B.C.’s minister of education restated his support of the province’s SOGI 123 initiative on Saturday, as dueling protests descended on the legislature.
In a joint statement with teachers, administrators and Indigenous groups, Rob Fleming said the province remained committed to ensuring students feel safe in all schools, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race or religion.
“In 2016, the B.C. Human Rights Code was amended to ensure that gender identity and expression are protected under the code. There is no room for any type of discrimination in our schools,” reads the statement.
“As provincial education partners, we stand unified in this commitment. All of our province’s 60 school districts have now updated their codes of conduct and all independent schools have updated their harassment and bullying prevention policies that safeguard students from being bullied for their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Co-signing the statement were groups representing teachers, school administrators, school trustees, principals and vice principals, independent schools, parent advisory councils, First Nations schools and the B.C. Metis Nation.
The statement came as a group called the Canadian Council for Faith and Family took to the legislature lawn to “raise awareness to the dangers of SOGI 123,” which it argued is “anti-democratic at the core,” according to a media release.
The Christian group says its demographic was ignored in the formation of the policy, which it claims promotes transgender “ideology,” and will “destroy the lives of countless young people and … is also essentially totalitarian in nature because it seeks to undermine parental authority.”
That event sparked a counter-protest by supporters of SOGI 123, who say the program makes schools safer for students of all backgrounds.
“The intent of their event is to protest education about sexual health, sexual orientation, and gender identity in schools,” said the counter-protesters Facebook event.
“It has been proven that educating students of all ages with regards to language around gender and sexual orientation allows them to be more empathetic, understanding, and empowered —both with regards to their own identities and when faced with others.”
The SOGI 123 program, which stands for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, was developed by the Ministry of Education, the BC Teachers’ Federation, UBC’s Faculty of Education, and multiple LGBTQ organizations.
The program is meant to create inclusive schools by creating welcoming environments, changing policies and procedures and offering lesson plans that teach diversity and respect.
The program is currently being used in B.C. and Alberta.