They taught sex education in high school — they just didn’t teach what Brett Collins needed to know.
Growing up in Maple Ridge in the late-2000’s, Collins, now the president of the Tri-Cities Pride Society, primarily learned from a heterosexual and cisgender-focused sex curriculum.
But then Collins started to form their own identity.
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Collins longed for a safe space — or research tools — to learn about sexual orientation that weren’t entirely derived from a heterosexual lesson plan. So, they turned to the internet, despite being unsure if websites would be accurate, or present information in a fair way.
“[Queer identity] was so not mentioned, I didn’t even really know about it,” said Collins, who identifies as non-binary.
“When I was coming to realize my own identity, I had no terms of reference and it made for a very isolating and unhealthy experience.”
As rallies against Sexual Orientation and Gender Ideology (SOGI) teaching pop up across the country this week, Collins said they fear today’s students will lose the ability to learn about queer identity in school — and instead be forced to look up resources on the internet.
“If I’m looking up, ‘what is sexual orientation?’ Who knows if what the website says is true?” Collins said.
An anti-SOGI protest is planned for Coquitlam City Hall on Sep. 20.
Coquitlam acknowledged the organizers’ right to protest, but published a statement on Tuesday that reaffirmed their support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.
“We firmly support their right to live authentically, without fear of harassment or hatred,” the city wrote.
The rally is part of a wider movement dubbed the 1 Million March 4 Children to denounce SOGI teachings in the classroom. Roughly 70 other cities across Canada are expecting anti-SOGI demonstrations today.
The organizers of the national rally, Hands Off Our Kids, say the protest is not meant to be an anti-queer event.
Instead, the group stated that gender ideology should be discussed “at age-appropriate times.”
“We deeply value the rich spectrum of perspectives within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community,” the event organizers wrote on their website.
But even though the event is not directly against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, Collins said it can have harmful ramifications.
Specifically, removing the ability to learn about sex and gender is inherently transphobic and homophobic, they said.
“Something doesn’t have to expressly say that it’s homophobic or transphobic to accomplish the goals of transphobia and homophobia,” they said.
“It removes people’s ability to learn about [sex and gender] in a safe and healthy way and reinforces ideas of inappropriateness.”
SOGI was introduced in B.C. in 2016 by the then-BC Liberal party, who are now known as BC United.
Teachers across the province use SOGI 123, an online tool created by the province, to plan inclusive, age-appropriate lessons.
The lessons are customizable by the teacher.
Examples of a lesson may include having students read a novel with 2SLGBTQIA+ characters in English class, or dissuading students from assuming someone’s gender identity. Elementary school teachers may also introduce words to explain why certain phrases are harmful to the queer community.
As of Dec. 31, 2016, all schools in the province were required to include SOGI teaching in their anti-bullying policies.
This month’s anti-SOGI rally in Coquitlam comes roughly nine months after protesters voiced their displeasure with a Drag Queen Story Time — family readings led by a drag queen — at the Coquitlam Public Library.
Hundreds of counter-protesters showed up to the library in support of the drag queen, Conni Smudge, who hosted the event.
Society is moving to include more diverse voices, Collins said, adding that they believe the wave of protesters in recent months are trying to stem progress made on increasing inclusivity.
“I think it’s a concerted act to change the public discourse,” they said. “This is fuelled from the States but there is quite a bit that is fuelled from right here in Canada.”
The Tri-Cities Pride Society is expected to fly Pride flags and hand out brochures that advocate for SOGI in the classroom at city hall tomorrow.
Ultimately, Collins said they hope that the counter-protest combats misinformation about SOGI and helps people who may be looking to learn more about sexual and gender identity.
“There is misinformation and disinformation being pushed,” they said.
“It’s going to hurt people who are at the point of their lives where they are feeling excluded.”