A trustee who has served on Chilliwack’s school board for over two decades faced heavy criticism on social media after a Facebook post in which he said that allowing children to choose their gender identity amounts to “child abuse.”
In the post, Barry Neufeld took aim at the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) program, an educational resource that’s designed to support “marginalized LGBTQ students.”
“The SOGI program instructs children that gender is not biologically-determined, but is a social construct,” he wrote.
Neufeld went on to claim that the SOGI program requires that teachers can no longer refer to “mothers and fathers,” nor to students as “boys and girls.”
“If this represents the values of Canadian society, count me out!” he wrote.
“I belong in a country like Russia, or Paraguay, which recently had the guts to stand up to these radical cultural nihilists.”
The American College of Pediatricians, which the Southern Poverty Center (SPLC) has identified as an anti-LGBTQ “hate group,” issued a statement last month saying that “conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse.”
Reached by Global News on Monday, Neufeld said the SPLC is “free to their opinion.”
Neufeld was also asked about his views on Russia’s controversial LGBTQ law.
The legislation, which has been ruled as “discriminatory” by the European Court of Human Rights, bans anyone from providing children information about homosexuality, according to The Guardian.
Neufeld said he was fine with Russia’s law, even after the human rights ruling.
“The one thing that Russia does, it says that they are tolerant of gays and lesbians and transgender, but they don’t want them influencing young people to follow their lifestyle,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s terribly radical.”
Colin McKenna said he read Neufeld’s remarks “with my mouth hanging open.”
He’s the president of PFLAG in Vancouver, an organization that works to create an “environment of understanding” so that LGBTQ children can live with “dignity and respect.”
He said he was “sad to read” those comments, and that it was “frightening to think” Neufeld has sat on the school board as long as he has.
McKenna said programs like SOGI are important to help people understand what it means to be LGBTQ.
“I am somebody who knew at a young age that I was different, and tried to tell my mother at the age of nine that I wasn’t going to have a wife someday, but I didn’t know how to explain it,” he said.
“I really wish that when I was a child, I had a curriculum or something to support who I was so that it could have been explained.”
What is SOGI?
SOGI 123 isn’t a curriculum so much as an educational resource that provides guidance for “LGBTQ-inclusive education.”
It was developed by the ARC Foundation alongside the B.C. Ministry of Education, UBC’s Faculty of Education and the BC Teachers’ Federation, as well as LGBTQ organizations.
The program contains lesson plans that can be used in school curriculums, emphasizing lessons such as “Family Diversity” and how certain households have two mothers or two fathers.
Stacey Wakelin, an organizer with Langley Parents for Inclusivity, has rallied to adopt its lessons in the city’s schools. She said Neufeld “obviously isn’t qualified on the matter.”
She said it’s misconception that SOGI says teachers can’t refer to mother and fathers in classrooms.
“I have spoken to someone from the Langley school board, and I have spoken to principals in Langley, and all of them say that that is not the case,” she said.
Chilliwack School District superintendent Evelyn Novak said Neufeld was “not speaking on behalf of the board in that case.”
“This is a personal Facebook page and trustees can say what they want in the public forum,” she said.
“When they are charged with board work, and representing the board, they adhere to our policies, but personally, they can choose to do or say whatever their personal views are and values are.”
Novak noted that the school board last year approved changes to a policy around safe schools to bring it in line with provisions under the BC Human Rights Code, which has provisions around discrimination on the basis of gender identity, colour, religion and more.
“As a school district, we’re working really hard, and we do believe we have strong values around inclusion, and working hard to ensure our students and parents and families feel safe in our schools,” she said.