Despite education being a provincial responsibility, the Canadian federal government has issued guidelines on how to structure a sex education program. The latest 2008 update of Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education, published by the Public Health Agency, which reports to the minister of health, is intended to be a “framework” for drafting curricula for Canadians of all ages, including children and youth.
The Canadian Guidelines warns that educators should be careful when defining “sexual health,” as the phrase may be misunderstood to express approval or disapproval of specific behaviours or individuals under the guise of “medical truth.” As well, the guideline states, an ideal curriculum meets the needs of all minorities, including homosexuals. In fact, sex education should promote “critical thinking and reflection about gender identities and gender-role stereotyping. It recognizes the dynamic nature of gender roles, power and privilege and the impact of gender-related issues in society.” It also “challenges the broader and often invisible dynamics of society that privilege certain groups (e.g., heterosexuals).”
Curriculum drafters should adopt a “comprehensive” approach to sex education, it counsels, where “all disciplines or subject areas relevant to sexual health are addressed.” Individuals are to learn how to use materials and resources that “promote sexual health, such as condoms/barrier protection.” Children and adolescents must be educated about stereotypes, contraception, and gender identity and sexual orientation.
According to the federal guidelines document, individuals should be given the opportunity to “explore, question and challenge the attitudes, feelings, values and customs that may influence their choices about sexual health,” and they should have access to birth control and sexual health clinics. “Effective sexual health education recognizes that responsible individuals may choose a variety of paths to achieve sexual health” and receive information to assist them in their pursuits.
In 2010, the Public Health Agency also issued two documents elaborating on themes in the curriculum guidelines. The first, Questions & Answers: Gender Identity in Schools, instructs educators on how to address and promote gender identity in schools. It makes use of vocabulary such as “gender variant,” “genderqueer,” and “biphobia” while advising staff to “let the youth tell you how they self-identify” and “(use) more inclusive language, such as ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’.” The document also defines the concept of “internalized homophobia” as: “A diminished sense of personal self-worth or esteem felt by an individual as a result of the experienced or presumed homophobia of others.”
Under no accounts is the school official to encourage the youth to “abandon their gender identity,” as that “actually leads to low self-esteem and mental health issues such as depression, self-harm and suicide.” Rather, the teacher should encourage the new identity while “providing inclusive sex health education programming and educating the entire school community about gender identity issues.” Schools should incorporate gender into their anti-discrimination policies, use “categories other than male and female” on school forms, permit the student to change his or her gender on school records, have “allies and role models” situated near bathrooms or locker rooms, establish “gender neutral” or single occupancy bathrooms, and allow kids to join boys or girls teams based on how they self-identify. In addition, it is recommended that libraries and teachers make use of “gender identity resources.”
“Exposing students to gender identity issues and resources will not cause students to question their gender identity,” claims the document.
A second supporting document addresses the incorporation of homosexuality into schools. Questions & Answers: Sexual Orientation in Schools defines “basic human rights of sexual minorities” as “equal partner benefits, equal adoption and foster-parenting rights … and the legalization of same-sex marriage.” Teachers are told that there is a “continuum” of sexual attractions and that sexuality starts developing from early childhood. Gay-Straight Alliances are encouraged in schools and staff should “learn how to talk openly about sex, sexuality and sexual orientation.”
The document also advises teachers to lobby the provincial government to include sexual orientation in the curriculum.
In this way, officials are attempting to propagate a certain worldview through the use of guidance documents issued by the federal government.