Steve Tourloukis has a problem. The Hamilton, Ontario, dentist is a conservative Christian with two children in the public school system. His problem is that the province’s new anti-bullying law calls for the schools to teach tolerance, and Mr. Tourloukis finds this intolerable.
He has taken to the courts in an attempt to force Gordon Price Elementary School to inform him in advance if his children will be subjected to any discussion involving tolerance of homosexuality, so that they can opt out of the class.
Tourloukis isn’t acting alone in this matter. Financially supported in his suit by a five-member group calling itself PRIEDF – parents for something-or-other – he is also part of a larger movement. A campaign called PEACE Hamilton is encouraging parents to voice their intolerance by means of a form letter to the school board. The letter requests that parents be contacted “prior to my/our child’s involvement in any activity or program containing the following issues and topics,” followed by a checklist.
This checklist merits consideration. Parents may request to be consulted before their kids discuss witchcraft, black magic, spirit guides, Satanism, environmental worship, anal sex, oral sex, sadism, masochism, bestiality, fetish, bondage, and infanticide. Oh yes, and before any “discussions or portrayals of homosexual/bisexual conduct and relationships and/or transgenderism as natural, healthy or acceptable.”
It’s not considered likely that teachers would be much inconvenienced by the requirement to contact parents prior to discussing bestiality in the classroom. Nor does the timing of the action provide us with any obvious connection to infanticide, or anything else on the list, until we arrive at that last item, the one that this campaign is all about. It’s no coincidence that Tourloukis launched his suit just days after the anti-bullying law came into force; a major component of the strategy is the portrayal of queer people and their relationships as natural, healthy, and acceptable.
Ontario has not embarked on this course to spite conservative parents, or to steal their children away. They did it because teenagers were dying. Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reports that approximately 32 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth contemplate or attempt suicide.
Too many succeed. Jamie Hubley in Ottawa, Jeanine Blanchette and Chantal Dube in Orangeville, Shaquille Wisdom in Ajax, all took their own lives in the wake of homophobic bullying. What PEACE Hamilton is fighting for is not just the right to perpetuate the intolerance that killed these young people, but to force the schools to do the same.
At first glance, the whole campaign seems absurd, the lawsuit frivolous and vexatious and sure to be tossed out the minute the judge lays eyes on it. How could you run a school that way? Would teachers have to keep a list, updated every time a new form letter came in, of which students were allowed to discuss which subjects without first consulting their parents? What if a proscribed subject simply came up while the class was talking about something else? Should the teacher call for silence and start making phone calls?
Sad to say, it’s no fantasy. In Alberta a teacher runs the risk of facing a human rights complaint if gay marriage or aboriginal spirituality comes up in class. According to Toronto Star columnist Gillian Stewart, the law, brought in by former premier Ed Stelmach, has “caused quite a chill—reluctance on the part of many teachers to include anything in the curriculum that might upset a parent and provide the basis for a complaint.”
Dale Wallace, former head of English literature at Lord Beaverbrook High School in Calgary, wrote in Alberta Views, “Teachers started to change how they taught, with English teachers realizing they’d have to send letters home for almost any literature they studied. The quality of English education started to fall
—and has continued to fall in the two years since.”
Wallace goes on to say that “challenging novels such as 1984 are replaced with safer ones, like Pride and Prejudice.” Since the odds of a modern-day high school student actually reading Pride and Prejudice are low in the extreme, it sounds like literature is all but off the program in Alberta, along with tolerance, and the science of natural selection unless presented as conjecture.
It may be that the people spearheading the campaign against tolerance in Ontario schools don’t actively hate gay kids, or at least not to the extent that they are consciously trying to drive them to suicide. Maybe it’s not about homophobia at all. Maybe it’s all about control. Last week, writing about abuse on the child beauty pageant circuit, I closed with this quote from a pageant mom. “Who cares? She’s my daughter, I’m gonna do whatever I want with her. Git over it people.”
It’s almost eerie a week later to be closing with these revealing words from Steve Tourloukis. “My children are my own, I own them.”
Are you sure about that, Steve?
Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in B.C./Yukon in 2010 and 2002.