Jack.org Network Rep, Bryan Young: "Canada's youth need inclusive sexual health curriculum" "We know that victims of bullying and cyberbullying are at a much higher risk of struggling with their mental health, yet it was never talked about in my classroom." Play video Canada's youth need inclusive sexual health curriculum Bryan Young is a 21-year-old student and social activist who is studying at the University of Winnipeg. He is actively involved in his community as a network representative at Jack.org. This piece was published by the Winnipeg Free Press. When the Ontario government announced it would be following through on plans to scrap the sexual education curriculum in Ontario — one that included topics such as cyberbullying, consent and same-sex relationships — I knew it was time to speak up. Here’s why: I grew up in rural Manitoba. My classmates and I did not have access to a diverse and inclusive sexual health curriculum like the young people in Ontario did at that time. Our health curriculum didn’t cover topics such as bullying and cyberbullying like the Ontario curriculum did. When I was bullied on social media, I had no idea what to call it, how to handle it or any idea about the lasting effects cyberbullying would have on my mental health as I got older. We know that victims of bullying and cyberbullying are at a much higher risk of struggling with their mental health, yet it was never talked about in my classroom. Similarly, when my peers began calling me gay in the third grade, I didn’t even know what "being gay" meant. Due to a lack of queer-positive and inclusive education in my community, I grew up fearful of being gay because I was never taught about same-sex relationships or the LGBTTQ* community. We were never taught that same-sex relationships were acceptable, despite same-sex marriage being legalized in Canada in 2005. I was terrified of being gay because all my life, I was told it was unacceptable, abnormal and wrong. The effects of this stigma and self-loathing on my mental health cannot be overstated. I struggled to accept who I was for years, and struggled even more as I came to terms with my queer identity as a teenager. Despite having come out during high school, I still, to this day, have a hard time referring to myself as gay. It has taken years to overcome the trauma of being bullied for being seen as different, and for being labelled an "other." Which leads me to wonder: if we had been taught and exposed to same-sex relationships early on in our education, maybe my peers wouldn’t have been so quick to judge me. Maybe they would have been more accepting, and maybe I could’ve grown up proud of the things that made me different and unique. This is why, when we heard the Ontario government was introducing the most progressive and inclusive sexual health curriculum in Canada in early 2015, I and my peers here in Manitoba were ecstatic. We were finally seeing progress! Queer children were going to learn from a young age that same-sex relationships are normal; perhaps they wouldn’t have to struggle to come out and come to terms with their sexuality well into their 20s, like I had to. And I couldn’t help but think, if progressive and inclusive curriculum could be implemented in Ontario, then why not here in Manitoba? In fact, why not in the rest of Canada as well? Which is why, when we heard just a few months ago that that same diverse, inclusive, queer-positive curriculum was being revoked by the current Ontario government, I and many of my peers across the country were disappointed. My experience growing up with an inadequate sexual health curriculum is but one example of many across Canada. It deeply frustrates me that we are going back in time instead of moving forward, that the education of young people has become politicized due to a difference of beliefs, and that the young people of Ontario were not included in the decision to roll back the previous curriculum. It is my most sincere hope that the young people of Ontario do not have to grow up with the same type of outdated, heteronormative sexual health education that I did. It is my hope that the young people of Ontario receive the diverse, inclusive education they deserve, so no young person ever feels like an "other." It is my most sincere hope that provincial and territorial governments across the country will meaningfully engage young people and co-create policies that directly impact our lives. We’ve done it once, and we can do it again. I want to live in a diverse and inclusive Canada — a Canada that is better than this. And I know it can be.