Rallies to protest sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI, policies in schools are happening across the country on Wednesday and the move is compelling B.C. politicians to clarify their positions on inclusion and whether they support teachers notifying parents if a student comes out as trans.
The group, Hands Off Our Kids, is helping organize rallies in dozens of cities — including those at Coquitlam City Hall and the legislature in Victoria — to oppose “sexually explicit content and gender ideology” in classrooms that they say amounts to “indoctrination.”
Counter rallies are also planned across the country, and on Wednesday morning hundreds of people waving the Pride flag marched in Coquitlam to support SOGI.
Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim and the city of Vancouver posted statements on social media early Wednesday, denouncing the Hands Off Our Kids protests.
“In response to a planned anti-trans protest, the City of Vancouver reiterates our stance against hate and discrimination in our city. While protesting is a right, no one should feel unsafe, harassed or that they don’t belong in Vancouver,” city staff said in an X post.
Added Sim: “At Vancouver City Hall, we are proud of each and every one of our team members who are trans, gender diverse, or members of the queer community. Today we are being confronted by ignorance and bigotry, and we must always call it out and stand with those who are impacted.”
B.C. Teachers’ Federation Clint Johnston wrote to Premier David Eby earlier this month, calling for B.C.’s three major parties to “stand together against hate and in unequivocal support of SOGI resources and inclusive schools.” Johnston’s letter was written before the B.C. Conservatives became the fourth official party in the legislature with the defection of Bruce Banman from B.C. United.
Johnston wrote that the rallies “are part of a movement across North America that uses ‘parental consent’ as a dog whistle for rising homophobia and transphobia” and represent “a co-ordinated attack” on the LGBTQ+ community. Teachers and school staff “cannot keep bearing the brunt of these misguided attacks and campaigns of disinformation against a curriculum and school resources that all B.C. parties support.”
B.C. schools have included age-appropriate sexual orientation and gender identity education and set anti-bullying policies since 2016 under a law enacted by the then-B.C. Liberal government.
Eby has ruled out the possibility that B.C. would follow the lead of centre-right governments in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan that recently enacted policies requiring teachers to obtain parental consent when a student under 16 wants to change their pronouns and preferred names.
In a letter of response to Johnston on Tuesday, Eby denounced hate, threats and violence toward the LGBTQ+ community and said “students deserve to be respected in a safe learning environment while being fully and completely themselves.”
Trans rights advocates and Canada’s Minister for Women, Gender Equality and Youth, Marci Ien, say parental notification policies could harm already marginalized trans and nonbinary youth, putting them at risk of self-harm or suicide.
During an unrelated press conference Tuesday, B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon said if parents feel they need to protest in the street, “it tells you they feel excluded and ignored. We recognize there are legitimate concerns that are driving some of these concerns among parents.”
In a follow up interview, Falcon said he fully supports “inclusive schools where kids, parents and teachers all feel included in important discussions” but would not explicitly state where he stands on the notification policies adopted in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan.
The party will “work with parents and teachers and ensure none of them are feeling excluded from these discussions in schools,” Falcon said. “We hear this all the time that a lot of parents are feeling like they’re no longer part of the discussion and that concerns them.”
B.C. Conservative Leader John Rustad said social issues such as gender identity should be fully removed from public schools, which should get back to focusing on academic subjects.
Rustad said universal bathrooms should be returned to bathrooms for girls and boys and that trans youth should play on sports teams that align with their biological sex at birth.
“Women and girls should be able to compete and to be treated fairly. They should not be competing against biological males in sports. I just don’t think that’s fair,” Rustad said. “We should not be taking and sacrificing the rights of one group for another group. Everybody should have that opportunity to be safe in a school.”
Karin Litzcke, a “parents rights” advocate and the B.C. Conservative candidate in the Vancouver-Mount Pleasant byelection, built her campaign on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
After a 10-year-old Kelowna girl at a track meet was reportedly harassed by a spectator who demanded the mother prove she was a girl, Litzcke’s opponents said such abusive behaviour was fuelled by her rhetoric. Litzcke wrote on social media that “confronting children or parents directly is not optimal” and that this “kind of tension arises when societal trust is eroded by glorifying dishonesty.”
The B.C. Conservatives aren’t officially participating in the rally at the legislature, Rustad said, because he’s worried there could be “tons of friction” between protesters and counter protesters.
The B.C. Green party “denounces the demonstrations and supports and encourages parents’ engagement with their children’s schooling,” party leader Sonia Furstenau said in a statement. She pointed out that B.C.’s SOGI school policy was designed with involvement from parents, educators, school districts, community and social service organizations.
Sarah Worthman, an LGBTQ+ advocate, is helping organize at least 63 counter-protests across the country in an important show of solidarity with LGBTQ+ folks who have increasingly been the subject of hate and political debate.
“There’s this small but vocal minority of far-right individuals who constantly think they’re the majority, and that everyone shares their views,” Worthman said.
B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender slammed the “hate-fuelled marches” and said in a statement that “denying the existence of trans and gender diverse people — including calls to erase trans and LGBTQ2SAI+ people from our province’s curricula — is hate.”
A report released by Govender in March uncovered a dramatic spike in hate incidents across B.C. during the COVID-19 pandemic, including a 47 per cent increase in hate based on gender or sexual orientation from 2019 to 2021. Govender found 62 per cent of LGBTQ+ students feel unsafe at school compared to 11 per cent of non-transgender and heterosexual students.
She said she’s disappointed the government has not followed through with some of her recommendations. Kasari said the current lack of data on hate incidents is “impeding action” and is why she called on the government to create a province-wide centralized reporting mechanism.
— With files from The Canadian Press, Tiffany Crawford and Nick Procaylo