School trustees had the chance to learn more about the sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) teacher resources over the weekend, and a handful of Chilliwack’s trustees took that offer.
Trustees Dan Coulter, Bob Patterson, and board chair Paul McManus joined Chilliwack School District superintendent Evelyn Novak at the BC School Trustee Association’s annual Trustee Academy in Richmond. While the focus of the academy covered a wide breadth of education topics, with numerous speakers, the two-day event also included much discussion surrounding SOGI and transgender awareness.
Coulter says the weekend was “terrific,” and really opened his eyes to how strongly other districts have embraced transgender students, teachers, staff and parents.
“There are no trustees, other than in our district, that are against it that I can find,” Coulter said. “And the minister [of education] said he was interested in implementing despite the efforts of one ‘small but well-funded’ group. He was not deterred by them.”
‘They’ are Culture Guard, and its leader Kari Simpson. They are against teachers using a government-approved resource called SOGI 123. And so is Chilliwack trustee Barry Neufeld; he took to Facebook to argue against its use back in October. Neufeld quickly apologized for offending people, but has since aligned himself with Culture Guard. They held a rally to support Neufeld and defend their views last Tuesday, where Neufeld spoke as a special guest.
At the rally Neufeld accused the government of ushering in a pro-LGBTQ agenda without consulation or explanation. Trustee Heather Maahs, who also has spoken up about fears surrounding SOGI 123, was also at the rally but not as a speaker.
Niether trustee attended the BCSTA’s Trustee Academy. Either did trustees Silvia Dyck or Walt Krahn. The plenary speakers included a transgender advocate and author, Ivan Coyote, and Matt Curruthers, the B.C. SOGI education lead.
Coyote’s presentation had the room enraptured, said Coulter.
“They were terrific, an amazing storyteller,” he said.
While SOGI and SOGI 123 were a focus of the weekend, he added that this is not the first anyone has heard of it, despite Culture Guard saying it’s been ushered in quietly.
“It’s been talked about for a long time, and Kari [Simpson] has been talking about this a long time,” he said.
Still, the messages are important to hear, Coulter said.
“What really resonated for me was that we run public institutions, a public school system. Why can’t every single person access them? You can’t really call it a public school if it’s not for everyone,” he said.
“I’m in a wheelchair. Public buildings are all made accessible for me. Why aren’t they accessible for everyone?”
He said whether school boards accept SOGI 123 teacher materials or not is both relevant and irrelevant.
“It’s irrelevant because schools have to follow the Human Rights Code,” Coulter said. “If they’re not using the actual SOGI they’re using something that approximates it. But you need the leader of the school district to support all students, and it really sends a message throughout the entire school district if you have trustees taking shots at it, or targeting transgender students.”
And to be clear, he said, those who don’t support SOGI often don’t support other rights of the LGBTQ community, such as gay marriage or same sex couples adopting.
“These things are not controversial in the rest of Canada, gay marriage is legalized by a Conservative government,” he added. “(Culture Guard’s) views are extreme, including the views on transgender people.”
It’s estimated that 10 per cent of the population have a different sexual orientation or gender identity than their birth gender.
“That’s 1,300 of our students (in Chilliwack),” he said.