Critics want Oak Bay to cancel talk by controversial anti-SOGI speaker

A speaker critical of B.C.’s sexual-orientation and gender-identity policy in schools is promoting transphobic hate speech and should not be allowed to hold an event at Oak Bay’s Windsor Pavilion, opponents say.

Thursday’s talk by Jenn Smith, called “The Erosion of Freedom: How transgender politics in school and society is undermining our freedom and harming women and children,” has sparked a community backlash. As a result, Oak Bay councillors were expected to receive legal advice Monday night on whether the talk should go ahead.

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Smith has held similar talks in Campbell River and Duncan and has an event coming up in Nanaimo.

Oak Bay Parks and Recreation staff has been inundated with calls and emails from people upset that Smith was given approval to use public space.

“We’ve got a large number of emails, mostly people concerned about the talk, but others saying: ‘Well this is free speech,’ ” said Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch.

The municipality’s parks and rec department does have a policy that bookings should reflect community values, Murdoch said, but it can be difficult for staff to interpret, particularly when some groups are vague about their bookings.

The talk will be cancelled if Oak Bay council determines it violates hate laws, Murdoch said.

Ryan Painter, a trustee for the Greater Victoria school district, is planning a protest at Queens' Park Thursday to denounce the talk, which he said could promote violence against the LGBTQ community.

“I support free speech, but only insofar as it does not incite violence,” Painter said.

“When events like this come up, it stirs up a lot of fear and it stirs up a lot of frustration and it stirs up a lot of concerns for safety.”

Painter hopes his rally will send the message that LGBTQ and gender-diverse people are embraced and supported.

Randall Garrison, MP for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke and the NDP’s critic for LGBTQ issues, and Vancouver trans activist Morgane Oger are expected to speak Thursday at Queen’s Park.

Murdoch has also organized an event Thursday evening, called the mayor’s gathering for inclusion and hope,

Murdoch is hoping to hold the event at 6:30 p.m. at Willows Park, but said the location has not yet been confirmed.

“My intent is just to bring people together who are supportive of inclusion and welcoming people of all backgrounds, particularly the LGBTQ+ community,” said Murdoch, adding he has heard the message from people in the community that the talk is targeting an already vulnerable group.

“I think there’s a feeling that this is really hurtful [to] the people who are in that vulnerable state,” he said.

Smith, who says he is a "transgender identified male," said if Oak Bay council blocks his talk, he will sue for loss of earnings. While the event is free, he plans to solicit donations.

Smith rejects the idea that his views represent hate speech and says he’s the victim of a “hysterical knee-jerk reaction” to a topic people don’t understand. “I don’t promote hatred of anybody for any reason,” Smith told the Times Colonist.

The poster for the event uses apocalyptic imagery of a forlorn-looking child dragging a stuffed animal across a barren landscape with helicopters circling overhead.

Smith said he chose the image of a child who looks lost to represent his view that vulnerable children with autism and those in the foster system are disproportionately lured toward a transgender identity as a solution to other problems in their lives.

Smith, who was born a male, said that as he bounced around the foster system as a youth, he turned to cross-dressing as a way to feel a sense of belonging.

Smith called gender reassignment surgery “genital mutilation” and said hormone therapy is plying kids with drugs they don’t need. He disputes that people are born transgendered and said the school system is brainwashing children to transition against their parents’ wishes.

In the fall of 2016, the B.C. government directed school districts to include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in their anti-bullying policies and codes of conduct. The Ministry of Education’s revised curriculum includes SOGI 123, which promotes lessons on family diversity, including same-sex families and LGBTQ rights.

Oak Bay council is expected to announce Tuesday morning its decision on whether the talk can go ahead, Murdoch said.

“You really want to balance creating a safe and inclusive community with making sure you’re not, as a government agency, stifling diverse points of view on any topic,” he said.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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