The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity 123 program sparked an emotional debate at Wednesday’s Central Okanagan School District board of education meeting.
SOGI 123 resource materials address race, ethnicity, religion and ability issues that lead to bullying, but what upsets many parents is the program’s approach to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Parent Shara Mendoza gave a presentation based on the values established by the Parents United Canada organization, which is opposed to the SOGI 123 program.
Mendoza said while the program may intend to be an anti-bullying initiative and promote tolerance of others, it also takes away the rights of parents to raise their children with their own value system.
Mendoza cited all nine reasons declared by PUC for why the SOGI 123 program must be stopped. Those include not allowing penises in girl’s changeroom, shower or bathroom; teaching a child that they can change from a girl to a boy or a boy to a girl; teaching a child that their cultural or religious heritage is bigoted or backwards; hiding a child’s sexual or gendered behaviour or struggles from their parents; and not mention anal sex, polyamory, sado-masochism or transvestic fetishism to a child without their parent’s expressed consent.
“To say say ‘no to SOGI 123’ is to stand up for democracy, ” said Mendoza at the end of her presentation, drawing a roar of supportive applause from the crowd.
Many other parents addressed the school trustees, sharing Mendoza’s argument, and asking why the SOGI 123 curriculum is being imposed on students without parental consent.
Kevin Kaardal, superintendent/CEO of the Central Okanagan School District, said there is no SOGI 123 curriculum, that the program provides additional resources approved by the ministry of education to help promote inclusiveness in schools for all students.
“This is not a program we have created in this school district, it is mandated by the education ministry across the province,” he said.
Kaardal said the program is an extension of ongoing initiatives that the school district has promoted for many years to promote gender equality, understanding and anti-bullying.
Trustee Lee Mossman said he supported SOGI 123, noting he sees the program for the positives of inclusivity it strives for and not the negative connotations that opponents want to draw out.
“We have the best interest of our students at heart and we are not trying to do anything more than that,” he said.
Trustee Lee-Ann Tiede said the program is not about social engineering sexual orientation and gender identity of students against their parents’ wishes. “This is not about attacking anyone’s particular beliefs. It’s not about being for or against it, it’s about respecting all beliefs.”
Tor Broughton, a 12-year-old Grade 7 student at Dr. Knox Middle School, stood before the trustees and talked about his gender identity.
Broughton said “I knew what I was before someone had to explain it to me,” citing a book he was introduced to in Grade 5.
“Inclusive is about everyone belonging and that must be a good thing,” Broughton said.
After the meeting, Broughton said the meeting was a little “off-putting” because of some of the views being expressed but he was happy to have the opportunity to speak to the board.
Moyra Baxter, school board chair, said the SOGI 123 debate started with Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld’s LGBTQ comments about transgender policies, gender theories and family values last fall.
He called members of B.C.’s education system “radical cultural nihilists” for promoting policies on gender rights and education and how letting little children choose to change gender is nothing short of child abuse.
Those comments were publicly rebuked by Education Minister Rob Fleming and led to a complaint filed with the Human Rights Tribunal by CUPE 411 representing Chilliwack School District support staff.
“I think the biggest misconception about this program is parents think we are trying to tell students they can change their sexual identity if they want. That is not what this is about,” said Baxter.
“This is about inclusiveness and being able to accept one another for who we are…about treating everyone with respect and if issues arise out of that, to talk about our differences.”
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