Concerns over a learning resource that’s been in place for nearly eight years are once again surfacing in a number of B.C. communities.
Protests against SOGI 123 have been taking place regularly in Abbotsford for weeks, with one escalating to the point of people banging on windows and doors of the school district building while a regular board meeting was taking place inside.
In Chilliwack, a protest against SOGI 123 outside a school board meeting was met by a secretly planned resistance rally supporting love and inclusion.
These all follow a new nationwide movement against inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity acceptance and education in schools, which culminated in the 1 Million 4 Children marches held in September.
But many are saying the movement, and those who are continuing on with localized rallies and marches, are spreading misinformation — and even inciting hate.
Abbotsford’s superintendent, Sean Nosek, spoke out strongly in favour of the 2SLGBTQ+ community the day before the 1 Million 4 Children event was planned in Abbotsford, in a letter to parents, guardians and families in the school district.
The planned events “fostered inflammatory, transphobic, and hateful behaviours against members of 2SLGBTQ+ communities,” he wrote. “We want to make it unequivocally clear that the Abbotsford School District supports our 2SLGBTQ+ students, employees and families, and we support everyone’s human rights and expression of gender.”
He said educators have witnessed firsthand the harms caused by campaigns such as this and they will remain persistent in nurturing a safe environment for staff and students.
“We consistently stand against disinformation and false narratives aimed at undoing our progress,” he said, and that parents must teach their children critical thinking skills.
Still, many parents arrived at the mid-morning rally at Jubilee Park the following day with their school-aged children in tow.
That rally was followed just days later by a protest at the board office that ended with staff and trustees being placed in a hold-and-secure position by Abbotsford Police.
Days after that, Nosek and board chair Korky Neufeld issued a statement underlining what SOGI 123 is, and isn’t.
It seemed to be addressing misinformation being circulated among the community.
Many of the protestors have been calling those in support of SOGI 123 “groomers,” and accuse educators of child abuse.
And, they say, they won’t stop until the SOGI 123 learning resources are removed from local schools. A letter by Manni Sandhu was published in a local weekly newspaper called The Patrika, in which he states “the protests will continue until SOGI is removed from Abbotsford schools.”
One of those protests is planned for Oct. 21 at Jubilee Park.
SOGI 123 has been facing criticism since it was introduced in 2016 by the BC Liberal Party, most notably by Barry Neufeld, who was a trustee on the Chilliwack board of education at the time.
Some of the same comments from that time are recirculating today.
A poster being shared on social media channels called SOGI 123 a “Trojan horse.”
That poster also notes four school board meetings in the Fraser Valley this month. The first, in Chilliwack on Oct. 10 has passed. Also noted were Oct. 17 in Abbotsford, Oct. 18 in Surrey, and Oct. 24 in Langley. The list includes the addresses and times for the meetings.
The poster urges people to “keep the momentum going” and also states that “sexualizing children is child abuse” and “boy can not be a girl, girl can not be a boy.”
Another poster says: “Communities unite to stop SOGI 123.”
But like in Chilliwack, a counter protest is being planned for the Oct. 21 protest.
Dubbed No Space for Hate, the counter protest is advertised as a way to “protect and advocate for LGBTQ+ students and safety in schools.”
“SOGI does not teach young children explicit sexual education,” the poster states. “It simply teaches them that other family dynamics and identities exist, any identity does not devalue them as people, and we should accept everyone.
Neufeld, while no longer a trustee, has been attending many of these rallies as of late. While there, he wears a billboard sign that states: “There are no transgender children only troubled and confused boys and girls!”
That is a similar sentiment as to the one shared in The Patrika, which is owned in part by city councillor Dave Sidhu.
“Schools are not places for sexualizing our kids,” Sandhu wrote. “Nor should schools be counselling centres confusing our children whether they might be a boy or a girl.”
The letter asserts that Sikh, Muslim and Christian families are being “bullied” because they don’t agree that children should be taught that gender is fluid.
The SOGI 123 material is open to the public online.
Nosek and Neufeld outlined how parents and guardians can address concerns through open communication within the local school system.