Tens of thousands of Ontario students left their classrooms today to protest the rollback of sex-ed and the cutting of an Indigenous reconciliation-focused curriculum by Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.
More than 100 schools in Ontario participated in the day of action which was organised by 17-year-old Rayne Fisher-Quann from William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute in Toronto. We caught up with her right after the walkout at her own school to ask her about why she took the lead on this and what it was like for her to experience the changes in the sex-ed class at her own school.
VICE: How did this get started?
Rayne Fisher-Quann: I’ve been fighting this fight since the beginning basically. I started the organization that I run now which is called March For Our Education and we held a really really big rally in Toronto that drew over 2,000 people. And that was right after the sex-ed repeal was announced. I’ve been working on it pretty much solidly since then and the issue that we found was that the government just wasn’t listening to us. We had to show that Doug Ford has to listen to the students and when he says that he’s for the people he has to be for the young people as well.
I’ve heard that you also have personal experience that is driving your interest in this?
The first time that a guy ever masturbated to me on the subway was when I was seven, and it’s happened to me four more times since then. Once A guy tried to stick his face up my skirt on the subway, I’ve been grabbed, guys have tried to kiss me on the subway, literally grab me and touch me. I get catcalled every single day, it’s really tough. Sometimes I’m scared to go outside, I’m scared to walk alone at night. I really just wonder a lot that maybe if those men had learned about consent or had learned about how to take no for an answer then maybe that wouldn’t be my experience or the experience of millions of women.
In your open letter to Doug Ford earlier this summer, you said that you can feel the effects of the old curriculum, could you talk about that?
The generation that I grew up with was a generation that was raised on that curriculum. And like I say in that open letter, my generation, we’re a generation right now of homophobia, pregnancy scares, of ignorance. When I was in Grade 9, which was the first year that I was ever taught the 2015 curriculum, half the girls in my class, they were talking to me, and saying that they had never known what the word consent ever really meant before. And that’s a terrifying thing as a teenaged girl.
How did this spread?
We’re actually up to over 100 schools now, there’s 100 officially registered but we’re guessing that the number of schools that actually participated is maybe like 130-140. It spread really, really organically. It was actually really amazing, it was something that students took on for themselves, it was something that spread over social media. It was the true embodiment of a millennial movement.
What have teachers said? Are you feeling support from them or not?
I would say that overwhelmingly I felt support. This is something that a lot of teachers and experts can actually agree on, we’ve gotten a lot of support from a lot of different organizations. I would say that 80-90 percent of the school, had general support from the school admin and teachers with of course a few outliers.
Have you gotten any backlash?
Yeah. The hate is always there. There’s always people on the internet. But honestly if anything, it’s been proving my point. Like half of the hate I’ve gotten since this is guys saying that I shouldn't try to talk because I’m just a slut. Or I think multiple people commented on my Toronto Star article saying that I should be a sex worker instead of an activist. And it’s just proving that these people need education.
So how was the march itself? What went down?
The march from my school was absolutely amazing. We had a lot of kids come out, everyone was wearing purple, people made signs, it was really really fantastic. And we had a line up of student speakers who had actually prepared a a speech but then the really amazing thing that happened is that when they were done, just random people in the crowd started coming up and giving impromptu speeches about why their education mattered to them and about why sex-ed mattered to them. A few teachers came out to watch us.
Anything else you think should be mentioned about any of this?
Maybe we can talk more about the Indigenous aspect. The protest is also for the changes to the planned rewrite to the Indigenous curriculum. The liberal government had plans to bring in chiefs and knowledge carriers to work on writing a more inclusive and a more up to date and accurate Indigenous education curriculum. This was going to be such a huge step towards truth and reconciliation and then the [Progressive] Conservative government cancelled it which was just such an absolute slap in the face to our Indigenous community. And I think it’s so upsetting to myself and honestly everyone in Ontario that our government so openly doesn’t care about their right and about respecting Indigenous people.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity
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