There’s a new sickness catching on in Quebec, and it has nothing to do with a resurgence of COVID-19.
This bug has its genesis in the culture wars gripping the United States. But now it has hopped the border. And the contagion is spreading across Canada with worrying speed.
The primary symptom is opposition to the sex ed curriculum and policies on gender identity that increasingly recognize LGBTQ2+ rights, particularly in the classroom. Under the guise of protecting children from “indoctrination,” protesters from British Columbia to the Maritimes marched last week to denounce accommodations such as gender-neutral washrooms or empowering students to choose their own names and pronouns at school.
The organizers of the 1 Million March 4 Children claim they are not against the LGBTQ2+ community per se; they just want to assert the rights of parents to instil their values in their kids when it comes to sexuality, which sounds reasonable. But the premise that teaching acceptance for people of different gender identities in our schools somehow amounts to “indoctrination,” rather than fulfilling the essential mission of social inclusion, disguises a rising tide of intolerance toward the transgender community in particular.
It’s creeping into our politics. It’s also threatening to politicize our education system.
Prior to the nationwide marches last week, protests were held outside schools over LGBTQ2+ rights in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, where the governments insist parents must give permission before a student can change their pronouns at school. Saskatchewan has even threatened to use the notwithstanding clause to override concerns this would violate children’s charter rights.
Quebec is not immune from this polarizing phenomenon.
Not only was a demonstration (and counter-demonstration under the banner of pushing back against hate) held in Montreal last week, the debate over gender identity in schools has reared its head since students returned to class.
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When the Centre de services scolaire des Hautes-Rivières in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu sent a letter home to parents explaining that a part-time instructor who identifies as nonbinary would use the honorific Mx, someone shared it on social media, provoking an ugly backlash. Police had to be called in to investigate online threats.
Most shocking, perhaps, was the reaction of Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, who said he’d never heard of the term “Mx” and would never use it, while lamenting the infiltration of Quebec schools by the “radical left.”
This comes from the leader of the party that created same-sex civil unions (before the courts legalized marriage) and gave same-sex parents the right to have their names inscribed on their children’s birth certificates, underscoring just how susceptible even normally progressive politicians are to the dog whistle of socially conservative ideology imported from the U.S.
Soon after, Education Minister Bernard Drainville overruled a school in Rouyn-Noranda that planned to institute gender-neutral bathrooms, banning them in schools across the province.
Never mind that no one was proposing to transform every toilet in every institution into a mixed washroom. Never mind that some institutions, including Westmount High School, introduced this type of loo years ago. Never mind that an expert Education Ministry committee had already set out guidelines in 2021 for making schools inclusive for trans and nonbinary students, including the issue of safe changing rooms and bathrooms. Drainville promised a “collective reflection” and another scientific panel, ostensibly to redo the work the previous group did before this issue flared up.
Bu the last thing our students, teachers and schools need is knee-jerk interference from politicians reacting to the hot-button issue of the week.
The protests against sex ed and policies that support LGBTQ2+ students seemed to catch many Quebecers off guard, and drew swift condemnation from Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. And on Thursday, the 99 MNAs present in the National Assembly unanimously adopted a Québec solidaire-sponsored motion vowing to protect the rights of all members of the LGBTQ2+ community.
Premier François Legault also stepped in to call for calm. But will this stop Quebec from being consumed by the same social tensions that have surfaced south of the border?
Quebec has been riven by divisive identity politics in recent years over secularism, systemic racism, immigration and the protection of minority rights (including anglophones and people who wear religious insignia). It would be a shame to start picking on LGBTQ2+ youth.
The province has worked hard to implement an age-appropriate sexual education curriculum that starts in the earliest grades, to ensure youth are well versed on such topics as bodily autonomy, consent, the risks of sexting and the signs of exploitation. This is important knowledge for kids to have in order to face the harsh realities of our world, but is something parents are often ill equipped to provide. It’s normal for families to have concerns about these sensitive matters, but it’s wrong to suggest these courses are “indoctrinating” children to change their sexual orientation, rather than teaching them to embrace acceptance.
Quebecers must defend the rights, equality and education of all children, allowing them to attend school without being caught in the crossfire of increasingly toxic culture wars.
To extrapolate from the wisdom of earlier times in Canada: Politics has no business in the classrooms or bathrooms of the nation.
Opinion: Quebec doesn't need a 'collective reflection' on teacher's nonbinary title
Allison Hanes: Getting over the hang-ups about sex ed
'A display of hatred': Cross-country anti-LGBTQ+ rallies met with counter-protests