An event at a Surrey church against a school program focusing on inclusivity for the LGBTQ community was met with a counter rally on Tuesday.
The anti-SOGI 123 talk, at the Surrey Pentecostal Assembly in Fleetwood, was a “private event, intended for Christians only,” according to a Facebook post by transgender speaker Jenn Smith.
It was a “great event,” he wrote afterward, adding it was “another step towards smashing SOGI 123.”
Posters for other events he’s spoken at this year call SOGI 123 an “assault on the minds of our children, and the trampling of parental and religious rights.”
The SOGI program, according to sogieducation.org, “aims to make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities” and “equips educators of all backgrounds and experiences with tools and resources for supporting marginalized LGBTQ students and for creating safer and more inclusive school environments for all students.”
Why does a transgender man who identifies as a woman oppose SOGI?
In an interview with the Now-Leader on Wednesday, Smith said the “whole transgender agenda is trampling women’s rights and reality itself.”
“It’s a brainwashing program,” he said of SOGI. “They’re going to very young kids who don’t have this gender confusion in their minds. They’re putting it in their minds, and in my mind, deliberately confusing them.”
Now 53, Smith said transgender youth today have many pharmaceutical options that he didn’t as a child.
“If you understand the potentially devastating affects of these drugs… then you might start to get a hint of why I am bitterly opposed to what they are doing,” he said. “These kids are very vulnerable to the glorification of different ‘cool’ identities. That’s one of the problems with SOGI, they’re glorifying it.”
He pointed to medication such as puberty blockers and the unknown effects on brain development the drugs can have.
Smith said he quotes many studies in his talks, that find at least half of transgender youth have mental health issues.
Schools should be teaching kids the difference between sex and gender, not using them synonymously, according to Smith.
“Sex refers to a biological state of being male or female. It’s a biological thing,” he said. “Gender refers to a set of roles, expectations, forms of dress, attached to a certain sex. They’re conflating these two terms. When you say transgender, what’s happening now is these kids are getting this idea that they’re somehow changing sex and that needs to be corrected. There’s no reality to it. I can be transgender but that says nothing about my sex.”
Smith said he’s “not opposing, particularly adults being transgender, because I’m transgender. That would be kind of stupid. Adults can do what they want. Kids are a totally different story. Kids, we need to be super cautious with kids. They can make fairly unfortunate, ill-informed decisions when they’re young. Life-altering decisions. That is nuts.”
Smith says while the provincial government says it’s not teaching boys they can be girls, they are.
“They’re lying, and they’re trampling reality,” he insisted.
Ahead of Smith’s talk in Surrey on July 3, which drew an estimated 150 people, he said “LGBTQ activists are welcome to attend my secular public talks (I have done several),” but he asked that they “respect the law regarding private religious gatherings and not intrude upon that.”
As Smith spoke inside the church, a “peaceful” rally organized by BC Families for Inclusivity took place outside.
Langley resident Brad Dirks, with BC Families for Inclusivity, has a transgender teen son and told the Now-Leader messages like Smith’s are “damaging to kids like mine and hurting kids like mine. They’re basically telling trans kids they don’t exist, and that parents like me are child abusers.”
Dirks said that’s why he and others with BC Families for Inclusivity rally peacefully outside such events.
According to Dirks, Smith is not a transgender male and he equated messages like Smith’s to “fear mongering.”
“Transgender means you identify as an opposite gender than assigned at birth. That’s what a transgender person is,” said Dirks. “(Smith) is under the trans umbrella specifically… but it doesn’t give (Smith) the right to go to congregations and speak as a trans person. He’s not a transgender male or female, he’s really a cross dresser. We commend that and respect that, but you can’t call yourself a trans person.”
Dirks said when properly supported in schools and by family and friends, depression and suicide rates in trans people drop.
“We’re a normal family and my kid has a normal life because of SOGI,” he said, recalling his son socially transitioning from girl to boy in Grade 9.
After psychologist opinions and doctors assessed him, the family was told, “you have a trans son.”
Educators came into his classes to talk to other students for a couple hours, said Dirks.
“They were encouraged to call him by his name that he wanted to go by, and for all the classes and courses he was taking, where it listed all students’ names, it was changed to the name he was preferred,” he recalled. “With SOGI, the schools know how to deal with these things and talk to the kids. And make it comfortable and smooth. They’re not teaching courses, where kids sit in classrooms and learn about it. I’d be opposed to that too. That’s misinformation. When things come up they have policies and resources available for staff to deal with it. A lot of trans kids don’t have supportive parents, so what if we didn’t go to bat for him? The school would’ve not known what to do, and he would’ve suffered in silence.”
As for puberty blockers or other medications, Dirks said it’s been his family’s experience that children can’t access such medications before living, socially, as a different gender for at least a year.
“They can’t go on it whenever they want. That’s the fear mongering,” he added.
Dirks noted “we’re living in an age where we understand it and the medical community understands it. There’s a whole wing at BC Children’s Hospital devoted to it. It’s not a trend or a fad.”
Among those who took part in the pro-SOGI rally was Cindy Dalglish, who is running as a Surrey trustee in the upcoming Oct. 20 civic election.
Dalglish, who estimated she was among roughly 40 SOGI supporters outside the church, also said the “misinformation” spread by those against SOGI will “harm students.”
Leaflets handed out at the Tuesday rally in Surrey say gender change can “lead to a life-long dependence on pharmaceutical medications and self-mutilation” and that “boys that identify as girls can now play in sports designated exclusively for females.”
It also says the program is “confusing kids and perhaps leading them on a path towards gender transition” and accuses schools of “concealing information from parents regarding gender dysphoria and sexual orientation” which it says is a violation of parent rights and a violation of the BC School Act.
Dalglish said that information is “blatantly and destructively false.”
“It supports children to be who they are, and allows other children to understand who they are,” Dalglish said of SOGI. “We fear what we don’t understand and that creates a terrible culture for children that deserve to learn in a safe, inclusive environment.”
Dalglish said Smith “continues to spew misinformation about what SOGI is and what SOGI isn’t.”
“It isn’t about children making ill-informed life-altering decisions,” Dalglish insisted. “It’s about supporting those that already identify as LGBTQ++ and allows for a safe and inclusive environment to thrive. It’s truly that simple. Everything else is conjecture and falsehood.”
The Now-Leader has contacted the Surrey school district for comment, but was referred to the Ministry of Education.
A request for comment was submitted to the the ministry, which mandates SOGI be part of anti-bullying policies across B.C., and makes SOGI resources available for school districts to use in curriculum.
“The BC Human Rights Code was updated to include sexual orientation and gender identity and school districts and independent schools have updated their Codes of Conduct to mirror the updated BC Human Rights Code,” the ministry said in an emailed statement. “All students deserve to be welcomed, included and respected in a safe learning environment while being fully and completely themselves. SOGI education and policies are fully supported by teachers, superintendents, trustees and parent groups who want to see all forms of discrimination and bullying removed from the school system.”
According to a provincial government fact sheet from November, 2017, 49 B.C. school districts utilize SOGI resources.
Meantime, Smith vowed to continue the fight against the program.
“One town after another, one church after another, one venue after another, and eventually hundreds become thousands,” he wrote in a July 4 Facebook post. “You cannot ignore the largest demographic in society, trample their beliefs and values, and get away with it. There is a storm coming. Our storm. And when it comes it will force this government, which has ignored the majority of the population on this issue, to move.”
Last fall, Parents United Canada said it was filing an “urgent” human rights complaint after it was not allowed to rent a venue for a rally to inform parents about efforts to stop the SOGI 123 curriculum program.