In the wake of contentious school board elections across British Columbia during which a handful of candidates expressed opposition to SOGI 123, a teaching resource used to help LGBTQ students feel more safe and accepted, a number of questions were raised.
The sexual orientation and gender identity program known as SOGI 123 is not new, but many parents are still unclear on what it means in the classroom.
Misinformation and intentional disinformation by some current and former trustees has fuelled the confusion, so The Chilliwack Progress decided to go to the source, the ARC Foundation, which created SOGI 123.
What follows is a Q&A with ARC Foundation’s national program manager, Scout Gray,
Q: First of all, what is SOGI 123, in brief?
A: SOGI 123 is a set of tools and resources to help create safer and more inclusive schools for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI). They include policies and procedures, inclusive learning environments, and age-appropriate teaching resources that are aligned to B.C.’s K-to-12 curriculum to help educators create a school environment where students feel safe, accepted, respected and welcome.
Q: When was it created?
A: ARC Foundation developed SOGI 123 in collaboration with the B.C. Ministry of Education, B.C. Teachers’ Federation, the University of British Columbia’s faculty of education, Out in Schools, school districts throughout B.C., and local, national and international 2SLGBTQ+ community organizations. It was first launched in the 2015/2016 school year.
Q: Why was it created?
A: Schools have the responsibility to proactively create safe, inclusive learning environments for all students – including students who identify as Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or something different. Unfortunately, schools have not always been safe places for 2SLGBTQ+ youth to be out or to be themselves. While this has been changing, and while a lot of great work has occurred over many years to improve the school experience of 2SLGBTQ+ youth, there remains a need to work together to help ensure that educators, including all school and district staff, have access to tools, resources, and supports to help make a difference.
Q: SOGI-123 is in B.C. schools, is it elsewhere?
A: SOGI 123 tools and resources are available to educators everywhere through our website, SOGIeducation.org. The BC SOGI Educator Network has participation from 60 of 60 public districts as well as a growing number of some independent and First Nations schools. We also have a smaller – but growing – Alberta SOGI Educator Network.
Q: Some critics say this is encouraging transgenderism while defenders say it recognizes what has been hidden and/or not talked about for decades. Is the latter statement fair?
A: SOGI-inclusive education is about recognizing the diversity of SOGI identities that exist in society and the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect. Most students go through life seeing themselves represented in the world around them; there is a lot of reinforcement for them. SOGI 123 helps ensure that all identities are reflected in the school environment, and that students can learn about the diversity of human identities.
Q: Is it brought up by every teacher in every class or is it a resource used when LGBTQ issues are raised, or is it something else?
A: SOGI 123 is a set of resources to help incorporate SOGI-inclusivity into policies, school environments, and teaching practices. This can show up in many different ways. In the classroom, it may be including SOGI-inclusive language into a word problem in math class, or it may be utilizing a SOGI-inclusive lesson plan that supports a core competency of the provincial curriculum. It is also about district-wide resources and supports, such as guidelines for how to address SOGI-based bullying in schools.
Q: Is it used to encourage gender dysphoria?
A: We believe claims of gender dysphoria are increasing because more people are choosing not to hide their real identities their entire lives. The point of SOGI 123 is to create safer and more inclusive environments for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Q: Isn’t it teaching children about sexual topics earlier than it should be?
A: All of the teaching resources available through SOGI 123 have been created with educators, for educators, to ensure that they are age appropriate and aligned to the provincial curriculum. For example, for Kindergarten/Grade 1 we have ‘What is a Family?’ which explores the diverse types of families that exist in society.
Q: Does it teach children that heterosexual marriages are no longer the norm?
A: Most students go through life seeing themselves represented in the world around them; there is a lot of reinforcement for them, including representation of cisgender identities and heterosexual relationships. SOGI 123 provides an opportunity for all students to see themselves reflected in the world around them.
Q: A number of school board candidates across B.C. claimed that SOGI 123 somehow violates parental rights. What is your response to this claim?
A: We encourage parents to engage their kids on these topics. However, we also believe there is no room for any type of discrimination in our schools and that all students should be free of discrimination, so they can thrive and live authentic lives.
Children thrive when parents and schools work together to provide safe and inclusive environments.
Q: What are critics of SOGI 123 are getting wrong mostly?
A: SOGI 123 appears to sometimes be confused with sexual health education. Sexual health education is an established component of the school health curriculum in B.C., whereas SOGI 123 is a set of tools and resources to help create safer and more inclusive schools for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities. SOGI 123 is not an additional requirement of the curriculum and does not ‘take away’ from delivering math, language arts, social studies, or other core elements of the curriculum. It is simply a set of resources to help incorporate SOGI-inclusivity into school communities.
Q: What is the ARC Foundation and who funds the organization?
A: ARC Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Vancouver with virtual team members located around B.C. and in other provinces. Established in 2007, ARC Foundation is dedicated to expanding the capacity of K-to-12 educators to create Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI)-inclusive schools for all students. Current funding sources include both federal and provincial level governments, charitable foundations, corporations aligned with our work, as well as individual donors.
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