Sexuality and Rights: A Brief Overview


Have I got your attention? Good. Sit down. It’s time we had ‘The Talk’.

There are two very important things you should know. You are human, and that means you have human rights. You are human, and that also means you have a sexuality.

Here’s how they fit together.

  1. Everybody has a sexuality, but not everyone has the same sexuality.
  1. Everybody, and I mean everybody, has the right to life, and the right to the highest attainable level of mental and physical health during that life.
  1. If someone tries to repress your sexuality, they are depriving you of the full enjoyment of your human rights. If you do the same to someone else, you are depriving them of the same.
  1. Sexuality is not a physical characteristic, but it is a fundamental aspect of each person. Discrimination based on a non-visible characteristic like sexuality is on par with discrimination based on a visible trait like gender or skin colour.

That’s it. Those are the basics. They may sound obvious, but recent events have led me to the conclusion that a lot of us could be reminded. There are a lot of misconceptions about how sexuality and rights work together in the world right now. Two recent events in particular are useful in illustrating the above basics.

Event Number One: Ontario’s Updated Sex Ed Curriculum

You may have heard that the Ontario provincial government has significantly updated the sex education portion of the curriculum. Given that this particular topic had not been updated since 1998, this was long overdue. In addition to all the standard fare (the reproductive cycle, the mechanics of heterosexual sex, sexual hygiene and safety) children will now learn about the following topics over the course of their twelve years of public schooling: consent, LGBT sexualities, the characteristics of (and interpersonal skills needed for) healthy relationships, the management of privacy and online communication.

Want more information? Check out the curriculum yourself – it’s right here.

The problem: a significant number of parents withdrew their children from school as a manner of protesting the curriculum. They believe the curriculum interferes with their rights – specifically the parental rights involved in raising a child. Religious and moral rights are also frequently cited.

The reality: parental rights and religious or moral rights are both valid kinds of rights. However, as mentioned above, the children also have rights – the right to life and health. Their best possible chance at growing up at ease with their own sexuality, whatever it may be, and of respecting that of others and having theirs respected, is by being educated on it. Their best possible chance at expressing that sexuality and engaging in relationships in a healthy and consensual manner is by being educated, along with their peers, on what healthy and consensual relationships look like.

Being deprived of information on this topic can adversely affect the quality of their entire life, and that effect can also spread to their peers.

I cannot accept the proposition that parental rights trump the human rights of the child in this matter. Too much is at stake.

To the parents who object because I’ve never been a parent: I may not be a parent, but at twenty-five years of age I have come to realize how late I was in learning about consent and sexuality. It took me years too long to truly understand the connection between the words ‘sex’ and ‘relationship’ and as for consent…well, my public school years were behind me by the time I was starting to understand my rights in that field. I would have given anything to have learned sooner.

To those who oppose the new curriculum: see numbers 1-4, above.

Do the right thing. Let them learn about how to live healthy, fulfilled lives.

Respect their human rights.

Event Number Two: The Irish Marriage Equality Referendum

Today is the day that Ireland votes on marriage equality. I think by now it’s obvious where this talk is going.

Where voting matters are concerned I usually say I don’t care what you vote for, I care that you vote. It’s not my right to tell someone who to support.

This isn’t one of those times. I care very much how you vote, because human rights are not a voting matter. It is not within any of our rights to say that one marriage is less valid than the other just because the partners involved have a few more physical characteristics in common than the heterosexual majority. What an absurd and arbitrary distinction. Heterosexual-only marriage laws are going the way of miscegenation laws, and they cannot go that way rapidly enough.

Regarding the referendum I can only say this: while I completely disagree that this is an appropriate topic for a referendum, I will be immensely proud of Ireland if they turn out to be the first country to approve marriage equality by popular vote.

If they reject it, I can only mourn the devastating setback for rights in their country.

To those who oppose marriage equality: see numbers 1-4, above.

Do the right thing. Vote, Ireland, and vote for human rights.

That’s it.

Glad we had this talk.

Rainbow flag


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