A group of right-wing activists attempted to recruit Abbotsford residents – many of them seniors – into a culture war this week.
Local schools are brainwashing children to become gay, lesbian and transgender, roughly 150 attendees heard at a townhall-style meeting Tuesday night at Garden Park Tower retirement home on Clearbrook Road.
The event was organized by resident Leonard Remple and Kari Simpson of Culture Guard, a social conservative group.
“The LGBTQ people are frightening us,” Remple wrote in the subject line of an email inviting The News to the event.
Remple said he and fellow Garden Park Tower residents were greatly concerned about SOGI 123 – a set of resources available to teachers to help them address issues around sexual orientation and gender identity.
Both Simpson and Paul Dirks – a New Westminster pastor known – gave long speeches, showed videos and answered audience questions over two and a half hours.
But both the president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation and the chair of the Abbotsford board of education say the SOGI program and efforts in schools to make all students feel included and welcome are here to stay, no matter what this group says.
Dirks has campaigned against a federal bill outlawing discrimination based on gender identity.
He said many transgender people regret transitioning and said high rates of suicide attempts among trans men and women are the result of underlying mental health issues, rather than discrimination and bullying.
“Don’t trust me,” Dirks said, encouraging the audience to read research published in the New Atlantis – a social conservative journal.
Dirks said the increasing number of young people identifying as transgender is a “social contagion.”
Simpson, who has long campaigned against LGBT initiatives, railed against SOGI. She made several jokes about gay and trans people, including referring to transgender women pictured with former Premier Christy Clark as “good-looking men” and recounting how her granddaughter mocked transgender people on social media – all to laughs from the crowd.
Kari Simpson has the audience in stitches telling a story about her granddaughter mocking trans ppl pic.twitter.com/oJBrQBvDq7
— Kelvin Gawley (@KelvinGawley) October 4, 2017
Simpson rallied the crowd to vote out politicians at all levels of government who support inclusion and protections for LGBT people and asked the crowd for donations to fight court battles.
“We are in a war for our nation and our children,” Simpson said.
Abbotsford’s school board chair, Shirley Wilson, said she wasn’t concerned to learn about the anti-SOGI event.
“I think it’s healthy to have the conversation because then it becomes an awareness piece that there are multiple layers of people who live in our community,” she said.
Wilson said she is unsure how representative the anti-SOGI views are of the larger Abbotsford community.
“It could be representative, it might not. Is it certainly representative of the entire community? Absolutely not,” she said.
Wilson said the provincially mandated SOGI update to its administrative procedures was a matter of putting specific language into policy, rather than any significant change in philosophy or practice in Abbotsford schools.
“We’ve always been about the rights of others in the schools – all others – because we know there are many different groups that feel suppressed at different times,” she said.
Wilson clarified that the SOGI 123 material that Simpson and others have railed against is not in the curriculum but a resource teachers can use to help them talk about diverse family types, gender identities and sexual orientations.
“The board had these complexities in the community brought before them before and we’ve always maintained – always maintained – that each person has the right to be each person; they have the right to be themselves and we respect that and we honour that.”
Glen Hansman, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, told The News that the SOGI policies are in line with court rulings and his union’s values of tolerance. He said the new rules and materials are just the latest step in efforts teachers have been making for decades to break down stereotypes in society. Since the 1970s, he said, B.C. teachers have been discouraged from reinforcing gender stereotypes such as pink being a girls’ colour and monster trucks being for boys.
Several attendees at the Culture Guard event said they wanted to opt their kids out of the SOGI teachings but Hansman said that would be impossible.
“There are people from different faiths, different nationalities, different combinations of families and also gay and lesbian and transgender characters in books or people in their school community,” he said. “So, I’m not really sure what they’re suggesting when they say ‘to opt their kids out’ because frankly they wouldn’t be spending much time in school, period, if that’s what their intention was.”
Hansman pointed to a number of court rulings that have ruled against discriminatory teachers.
“No individual, because of how they walk in the world – because they’re a person of colour or they’re of a different nationality, or they are from a sexual minority group – should have to hide who they are and, in fact, the school system has the obligation to take pro-active steps to ensure that people are not just safe in schools but that there is an inclusive environment.”
Hansman said he has been aware of Kari Simpson and her campaigns against the LGBT community for years but SOGI and other efforts will continue no matter what she says or does.
“This is not an obligation that is going to go away and some of the arguments that are being trotted out by the Culture Guard folks are ones that have long ago been decided by the courts provincially and the federal courts and that Canadian society overall wholeheartedly supports.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story identified Dirks as “known for anti-transgender activism.” Dirks rejects the label and says he opposed aspects of Bill C-16 – which added gender identity and expression to the of list prohibited grounds for discrimniation – because “it undermined women’s legal identity, rights, privacy and protections.” Dirks also said he loves transgender people and is not against them.