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Organizer intent on holding Vernon SOGI forum despite trouble finding venue

David Hamilton wants to offer a balanced forum; says pro-SOGI voices declined to take part

After a couple of failed attempts to host an open forum in Vernon and Armstrong to discuss SOGI 123 (sexual orientation and gender identity) in B.C. schools, the organizer says he’s not giving up despite challenges with finding a venue that will host it.

David Hamilton has moved the forum to Jan. 13 at the Vernon Sikh Temple.

SOGI has become an emotionally charged subject ever since protests cropped up in September in Vernon and throughout B.C., with protesters calling for its removal from B.C. classrooms on parental rights grounds, while SOGI supporters mobilized to emphasize the importance of the school resource in reducing bullying and promoting inclusivity.

Hamilton — who wants the forum to represent views both for and against SOGI — claims the reason venues have been unwilling to host the forum to date is because of pressure from the community.

Hamilton first attempted to set up the forum at the Vernon Riviera Conference Centre on Jan. 6. The conference centre’s general manager told The Morning Star that the event wasn’t booked because the conference centre is undergoing maintenance. However, Hamilton claims he was told by Riviera that they had a number of calls asking them not to host the event.

He then tried to set up the forum at Hullcar Hall in Armstrong for Jan. 13, but his rental application for the hall was denied by its board. Hullcar Hall president David Doran declined to say why.

Hamilton again insists that the Hullcar Hall was pressured not to host the event. He now plans on filing a civil suit against the hall and board of directors for breach of contract.

“They got inundated with phone calls,” said Hamilton. “That’s why they backed out.”

Hamilton says since both sides for and against SOGI say they’re in the interest of protecting kids, finding common ground should be possible, which is what he hopes the forum will accomplish.

He says those against SOGI have been “stating their principles and their ideology as dictation,” and SOGI proponents “are doing the same thing.”

Hamilton said while it’s a “very emotional subject,” he won’t tolerate protests, accusations or animus at the forum.

“Let’s sit down, not attack each other, not get pushed in the corners and fight,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you’re on, if you come to be a jerk, you’re out.”

Speaking with the Morning Star, Hamilton resisted all attempts to ascertain whether he is pro-SOGI or anti-SOGI. He did say he is “dead set” against the idea of transgendering children, and admitted he was escorted out of a SOGI panel at Trinity United Church at the end of November after he confronted a panelist on the subject of transgender youth.

Regardless, Hamilton says the forum is not about his personal beliefs, adding he’s open to hearing alternative opinions. The forum, billed as a For the Sake of the Children event, purports to represent both sides of the SOGI debate. However, the three speakers listed for the event have all spoken out against SOGI. Former Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld has made comments suggesting that SOGI 123 is an “evil ideology,” while Pierre Barnes and Ronnie Herman are both part of the Stop SOGI 123 Abbotsford group.

Hamilton says the one-sided speaker list is not for a lack of trying on his part. He says the Vernon Pride Society and the Vernon School District were invited to speak but declined to take part. Both groups have confirmed to The Morning Star that they will not take part in the event.

“Why aren’t they coming? … I want them there,” Hamilton said. “I’ve gone to everybody I can go to.”

Hamilton said he’s invited local politicians to the event, including Vernon Mayor Victor Cumming, but none have agreed to attend so far.

The most recent poster for the event says “Other speakers TBA,” and Hamilton says the invitation to pro-SOGI voices is still open.

On the format for the forum, Hamilton says each panelist will have five to 10 minutes to introduce their background, and the rest of the time will be purely dedicated to answering questions from attendees.

READ MORE: Armstrong hall denies SOGI forum rental application

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

Brendan Shykora

About the Author: Brendan Shykora

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