesting that he feels LGBT education should exist in schools, but that it should be LGBT-negative. A commentator at the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow takes this even further:
Christian parents have a responsibility to do everything they can to protect their children from the destructive, negative influences of the culture. But I also believe they should be concerned about the kids who make up the rest of their children’s generation.
After all, they’ll be the ones voting in the coming years on same-sex marriage laws. They’ll be the ones serving on school boards and determining sex ed curricula. They’ll be the ones debating whether tolerance applies to Christians. They’ll be the ones who, actively or passively, decide if it matters whether children are raised in traditional family structures.
Anti-bullying ordinances, positive portrayals of LGBT people in teachings and student-driven initiatives to support LGBT youth are not unreasonable things to ask. But they threaten a status quo which allows or even encourages McVety-style ignorance to perpetuate. [And it is at this point that I remind readers that these attitudes come from one segment of faith, rather than all faith. There are LGBT-positive people of many faiths — including Christianity — and their support (especially when they respond to misleading memes like McVety’s) is important and appreciated]
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the response that far right groups in the US have given regarding a wave of suicides among gay and trans teens. Some have gone as far as to say that homophobic bullying is “part of the maturational process,” and that bullied youth who commit suicide either did so because gay activists seduced them into homosexuality or else because they had guilty consciences. Lest we think that Canadian activists aren’t as extreme as those south of the border, we have this response to a questionnaire sent out by the Canadian Secular Alliance:
If there is to be a government school system, Christians should be the only ones permitted to hold prayer sessions in government schools. All other prayers are to false gods, and are expressions of idolatry. As a Christian, I deny the legitimacy of state-sanctioned idolatry.
Silly Tranny, Rights are for Humans.
The outrage over these fliers also takes place amidst growing activism for inclusion of transsexual and transgender people in human rights legislation. Trans people have been increasingly recognized as an emergent civil rights movement, with gender identity and gender expression being added to legislation in many parts of the U.S. (in Canada, only three cities explicitly include both terms in equality ordinances, with the Northwest Territories also explicitly including gender identity). Earlier this year, a Private Member’s Bill from now-retired NDP MP Bill Siksay sought to change that, as it progressed to Third Reading in Parliament.
Bill C-389 has the dubious honour of being a human rights bill that members of the governing party actually actively lobbied their constituents against. LaVar Payne, Conservative Member of Parliament for Medicine Hat, sent letters to any constituents who wrote claiming that extending rights to trans people would would infringe on freedom of speech, among other things. Minster of Justice Rob Nicholson wrote letters claiming that trans people were already protected by existing legislation, but trannssexuals are only “read in” to legislation (and therefore subject to legal interpretation), while other transgender people are not included at all. MP Blake Richards (Wild Rose) wrote in a number of rural papers within or bordering his constituency, raising washroom fears, something that at least three other Conservative Members of Parliament expressed in interviews across Canada. And Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wanuskewin) forwarded a letter from “constituent” Jim Hughes, President of Campaign Life Coalition, to other Members of Parliament, which alleged that:
Creating a right to “gender identity” and “gender expression” will result in male cross-dressers and drag queens having the legal right to use girls bathrooms.
Besides cross-dressers, this bill would also give special rights to those who consider themselves to be “transgendered”.
… Imagine a young girl – your daughter or granddaughter – goes into a washroom and finds a man there. How is the young girl to determine whether or not the man in the bathroom is a “peeping tom,” a rapist or a pedophile? It is unconscionable for any legislator to purposefully place her in such a compromising position. Furthermore, if the young girl reacts negatively to the man’s presence and he turns out to be a transsexual, she could potentially be charged with a “hate crime”.
Proponents of C-389 will downplay or even deny the impact on public washrooms, but cases in the USA have already arisen on the basis of “gender identity” rights, such as those which C-389 seeks to enshrine in Canadian law.
The latter statement is in fact entirely false. Over 130 jurisdictions in North America have extended rights inclusion to trans people (some as far back as 1975), with no consequential pattern of women or children preyed upon by trans people and / or with trans-inclusive legislation somehow being used to excuse predatory behaviour in washrooms. Hughes may have been referring to an incident at Rio Sport and Health, in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which an anti-trans group later admitted to having staged. But transsexuals have already been using public restrooms for decades — there is no law preventing them from doing so, and trans rights bills change nothing in that regard.
The Harper Conservatives appeared to have developed two narratives on the bill: the official complaint, that the bill was “unnecessary and undefined,” and the unofficial one that raised bathroom panic. Human rights are generally thought to apply to all people, but when a group is subjected to so much ignorance that prejudice becomes likely or inevitable, we specify them as an included class, to send a signal. The reliance of even some Members of Parliament on an argument that assumes trans people to be predatory clearly proved the necessity. And so the bill narrowly passed in the House of Commons in the spring — but died during the election call, while awaiting ratification by the Senate.
The trans rights bill was reintroduced during the first week of the new session, and is expected to come up for Second Reading in as soon as six months. The rhetoric against transsexual and transgender people being spun by Charles McVety and far-right conservatives will not be over with the Ontario election.
Affirming LGBT Youth
In the end, teens and kids who are bullied about their (real or perceived) sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression have to be looking at Charles McVety’s ad, the actions of the Toronto Sun in seeking to run it and refusing to apologize, the actions of Conservative politicians who are willfully making them pariahs rather than providing any kind of refuge from the harassment, ridicule and even violence they experience… and shuddering. The struggles of LGBT youth and trans people are both being framed as a conflict of rights. But comparing the rights of people to participate in society and the rights of people who want to intimidate and prevent them from doing so is a false equivalence.
During discussion of the policy proposed in Edmonton, columnists at the National Post complained that the particular ordinance called for affirming LGBT kids. Youth absolutely do have a need and a right to be affirmed as people, no matter how they might identify themselves. In a society that is still so entirely pervasive with homophobic and transphobic attitudes and disenfranchisement, failure to support students’ identities becomes a suffocating vacuum of terror. It’s a literal hell to live through, and the rights of kids to have a safe space should not be trumped by the rights of people to make it hostile.
(an abridged version of this post appears at rabble.ca)