Advocate urges Central Okanagan school board to do more to protect LGBTQ students and staff

Standing up for SOGI

Saying he’s never before seen the kind of campaign that is currently being waged against the queer community in his 30 years of advocacy, local activist Wilbur Turner pressed the Central Okanagan Board of Education to do more than just the “bare minimum” to support LGBTQ students.

Turner, the chair of Advocacy Canada, was invited to make a presentation to the board at Wednesday night’s public meeting.

He said that the queer community is facing well funded and targeted campaigns around the world, including by one group in Canada that raised over $700,000 last year. He said one of that group’s main aims is to attack SOGI 123 (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) program in schools.

“These ramped up attacks coming from the far right are very damaging and the message they send to our youth is that they need to be invisible. We want them to be visible!”

His presentation came just a day after a Prince George school board meeting was brought to a halt when members of the public shouted from the gallery following a presentation. There was a similar incident in the Toronto area on Tuesday. Police were called in to manage a crowd at the York Catholic District School Board meeting as opposing sides squared off over the topic of raising the pride flag at schools.

“I was kind of a little bit concerned because I knew ahead of time that there were people who knew I was speaking and they’re not for this,” said Turner. “I knew they would be here tonight but, thankfully, they were fairly respectful.”

He says part of the purpose of his presentation was to counter some of the misinformation around SOGI 123. But he was also there to advocate for more support and acceptance for queer youth.

Turner told the school board that there needs to be better representation of the queer community in resources and educational materials offered by the school district, and students need to know that they are respected for who they are.

Trustee Valene Johnson noted that schools and staff are doing good work but, “we have a ways to go.”

One statistic that caught the attention of trustees was that more than half of homeless youth in Kelowna are LGBTQ.

“It’s mostly to do with family conflict, because they’re not supported at home,” he explained.

Trustee Chantelle Desrosier called the statistic heartbreaking.

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