Lack of infomation reason for low anti-SOGI turnout in Campbell River

Opponents of province’s sex and gender program push school district for answers

While turnout was low at a recent meeting for parents opposed to the province’s Sexual Orientation Gender Identification (SOGI) 123 plan for public schools, local organizers are already thinking of next steps.

The meeting took place Saturday evening at the Campbell River Community Centre. While a few hundred chairs had been set out, turnout has been estimated at approximately 75 people. It included guest speaker Jenn Smith, a transgender male and parental rights advocate, and Kari Simpson, director of the anti-SOGI organization Culture Guard.

BACKGROUNDER: Culture Guard website

They are opposed to the Ministry of Education’s resource package, now in its second year, which, as the SOGI website states, provides educational resources and support for teachers and other educators wanting to create SOGI-inclusive schools where students of all sexual orientations and gender identities feel welcome and safe.

BACKGROUNDER: SOGI 123 website

Some local parents feel SOGI is overstepping its bounds and should leave matters of sex and gender up to parents and have said they will not support school trustees that back SOGI.

One of the local organizers, Vanessa MacLean-Webber, said she started thinking about having a meeting after doing more research into SOGI. In her view, SOGI goes well beyond anti-bullying to include measures that encourage children to question sex and gender matters throughout their K-12 school years.

“It started over the past couple of months after I started some research into the SOGI agenda,” she said. “This seems to be a very political agenda…. I would say this is not about anti-bullying at all.”

She also said that Statistics Canada research shows that when it comes to “hate crimes,” sexual orientation trails ethnicity and religion as reasons that people identify as victims.

“Why aren’t they addressing ethnicity and religion?” she said.

She also cites research from the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), which questions the effects that SOGI will have on children. The ACPeds, founded in 2002, says on its website that it advocates scientific research “within a framework of ethical absolutes,” which includes the sanctity of human life from conception through to death and the fundamental need for the mother-father unit in child-rearing.

MacLean-Webber admits she thought there might have been more people, including SOGI advocates, at the meeting to show up and ask questions. There had also been some confusion around the group’s use of the SOGI logo on its meeting posters.

The main challenge though, she said, is that parents have not been properly informed about SOGI.

“Most parents don’t know anything about it,” she said. “Parents should be 100 per cent notified.”

Having informed parents, MacLean-Webber said, starts with the school district and the board of education itself. When she and others spoke with the board at a recent meeting, she felt they did not seem to be fully informed.

“The school trustees, they really didn’t know that much about it,” she said.

RELATED: Campbell River parents concerned about sexual orientation gender identity curriculum in schools

In response, School District No. 72 Superintendent Tom Longridge said that Saturday’s community meeting had nothing to do with the school district or parent advisory councils (PACs) members, nor was the meeting organized by local parents but rather Culture Guard itself. He added that those who have contacted the district to express opposition to SOGI are parents who do not have children in public schools or grandparents.

“It had nothing to do with the school district…. It was a group with a very specific purpose,” he said, adding, “There might have been some of the parents there that were curious.”

Longridge added that the district is working with PAC members on a letter for parents to help clarify SOGI and its implementation.

Dave Harper, president of the Campbell River District Teachers’ Association, said he attended Saturday not in his official capacity but as a parent, adding that he could not comment as a teacher or for the union. He agrees there is room for discussion around elements of SOGI.

“I think it’s a good healthy debate to discuss the context of SOGI,” he said.

Harper questions the motivation of SOGI opponents like Culture Guard, suggesting their aim is really to push for full funding for independent schools. Based on the turnout at the meeting, he also does not think the group represents the views of most parents.

“This is not the Campbell River I know,” he said.

As to the next steps for local parents opposed to SOGI, MacLean-Webber says she and others will keep working to create awareness, and they expect to hold more information meetings in the near future.

“Parents, after that, can make whatever decisions they want,” she said.