The Toronto school board's attempt to promote an inclusive and non-judgmental environment in its schools is triggering just the opposite among some alarmed critics.
The controversy centres on a series of posters issued by the Toronto District School Board apparently created three years ago as part of its "Safe and Positive Spaces" campaign but are now being challenged, according to the National Post.
One shows the kind of male, female and handicapped symbols you seen on washroom doors dwelling in different combinations within multi-coloured hearts. Some have two men or women together, and some have two women and one man or two men and one woman.
Another poster puts a cross-dressing boy front and centre, and yet another shows exotic-looking fish swimming above the line "We're here, we're queer and we're in your school."
One critic told the Post the board's laudable message may be lost in the posters' in-your-face graphics.
"I think the gut reaction of most parents is going to be, 'Whoa, wait a minute, what are these being used for?' " Doretta Wilson, executive director of the Society for Quality Education, policy think tank, told the Post.
"There will be some schools in the city where the populations, the demographics, are going to be very upset with this … We're trying to be so politically correct. We've gone so far to one end of the spectrum that now you do start insulting and offending people inadvertently."
School board spokesman Ryan Bird said the posters — there are five in all — are intended "to support an individual's right to express whom they love, regardless of gender," part of a larger campaign against gender-based violence.
The threesomes shown in one poster aren't intended to support polygamy but bisexuality, he added.
"The reason for depicting two women and one man was meant to show that a person can be attracted to more than one gender," Bird said.
Bird told the Post the posters went through a regular consultation and vetting process, but could not say how may were actually on display at the board's 600 schools.
Wilson said the board should have consulted more widely, including with parents, before distributing the posters.
"This is where parents who may be as tolerant as they come might say, 'I think maybe we've now crossed a line,' " Wilson said.
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Some of the negative reaction was much stronger.
"This is outrageous behaviour on behalf of teachers," Rev. Charles McVety of the Canada Christian College, told the Toronto Sun.
"In fact, in some ways these posters are abusive — psychologically," said McVety, who wants any posters on display removed immediately.
"Now the [board] has not only decided to teach our children to question their gender, but to indoctrinate them with a sign campaign so children can't get away from it. That is beyond education."
But other parents believe the poster campaign can spark important conversations about diverse lifestyles and the need for respect.
"These kinds of campaigns are part of that, they're part of shining a light on the reality that we are all different," said Annie Kidder, executive director of parent-led advocacy group People for Education.
"What the posters are promoting is tolerance … It's a conversation kids need to have, parents need to have. All of us need to be able to wrestle with these things [and] every single kid should feel safe and accepted at school."
(Photo: Toronto District School Board)