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Anti-SOGI voices prominent in Vernon forum purporting to represent both sides

The local school district and pride society are not involved in the Jan. 6 forum
This poster advertises a forum on SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) that will take place in Vernon on Jan. 6, 2024. (Facebook photo)

A public forum to discuss SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) 123, an inclusivity resource in B.C. schools, is scheduled to take place in Vernon in the new year. But while the organizers claim both sides of the contentious issue will be represented at the forum, the Vernon Pride Society says it was not invited, and the Vernon School District says it is not involved.

The forum will take place on Jan. 6. It has been organized by 1 Million March 4 Children, a group that spearheaded protests against SOGI in Vernon and elsewhere in B.C. in September.

A poster for the event describes it as being part of the “For the Sake of the Children” tour. The poster states: “SOGI: What is it? Who is it, Why is it?”

The organizers purport to offer viewpoints that represent both sides of the debate on whether SOGI resources have a place in B.C. schools. However, the three speakers listed for the event have all previously spoken out against SOGI.

Former Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld will be speaking. Neufeld is the subject of a defamation lawsuit, and has made comments suggesting SOGI 123 is an “evil ideology,” adding the resource “is nothing short of child abuse.”

Pierre Barns and Ronnie Herman are the other two speakers. Both are part of the Stop SOGI 123 Abbotsford group.

The forum will be two hours long and organizers say it will include “open dialogue” and audience participation.

SOGI is often misconstrued as being a part of the B.C. school curriculum. In reality, it is a set of tools and resources outside the curriculum that teachers can use to create inclusive classrooms for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the organizers claim the forum will be two-sided, Vernon Pride Society president Abbie Wilson says the Pride Society wasn’t invited and won’t be involved in any way.

“I think if they had invited people to speak who were on … the other side, then it would be a two-sided (event), but just judging from the speakers that they have listed, every speaker is very anti-SOGI,” Wilson told The Morning Star.

“We fully support and stand behind SOGI,” Wilson added, saying SOGI is an “extremely important framework for education and just making sure kids can be safe at school.

“It’s such a simple framework, and we’re tired of having to defend it all the time,” Wilson said.

Wilson said opposition to SOGI has been based on “a lot of fear-mongering” about the resource aimed at the 2SLGBTQIA community, adding the issue has become highly politicized.

“A lot of it just comes down to politics,” she said.

School District 22 Supt. Christine Perkins also confirmed that the school district is not involved in the event.

Asked about the organizers’ claim that both sides of the SOGI debate will be represented at the forum, Perkins said, “There is no ‘both sides.’ We are one human race.”

“If an event does not celebrate and honour all of us and express love and kindness toward our LGBTQ+ community then, it is not reflective of the Human Rights Code, nor a world filled with many people, glorious in their diversity,” Perkins added. “People need to stop fighting and fearing. There are so many real problems to solve: hunger, poverty, housing, war.

“We need to move toward peace on all levels.”

Anti-SOGI demonstrations have cropped up in Vernon since protests were held near the beginning of the school year in September.

On Dec. 13, a Vernon school board meeting was shut down by protesters who, while not naming SOGI directly, derided the school district for promoting a “trans agenda.” One protester likened the school district’s message of inclusion to all, no matter how they self-identify, to an ad for pedophilia.

In response to anti-SOGI protests that took place in Vernon in September, Vernon teacher Robyn Ladner offered clarification about SOGI in an interview with The Morning Star.

“No one is telling kids to be anything other than what they are,” Ladner said. “(SOGI is) resources to use to prevent bullying, and slurs and create understanding among our students. It’s not a subject that we put aftermath, it’s resources that help us to create a better school environment where all students see themselves.”

The event on Jan. 6, is scheduled to take place from 4-6 p.m. at the Vernon Riviera Conference Centre.

READ MORE: Protesters shut down Vernon school board meeting

READ MORE: Vernon teacher explains what SOGI is, and why it’s needed

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

I started at the Morning Star as a carrier at the age of 8. In 2019 graduated from the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University.
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