A well-worn rainbow sidewalk greets visitors and staff as they enter the Central Okanagan Schools Board of Education Learning Centre on Hollywood Road in Kelowna. The rainbow is a symbol of celebrating and accepting diversity and inclusion. With the rise of right-wing extremist rhetoric, particularly across school trustee election campaigns in British Columbia, many 2SLGBTQ+ students and their supportive parents are concerned about an organized campaign to infiltrate school boards and turn back the clock on inclusive learning spaces.
In an article published by Kelowna Daily Courier a political action group named Parents Voice BC is promoting candidates for school boards in eight jurisdictions under the main campaign slogan, ‘Let’s Take Back Our Schools’. The group says on its website that it promotes putting students’ interest first and says the current education system is “beholden to special interest groups” such as teacher unions and activists with agendas that don’t align with the political values of many parents. A website called Unmasktheright.org distributed a press release that says many of the leaders of Parents Voice BC and its candidates hold extreme right-wing political views which they are concealing from potential voters.
An organization behind efforts to spread harmful misinformation about educational resources and inclusive policies is Action4Canada. A pamphlet produced by them accuses School District 23 of having pornographic books in their libraries as well as trying to sexualize children through SOGI 1 2 3 that has been adopted by BC Education. It appears they are using this misinformation in an attempt to sway voters as well as for fundraising purposes.
According to School District 23 Kevin Kaardal, Superintendent of Schools/CEO, parents who opt out of sexual health education at school and want to teach the topic at home may access resources from educators. He stated, “The political group in question has specified concerns in a flyer about a book entitled It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, Gender, and Sexual Health, of which one copy is available in the district as a parent resource for home education and not available for loan to students.”
Kaardal continues, “Central Okanagan Public Schools employs specially trained experts to teach sexual health education according to the Provincial curriculum, using age-appropriate lessons and resources. Educating students about anatomy, consent, sexual health, and identity is critical to their safety, health, and social-emotional well-being.”
“Public schools are safe and inclusive for everyone, regardless of their identity. Those who take issue with inclusion may pursue other educational options,” he said.
The BC Teachers Federation recently released a letter to its members stating concern over school trustee campaigns supporting hateful and discriminatory rhetoric “…that stands in stark contrast to the values upheld by teachers and educators across the province.” The letter continues, “These regressive positions go against BC’s Human Rights Code and would cause harm to students, families, and staff who are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community.”
A statement on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) was recently released by Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Education and Child Care. The statement partially reads, “We know that each child expresses themselves in their own unique way and some have been bullied and ostracized in the past. All of B.C.’s provincial education partners for K-12 schools – public and independent – are standing together in solidarity to ensure every school is a place where all students deserve to be welcomed, included and respected in a safe learning environment, while being fully and completely themselves. No student should be excluded or bullied because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
About SOGI 1 2 3
A statement from Reg Krake, Executive Director, ARC Foundation regarding SOGI 1 2 3 says, “SOGI 1 2 3 is not a curriculum, but rather a set of tools and resources to help create safer and more inclusive schools for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities. They include policies and procedures, inclusive learning environments, and age-appropriate teaching resources that are aligned to BC’s K-12 curriculum to help educators create a school environment where students feel safe, accepted, respected and welcome.”
Krake added, “We cannot control the harmful language some people use for personal or political purposes, but we can continue our work so no child grows up thinking they’re alone, the only one. All students need to see themselves reflected in the world around them – and to be seen for who they truly are – so that they can be free to be their most authentic selves and live their best possible life.”
What Can You Do?
It is now more important than ever that voters do their research on candidates and actively engage in the democratic process at the voting booth to ensure schools are safe from hate and extremism. Voting dates and information may be found on the City of Kelowna election page. Advocacy Canada has sent a questionnaire to all School District 23 candidates asking questions that are important to 2SLGBTQ+ students and their supportive parents. The results will be published after September 30th at advocacy-canada.lgbt.