Vernon Pride, school district react to planned anti-SOGI march

'Just another bully'

A director of Vernon's Pride Society says a planned march against sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) education in schools is just another example of "schoolyard bullying."

Elmaz Wilder of Ritual Barbershop says his initial reaction is to stay far away from such a gathering ... "but I can't run away when it affects such a large community."

Wilder fears the march and rally has the potential to "flare up" as others have.

"Nobody wants to face this ... when people believe so strongly, you don't know how they will react."

Wilder says in a perfect world "we would have open dialogue," but he is doubtful that can happen in the middle of a protest march.

Wilder transitioned four years ago and says he has not encountered any backlash.

However, he fears the rise of anti LGBTQIA2S+ feelings and anti-SOGI rallies "might be a step backwards" in progress made on acceptance of gender and sexuality choices.

"That's what worries me the most ... it's another case of the schoolyard bully picking on the weakest link, someone who is different."

While he expects there will be people opposing Wednesday's event, "it's best as a community if we just say we disagree, and we're going to stay over here," rather than engage with the protesters.

"We're not woken up with hate, we are taught hate," Wilder said in response to students being invited to walk out of school and join the rally.

"That can be really harmful, the misinformation is a sad reality."

School District 22 Supt. Christine Perkins said in an email: "SD22 100% supports all two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or questioning, intersex, asexual, plus … no matter how you self-identify … we support all our students, staff, and families."

Perkins said the district "100% supports and works hard to protect and promote human rights...

"There are many protected characteristics including age, ancestry, colour, criminal conviction, family status, gender expression, gender identity, Indigenous identity, Marital status, mental disability, physical disability, place of origin, political belief, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and source of income."

A SOGI myth-busting document from the Ministry of Education states that all schools are required to have codes of conduct/anti-bullying policies, however learning about SOGI in schools is not mandated.

Inclusivity can be supported by "diverse content in library books, pictures on walls reflecting the diversity of the community, and educators using inclusive language like 'good morning everyone' instead of 'good morning boys and girls.'"

SOGI is not a dedicated curriculum; rather, it offers a set of resources as part of physical health education that "explore and describe factors that shape personal identities, including social and cultural factors, which could include sexuality and sexual identity as a factor that shapes personal identity."

This includes learning about bullying and discrimination. Classroom activities are designed to provide age-appropriate learning opportunities to help students understand the impacts of discrimination and improve awareness and understanding of the diverse people around them.

Studies have shown that having SOGI-specific anti-bullying policies improve the school climate for LGBTQ2S+ and heterosexual students, reducing discrimination and suicide attempts.

"The role of districts and schools with student gender transitions and gender affirming care does not include decision making of a student's gender exploration and/or transition, whether it is social and/or medical.

"The role is to create supportive and inclusive learning environments for all students to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance so they can grow and thrive."

The anti-SOGI protesters plan to march from City Hall to Polson Park.

The Vernon Teachers' Association also reaffirmed its commitment to safe and inclusive schools.

VTA president Dave MacKenzie said in a press release the association "reiterates its unwavering dedication to maintaining schools as safe, welcoming, and inclusive spaces for all. In a resounding show of support, we stand firmly behind our LGBTQ2S+ members, students, and families."

In response to the planned anti-SOGI march, MacKenzie said: "The concerning surge of homophobia and transphobia sweeping across Canada has no place in our communities, particularly within the walls of our educational institutions.

"Misguided initiatives that seek to forcibly reveal the gender identities of trans youth pose significant threats to their mental well-being and, in some cases, their lives. We must unite to oppose these campaigns rooted in misinformation and right-wing conspiracy theories that seek to drag us backward."

The VTA says SOGI-inclusive resources should not be a subject of controversy. "Rather, it is a matter of ensuring that all students and their families find themselves represented in educational materials. It is also about safeguarding students and staff from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, in accordance with the BC Human Rights Code – our province's law.

"Diversity within our school communities is our strength. Every member of our school community, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, deserves a respectful environment in which to learn, grow, and thrive."

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