Transphobic ad campaign puts gender anxiety on full display

Ad with young girl pictured reads please dont confuse me

A really disturbing and transphobic advertisement showed up in Canada’s National Post the other day, pictured above. I won’t link to their website because they don’t deserve the traffic, but suffice to say it has “stop corrupting children” in the title. Because as we all know, trans folk, gender non-conforming people and allies are all viscous baby-haters who hope to corrupt children with their message of “love yourself for who you are” and “express yourself freely” and “you don’t have to be something you’re not”. Scaaaaarryyyy .

The paper has since apologized, stating that it did not follow its own “procedures in place for vetting the content of advertising, especially advocacy advertising…intended to ensure that such ads meet a standard of tone and respect that is consistent with furthering constructive dialogue about important public policy issues” and pledging not to run the ad again.

That’s a good start, but some of the damage has already been done. Sponsored by the Institute for Canadian Values, the ad campaign is in direct response to a seemingly progressive and comprehensive sexuality education curriculum adopted by the Toronto District School Board for 2011. The curriculum has been causing controversy for awhile now, ostensibly since it purports to give Ontario elementary school children a more detailed sex education that begins in earlier grades. But this ad in particular is reacting to the part of the new curriculum that will teach children between junior kindergarten and Grade 3 about trans issues. (The revised curriculum will also promote tolerance and diversity, and teach children about “invisible differences” such as sexual orientation and gender identity.)

The new curriculum sounds rad, and I’m frustrated that it took this hateful ad and the ensuing controversy to bring my attention to it.

What’s interesting about this ad campaign is that it is not subtle in the target of its bigotry.  While I think it’s safe to say that this wasn’t the intention of the original advertisers, I believe it to be an ironic and beneficial twist of fate that the ad does more to expose the extreme and pointed gender anxiety of the people behind the campaign than it does the alleged “dangers” of the new curriculum.

h/t Sarah and Isaac

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • nazza

    Very emotionally manipulative, but I would expect nothing less. I have to admit it gets me really angry when children are used in this fashion. They aren’t old enough yet to understand.

    Also, the Community section section of Feministing and a few other places are unreachable. I take it you’re working on it, yes? If so, my apologies for pointing out the obvious.

  • Véronique

    The Post apologized (after the damage had been done, of course), but then the Toronto Star ran the ad. The fact that the Star is well known as a worthless rag does not make the running of the ad any less awful.

    • Josh

      Véronique, are you sure you’re talking about the Star and not the Sun? The Star is a left-wing broadsheet paper, the Sun is a right-wing tabloid.

      I have a much harder time imagining the Star running this ad than I do imagining the Sun running it.

      • Véronique

        Argh! You’re right. Grovelling apology to the Star. Of course it was the Toronto Sun.

        And I didn’t mean to click “report.” I meant to click “reply.” Sorry again!

  • Isaac
  • anyadnight

    Wow. I honestly was confused at first because I thought the ad was actually pro trans rights from the heading and then I read further and realized it wasn’t satire. Cue Brian Safi– “You know what else confuses kids? Algebra.”
    Aside from that the curriculum sounds amazing. I hope the kids who go through it learn not to run hateful ads.

  • Lynn

    The thing I find to be the most icky thing about this ad (and don’t get me wrong, the whole thing makes me want to huck a brick at the jerks responsible) is the phrase, “Don’t confuse me, I’m a girl”.

  • N

    I looked up this “Institute for Canadian Values” and they actually promote values very different from what most Canadians believe. Though maybe it’s just anecdotal on my part, but they seem to believe the very opposite of everything I thought was a Canadian value.

  • Angela Reid

    The organization behind this ad, Institute for Canadian Values, is presided over by Charles McVety, a well known figure in the extreme christian right in Canada. He also runs the Canada Christian College and the Evangelical Association (all at the same mailing address!) He is our version of Fred Phelps of the infamous WBC, in that he manages to get far more attention from the press than his positions deserve.

    I would also point out that although the ad focused on the Ontario education board’s policies, it was timed to coincide with the re-introduction of the transgender rights bill, C-276 (previously known as C-389 before our election cancelled it). This bill has the exact same wording as the previous attempt, and it’s goal is to ad ‘gender identity and expression’ to our Human Rights Act and hate crime provisions in our criminal code.

    Charles McVety was quoted in many major papers back when C-389 was making it’s way through parliament, so it’s no surprise he’s jumping right in again – this time able to kill two birds with one stone

  • tanzamarie

    I understand that I may be naive, but I don’t understand why it needs to be taught before general sex ed anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to focus on acceptance and tolerance in its entirety then forcing kids to put everyone into a box, label them and then learn to accept them? In my experience, most kids take people at face value. If the teacher is Ms. Smith, then the teacher is a girl and the kid has already moved on to thinking about recess. It seems that the parents are the one who need the curriculum more than the kids.