It was tough on Wednesday in the streets of major Canadian and Quebec cities around sexuality education. However, compared to Belgium, these demonstrations resemble harmless playground squabbles.
Around ten days ago, arson attacks were set in four nursery and primary level establishments in the Charleroi region and in two schools in Liège. Two others were vandalized. Tags added warnings and explained the affront: “No EVRAS, otherwise the next ones are you. »
This acronym designates Education for Relational, Emotional and Sexual Life, the name of the new program adopted almost unanimously by the Parliament of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation a few hours before the attacks. The course provides a modest two hours per year devoted to various issues related to sexuality taught by approved external speakers for students at the end of primary and end of secondary school. Mandatory training since 2012 has not been systematic until now, due to a lack of now reinforced resources.
David Paternotte, who co-directs the Interdisciplinary Research Structure on Gender, Equality and Sexuality (STRIGES) of the House of Human Sciences of the Free University of Brussels, is not surprised by these demonstrations. He cites precedents. In France, after La Manif pour tous (2013) against marriage for all, a disinformation campaign completely obscured the objectives of a school program to talk about the promotion of pedophilia.
Anti-LGBTQ+ protests were organized around schools in Birmingham, Great Britain, in 2019. Russia and Hungary use homosexuality as a repellent to the West. Do we really need to remember the politicization of the gender issue in and around schools in the United States?
“These subjects come up repeatedly,” says Mr. Paternotte. But what is particular in Belgium and unique in the world is the use of political terrorism. We have never seen such violent acts. That said, it is unclear who is behind the fires and vandalism. »
The participants in the Belgian and Canadian demonstrations of recent days also show something new. Some conservative Christians have always been against classes dealing with sexuality. The Vatican spurred this position by inventing the gender ideology discourse in the mid-1990s in response to the UN’s recognition of sexual and reproductive rights. However, strict Catholics now find themselves alongside traditionalist Muslims and conspiracy groups.
“It makes a rather curious and quite new mixture,” says Mr. Paternotte, noting that the links between these branches are still poorly understood. At last Sunday’s demonstration in Brussels, one of the instigators of the demonstration, the veiled woman Radya Oulebsir, a Franco-Algerian resident of Belgium, vilified “ultrafeminists” and “the LGBT lobby”. The Belgian president of the far-right organization Civitas went on to denounce an alleged desire to impose “a globalized project” wanting to establish “a new sexual order”.
Families, I unleash you
The anti-sex education coalition coalesces around the theme of elites who impose their values and a certain vision of so-called natural things that should not be disturbed. The cause also clearly seems to involve opponents of state intervention in private affairs and the lives of families in particular.
“We need to think about what these resistances are saying,” says Nicolas Sallée, professor of sociology at the University of Montreal. Fundamentally, they aim at the idea that the education of children, and in particular gender and sexuality, escapes the family and the project that parents build for their children. »
The resistance fighters worry about what will remain in the hands of the family and what will escape their control. “We can say that these reactions are therefore conservative, in the broad sense of the term. They denounce a weakening of the family’s monopoly in the creation of gender identities and sexuality. »
We can say that these reactions are therefore conservative, in the broad sense of the term. They denounce a weakening of the family’s monopoly in the creation of gender identities and sexuality.
Professor Sallée is currently studying social, clinical and parental reactions, in France and Quebec, to different forms of gender non-conformity among children. He mentions that the deep roots of the socio-moral position against sex education in schools are traditionally carried by religion, obviously, but also by part of medicine. Psychiatry has long pathologized forms of identity deemed non-conforming. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness until the mid-1970s. The pathologization of trans identities has been increasingly contested since the early 2000s, but it is still far from having completely disappeared.
“The current intensity of resistance constitutes a sort of mirror of a growing social openness on these questions, in particular the rise of expertise in medicine, sexology, social work,” says the professor. Scientific data shows that supporting children in their self-exploration increases their well-being and reduces risks to their health. »
Anti-wokism also finds there something to grind into cyclical alliances. Political parties and right-wing media support critiques of gender theory to denigrate the so-called radical left, says the Montreal sociologist. He is then criticized for being in the pay of a communitarianism that destroys traditional identities, republican universalism for example.
“We must deconstruct the image of the idealized family,” says the professor. Parents’ love for their children can still block good decisions in their best interests. We must also deconstruct the moral panic around young people’s sexuality. A few years ago, there was panic around the supposed hypersexualization of young girls while, to take just one example, the age of first sexual intercourse has remained more stable than we believe, often since the 1960s. .”