Two Toronto transgender high school students have filed separate human rights claims against the province because they say the new interim sexual education curriculum discriminates against all LGBT students in Ontario.
Ryan and Noah, both 15, whose last names were not provided to CBC Toronto to protect their privacy, want the 2015 health and physical education curriculum, which includes sex ed, to be reinstated because they say it is inclusive.
The two Grade 10 students are also seeking $ 15,000 in damages each because of the curriculum change. Both students were born female, but identify as male and transgender.
Andrea Luey, staff lawyer for Justice for Children and Youth, a legal clinic in Toronto that filed the claims for students on Friday with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, said the students are arguing that provincial changes to the curriculum will affect their ability to access education free of discrimination.
“For Ryan and Noah, they each brought a human rights complaint because they’ve experienced harm and will experience ongoing harm as a result of the change in curriculum,” Luey said on Monday.
The claims themselves say the new interim curriculum “creates a learning environment that allows for bias, prejudice and intolerance” and will contribute to a hostile school environment for all students.
In the claims, the students say the $ 15,000 each would compensate them for injury to dignity, pain and suffering caused by curriculum change.
Both students came out as trans in their respective elementary schools. They have since transitioned and fully live their lives as males. Both started high school known to their peers as male students, not as trans students.
Students take issue with comments, snitch line
The pair want the 2015 curriculum to remain in place for this school year and they want any future sex ed curriculum to comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
They also want the tribunal to declare that comments made by Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson, and her officials, about the curriculum change, as well as the creation of a the “snitch line” teacher reporting website, are contrary to the code.
Thompson, who directed all school boards in the province to replace the 2015 curriculum for Grades 1 to 8 with an interim curriculum, in effect reviving elements of the 1998 curriculum, is named in the claims.
“… the Minister either fully or substantially removed all content from the elementary curriculum regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirited identifies and issues,” the claims read.
Thompson has “excluded all content regarding gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, same-sex families, negotiating consent to sexual activity, invisible disabilities, HIV and the impacts of HIV stigma, and online safety from the mandatory learning expectations,” the claims read.
According to the claims, the students allege that the curriculum changes, public statements, and the “snitch line” teacher reporting website discriminate against Noah on the grounds of gender identity and expression and against Ryan on the grounds of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation and disability.
Change puts transgender people at risk, students say
Ryan told CBC’s Metro Morning on Monday: “I think the repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum was a really bad decision that puts people like me, transgender people, at huge risk. With a lack of education among elementary students, people are going to be confused.
“There is going to be a lot of students who … don’t know how to treat transgender people. And unfortunately, with a lack of education and lot of ignorance, that might cause a lot of disrespect towards trans people.”
Noah said in a news release on Monday: “The 2015 sex-ed curriculum included everybody. The new curriculum leaves people out. Students won’t be taught what they need to know to ensure everyone feels welcome.”
The students said the 2015 curriculum was critical in reducing the level of discrimination and bullying they experienced as elementary school students.
It taught elementary students about different gender identities, sexual orientations and invisible differences as well as how to recognize and deal with transphobia, they said. They added that these issues are not addressed in the 1998 curriculum.
Luey said the claims are a reminder that children are the primary users of education and have rights.