People are continuing to speak out against a Chilliwack school trustee who published a statement against gender identity policies in schools on Monday.
Barry Neufeld, a trustee for about 20 years in School District 33, said he would rather live in Russia or Paraguay, “which recently had the guts to stand up to these radical cultural nihilists.”
He was referring to the policy known as SOGI, or sexual orientation and gender identity. He cited a group known for being against the rights of the gay community, the American College of Pediatrics, posted an internet meme making fun of gender identity, and blamed the Liberal government for creating “a weapon of propaganda” and embracing “the LGBTQ lobby and … forcing this biologically absurd theory on children in our schools.”
Many in the education system quickly spoke up to distance themselves from Neufeld’s comments, including the Chilliwack School District’s superintendent, the BC School Trustee’s Association (BCSTA), and the Chilliwack District Parents Advisory Council. They took exception to Neufeld’s comments as they are not in line with the B.C. Human Rights Code.
But union president of the Chilliwack Teacher’s Association, Lee-Anne Clarke, has also pointed out that Neufeld’s public statement is an attack on teachers.
“It’s very hurtful,” she says. “It’s hurtful to our LGBTQ community, it’s hurtful to our teachers, some of them who are part of the LGBTQ community. And this undermines the professionalism of my members. It undervalues all the work we’ve done to make things better for everyone, to make school more safe for everyone, to make it more inclusive and to be more accepting of differences.”
Teachers “know how to deal with controversial issues,” she points out, including sexual orienttion and gender identity. She said SOGI is about teaching in an inclusive classroom, and is not a prescriptive part of the curriculum like math or English.
“It comes up when it comes up,” she says. “It’s not a subject. There’s no SOGI class.”
Clarke said teachers just want safe, inclusive schools, “and to have a trustee talk about a ministry-approved curriculum like this is really hurtful.”
The BCSTA had published a statement of support for inclusion on September 22, likely in response to anti-SOGI groups holding meetings in some communities. And on Tuesday morning, the association released a pointed statement regarding Neufeld’s opinions.
“BCSTA does not support, nor agree with the position taken by Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld. Our Association strongly believes that schools need to be safe and welcoming places for ALL students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion or background. It is important that we all stand up and defend our students and our staff against any incidents of prejudice, bullying or discrimination.”
Chilliwack school trustees weigh in
Criticism also came in from voices around Neufeld’s own board table.
Board chair Paul McManus responded to The Progress to say that:”Mr. Neufeld’s comments are his own personal opinions and he was not speaking on behalf of the School Board of Chilliwack.
“The Chilliwack School Board has not yet discussed the SOGI program in depth. As our policies and regulations indicate, we are committed to providing safe schools and a positive climate for all members of our school community.”
The board has not yet adopted a specific SOGI policy, but did review their current policies last fall to ensure they complied with revised legislative requirements for the BC Charter of Human Rights and Freedom and the BC Human Rights Code. More discussion is expected at the board level, according to the superintendent, Evelyn Novak.
Trustee Dan Coulter weighed in on the same forum chosen by Neufeld, Facebook.
“As a school trustee, I support the SOGI curriculum,” he said. “How can teaching respect and inclusion be a bad thing? Not only that but the law of the land demands it! The BC Human Rights Code, Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter demand it. I’m glad that human rights commissions will be making a comeback to fight bigotry, fear, and ignorance.”
“I have many LGBTQ friends and they are the toughest people you’ll ever meet. They have to be. It sickens me when I see the arguments against SOGI that always seem to veer into transphobia. Well it’s not acceptable and we ALL need to say so. I have friends that are Trans and I know students that are too. This hatred is aimed straight at who they are. It tries to make their existence illegitimate. It pisses me off! Our students and staff need to feel safe in our schools and a valued part of the school community - because they are!”
What is SOGI?
There are many people who have spoken up against the SOGI policies, and many people who have commented as such on Neufeld’s post from Monday.
But there also seems to be a lot of misinformation about what SOGI really is, and how it is used in the classroom. Chris Wejr, a principal at a Langley elementary school, has shared a website created by that school district that explains it through a Q&A format.
It says “there is no separate and distinct SOGI program or curriculum. Sexual orientation and gender identity are important topics that are interwoven through several curriculum areas, most notably, physical and health education, language arts, and social studies. How the topics are introduced to students is dependent on the age and stage of their development. These topics may also be discussed as they arise in the daily lives of students.”
It clears up some misconceptions, too. One of those misconceptions is that sexual acts are taught in the classroom.
“Sexuality as a concept is discussed starting in grade 4 (with the onset of puberty) but does not include discussions about sexual acts or practices. Secondary students need accurate information about relationships and safe sex. Lack of information can have significant consequences for youth.”
Rob Fleming, Minister of Education, spoke to the media Tuesday to say that while Neufeld shouldn’t be removed from his position, Fleming hopes he eventually has a change of heart on the subject.