A new school holiday for ignorance

If parents like Steve Tourloukis get their way, kids can thank gays, like Santa, for an extra day at home

A new holdiay for ignorance, thank you

Bernard Weil/Toronto Star

For years now, the gay-averse community has kvetched about all the terrible things that will happen when society and government treat homosexuals like everyone else. In the United States, socially conservative groups like the Family Research Council and the Republican party minus Condoleezza Rice, feared that the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—the Clinton-era policy prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military—would be a “distraction” to American troops. When, remarkably, it wasn’t (studies show the repeal’s effect was nothing but positive), the gay-averse turned their attention once again to same-sex marriage, for which they can’t even invent a negative consequence, without reviving the disproven ones of Canadian yore: the conservative Canadian argument of 2003, that marriage equality would destroy traditional marriage as we know it, even if the Canadian divorce rate is steadily declining. So what’s left? In an equitable society that accepts and celebrates gay people and their families, someone—anyone—must pay the price.

If a group of Canadian parents comprised of religious Christians and Muslims (and they say homosexuality makes for strange bedfellows) gets its way, someone finally will: none other than their own children. Steve Tourloukis, a dentist and member of the Greek Orthodox church, who lives in Hamilton, is currently suing his kids’ public school board for failing to warn him in advance about when, specifically, the school’s teachers would be discussing subjects like family values, marriage and sexuality in class. He would like said issues to be taught to his children from a Christian perspective only. And he would like the right to remove his kids from classes that don’t share that perspective. Tourloukis isn’t alone.

Socially conservative Canadian groups like the Family Coalition Party and the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund have rallied behind him, as have a number of Christian and Muslim parents who’ve copied the same five-page “Traditional Values Letter” Tourloukis used (written by Phil Lees, the head of the Family Coalition Party, who also leads PEACE—Public Education Advocates for Christian Equity—Hamilton), and sent it to schools across the Greater Toronto Area. (I tried to interview Tourloukis but he said he was “familiar with my work” and would rather not comment.) They too would like to remove their kids from classes that discuss homosexuality, marriage and even “environmental worship.” Apparently recycling is now on par with homosexuality.

The parents’ activism comes on the heels of Ontario’s proposed anti-bullying “accepting schools” law, Bill 13, which promotes diversity, gay-straight alliances, and affirms that regular, mentally stable, gay people exist and deserve the right to live free from discrimination. (And, no, they don’t all have AIDS). In other words, if Bill 13 raises awareness about gay rights, Tourloukis and company are raising unawareness. And if they’re successful, they can add another holiday to their calendars: an Official Day of Ignorance.

Not only will their kids get a free pass on Christmas, Easter and Id al-Fitr, they’ll be pulled from class essentially every time a gay student isn’t bullied; every time someone does a book report on Harry Potter (the Traditional Values Letter is very explicit about witchcraft and wizardry); every time a teacher is guilty of “placing environmental issues above the value of [insert religion here] principles”, and “teaching that life does not begin at conception.”

If the parents’ prayers are answered, there will be more Official Days of Ignorance on the school calendar than there are Jewish holidays—a truly remarkable feat.

The sad thing is that while Tourloukis and friends have ample faith in God, they have little faith in their own children. They may be young, but they are old enough to get the message: when something is complicated, or tests your religious principles, don’t engage it, or even ignore it. Take a vacation. Because it’s a lot easier to hate and fear something you’ve never encountered.

There’s also the possibility that this kind of ignorance worship could backfire, and become a blessing in disguise for the gay community. After all, if Steve Tourloukis gets his way, who will these children credit every time they get to miss another ostensibly controversial day of school? Not their father, or the Father. They’ll just know it has something to do with gay people. Gays (much like Santa, much like Rosh Hashanah) = no school—i.e. Gays = Nintendo Wii. Could there be a better, more resonant reason for tolerance? I think not.

But for now we can take solace in the fact that Tourloukis is a dentist, which means that sitting somewhere in his office, is a Maclean’s magazine with my big gay smirk in it. At least there was.

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