A Response from the Faculty in the Gender Studies and Feminist Research Program at McMaster University regarding the anti-trans rhetoric of The Institute of Canadian Values and the Ontario Conservative Party
A letter to the Toronto Sun, The Institute for Canadian Values, and The Ontario Conservative Party:
Two very disturbing and problematic posters that attack an aspect of Ontario’s proposed elementary school sex education curriculum (entitled “Challenging Homophobia and Heterosexism”) have circulated throughout Canada this week. The Institute for Canadian Values’ poster, which features a little girl gazing into the camera with the caption “Please Don’t Confuse Me: I’m a Girl” ran in both the National Post and the Toronto Sun. The Post has since issued an apology. A flyer with a similar message produced by the Conservative Party of Ontario is being distributed as part of the Provincial election campaign, with a warning not to vote Liberal if concerned about the proposed program; the Globe and Mail ran an article on October 3 that quoted party leader Tim Hudak as endorsing the flyer.
As researchers, teachers and activists dedicated to the study of gender and sexuality, we are deeply concerned by these materials. We are concerned that this is a form of hate speech against those whose are not heterosexual, or normatively gendered, and that the public circulation of these documents is profoundly discriminatory. We believe that these documents are particularly offensive with respect to trangendered, transsexual, intersexed or two-spirited people and that the naming of these categories in the documents is intended to instill fear of anyone who is perceived to be differently gendered. We are also concerned at the way gender stereotypes are represented in the Institute’s poster: the use of a little girl to represent a particular kind of “innocence” that is in danger, and which also plays on the stereotype that girls and women are inherently more prone to “confusion” than men. We are also keenly aware that constructions of gender are so much more complex than being a “girl” or a “boy,” categories that the Institute’s poster suggests are completely unproblematic and clearly defined. Such simplistic binaries have been widely rejected for years now.
It is precisely the failure of our communities to adequately educate people on issues of gender and sexuality, and to fully embrace difference, that lead to the kind of misinformed and hateful ideas espoused in these documents. They should never have been published or circulated. This is not a question of “free speech;” it is not “disrespectful” of particular religious or ideological positions to insist that they are wrong. Instead of opening discussion about gender and sexual difference, these documents foreclose on the possibility of generating a broader understanding of gender and sexual diversity. Instead, they rely on unfounded assumptions about what it means to be a “boy” or a “girl” to vilify all those whose lives are lived outside of narrow gender or sexual stereotypes.
We applaud the Toronto District School Board for developing this innovative and important curriculum, and hope that it will soon be implemented in school districts around the Province and across the country.
Faculty in the Gender Studies and Feminist Research Program