Claims that more than 100 students walked out of a school presentation about sexuality and gender are “completely erroneous,” according to the Abbotsford School District’s spokesperson.
Kayla Stuckart was responding to claims made online by a Christian TV host and an advocacy group that has spent months campaigning against sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) education in B.C. schools.
In a Facebook Live video broadcast around 1 p.m. Thursday, 700 Club Canada host Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson spoke to two Robert Bateman Secondary students, Ethan and Josh.
The two boys say they refused to attend a presentation at the school from Out in Schools, an educational program that uses films to teach school kids about homophobia, transphobia and bullying.
“We already know about it. We have access to the internet. They just keep forcing stuff on this that we don’t need to learn,” Ethan tells Thompson. He goes on to suggest that education about LGBT identities and issues should be confined to a separate and optional class.
Josh says he also felt the presentation was unnecessary: “They put everybody in a giant room and start talking about how they want respect and stuff we know [about] giving respect.”
Thompson, whose daily program airs in Joy TV, praised the boys in a subsequent Facebook post.
“We are in a war and I am so incredibly proud of these kids who are showing us how it’s done!” she wrote.
“This is only the beginning,” she wrote. “Kids, parents, teachers and school trustees are starting to be fed up with being bullied into the constant LGBTQ indoctrination.” She called supporting transgender students in transition “child abuse.”
Thompson declined a request for a phone interview, but responded to emailed questions from The News. She said she had no part in organizing any actions at the school.
“A Christian mother contacted me to say her child and numerous others had left an Out In Schools film assembly, some on the grounds of conscientious objection,” she said.
She said the only source she had for the 100-student claim came from the boys she spoke to in the Facebook video.
Stuckart said the assembly was not optional because it is part of the B.C. curriculum.
In a short statement provided to The News on Thursday, she said the presentation “was well received by students and staff - and even a few parents who requested to attend.” Stuckart was not available for a subsequent interview to answer follow-up questions.
It remains unclear how many students chose not to attend the two Out in Schools assemblies.
School board chair Shirley Wilson said she has not been fully briefed on what happened at Bateman on Thursday. She said she has heard mixed accounts of how many students skipped the presentation – including one caller who said it was closer to 20 – but with many staff on vacation for spring break, she has been unable to get an official briefing.
Parents were informed of the presentation in advance and some asked to attend, but Wilson said she didn’t know of any parents who expressed opposition to the group coming to the school.
One of the Out in Schools presenters, Gavin Somers, told The News the two presentations they gave at Bateman “went really, really well.” (Somers identifies as gender non-binary and uses they/them pronouns.)
“After the first presentation, we had about a dozen students come up to us and just give us a lot of really great positive feedback and gratitude for us being there,” they said. “We had some really great and thoughtful questions throughout both presentations and there were no kerfuffles or no one walked out.”
Somers said the film screenings share “stories that allow folks to see experiences that might be different than their own.”
“It’s really an inviting space to allow folks to ask questions to explore maybe their own relationship to identity and … we share our own experiences,” they said.
“So we recognize that with homophobia and transphobia, a lot of what happens is the fear of not knowing and so when we’re able to personalize these experiences, we find that we’re able to help shift school culture into becoming more inclusive and supportive for all students.”
Somers said studies show more inclusive and supportive school environments for LGBT students benefit all students and reduce levels of mental illness, bullying and violence.