When teachers talk to students about sexual orientation and gender identity — the focus of planned nationwide protests Wednesday — what they’re really teaching is inclusion and diversity, says the president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association.
Groups called Hands Off Our Children and 1 Million March 4 Children are holding events across the country, including in Victoria, Nanaimo, Parksville and Port Alberni, advocating for the elimination of discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity from school curriculums.
In a statement, the Education Ministry said there is no set, mandatory sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum in B.C., but topics related to SOGI are included in the provincial curriculum.
For example, lessons about bullying and discrimination offer opportunities to talk about discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, the ministry said.
Ilda Turcotte, president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, said teachers want to address those topics because of misinformation and bullying that sometimes targets students who appear different.
“Really what we’re teaching is diversity and inclusion and that everybody is welcome in our schools, and that everybody should feel welcome in our schools,” Turcotte said. “We’re teaching respect.”
In 2016, the ministry said, it assisted in the development of a toolkit for educators that includes lesson plans on SOGI topics aligned with the provincial curriculum requirements.
The resource, SOGI 123, is used by the majority of school districts in B.C., the ministry said. However, its use is not mandatory and decisions about learning resources are made by staff at the school and district level.
For students in elementary school, the resource includes lesson plans that explore diverse types of families, the consequences of name calling, pronouns, gender identity, stereotypes in media and LGBTQ+ human rights, among others.
For high schoolers, suggested lesson plans focus on prejudice, respectful language and terminology and intersex biology.
The ministry said no part of the B.C. curriculum or SOGI resource guide for educators includes pornographic or explicit content, as some have claimed. “These claims don’t represent the content of the curriculum and are intended to stoke division and distrust of the curriculum,” the ministry said.
Clint Johnston, president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, wrote a letter to B.C. Premier David Eby expressing concern about the planned protests, which he called part of a co-ordinated attack against the trans and LGBTQ community.
“These rallies are part of a movement across North America that uses ‘parental consent’ as a dog whistle for rising homophobia and transphobia. This movement is concerning and must be stopped,” he said in the letter.
In response, the premier said school must be a place where every student feels secure and it’s upsetting to see misinformation and disinformation used to attack vulnerable children and youth.
“Without hesitation, I denounce threats, hate and violence against 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. We are seeing a concerning rise in incidents where trans people are being targeted with threats and violence in person and online,” Eby said in the statement.
“We cannot and must not stand idly by in the face of any kind of bullying. Any political leader who targets our most vulnerable, at-risk children and youth is no leader at all.”
B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender called the marches “hate-fuelled” and said while peaceful demonstration protects democracy and generates debate, the human rights of the trans and LGBTQ community are “not up for debate.”
She said in a statement Tuesday that an inquiry by her office showed almost two-thirds of LGBTQ students don’t feel safe at school, compared with 11 per cent of heterosexual students, and attempts to erase them from school curriculums are hateful.
Govender said those who want to “protect” children by removing school-based supports for gay, bisexual, trans and other students are misinformed.
“As a parent, I plead with those who may think they are protecting their children: Erasing LGBTQ2SAI+ people from our curriculum will not change your child’s identity, but it will make schools, and the LGBTQ2SAI+ people in them, less safe,” she said.
Trans people have become the focus of a “surge of disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate,” Govender said.
“This is not only about hate on the basis of gender identity; these rallies are an affront to human dignity, expression and rights for all of us,” she said.
BC United Leader Kevin Falcon said at a news conference Tuesday that the concerns of parents marching in the rally to oppose sexual orientation and gender identity teachings in schools shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.
“When it comes to a point where parents are feeling a need to protest in the streets, that’s telling you something — it’s telling you that they feel excluded and ignored in what’s going on in the schools,” Falcon said.
“I think it’s important that we don’t just dismiss that outright, that we recognize that there are legitimate concerns that are driving some of these concerns among parents.”
— With files from The Canadian Press and Castanet