Brochure from Brad Unger campaign says B.C. sexuality education program affects ‘innocence of children’
Erin Brohman · CBC News · Posted: Oct 17, 2018
A former Steinbach student who was bullied for being gay is challenging the campaign promise of a Hanover School Division trustee who has vowed to keep inclusive sexual education out of schools.
Brad Unger, who is seeking re-election in the southeastern Manitoba school division’s Steinbach ward, has vowed to keep an education program called SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) 123 out of classrooms to preserve the “innocence of children.”
“While some people in government have suggested SOGI will reduce bullying, you do not need to promote radical LGBT worldviews in order to address bullying,” Unger states in a campaign brochure.
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“It generates fear and it generates more of a homophobic, transphobic, hateful attitude towards LGBTTQ people,” said Evan Wiens, a University of Winnipeg student who formerly went to school in Steinbach.
“It maintains that level of a lot of fear that people have in the Steinbach area.”
SOGI 123 is a framework developed by the B.C. Ministry of Education in 2016 that requires sexual orientation and gender to be included in all school anti-bullying policies. The SOGI themes and teaching materials are now woven into curriculums in schools in B.C. and Alberta to reduce discrimination.
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The teaching materials on the SOGI website list topics like discouraging use of the phrase “that’s so gay” and discussion of diversity in families and pronouns.
“In the change rooms I was called words like ‘faggot’ and everything else, so I did all of my gym outside of class, or outside of the school,” said Wiens, recalling the bullying he faced in middle school.
“It’s sad because I try to block a lot of it out. I just remember just constantly being called things down the hallway. A student would constantly shove me.”
Wiens said he turned his experience into a positive — he started a gay-straight alliance at the high school and spent years supporting and fighting for the rights of other LGBTQ students. He believes education is the key to giving other students the safety he didn’t feel.
“This kind of rhetoric has been coming from Steinbach and area for years. I’m disappointed that it’s still happening. I’m sad for LGBT students who are hearing this from Mr. Unger, who are seeing his brochure and thinking, ‘Don’t they care about me?’
“It’s just a profound disappointment.… It’s not his place to decide what is best for LGBT students in schools. It’s for them to decide.”
Will harm children’s innocence: Unger
“Hanover School Division is already inclusive,” Unger wrote in a statement to CBC.
“It has GSAs, [gay-straight alliances] a human diversity policy and has made a Supporting Transgender Students resource available to teachers,” he said, adding he’s spent the past three years educating himself on these matters.
In his statement, Unger said his concern was also that the inclusivity education begins in kindergarten.
“Young children are not ready to learn about sexuality. Too much of what I have learned about SOGI 123 and other comprehensive sexuality education resources will confuse children and open them up to images and concepts that will harm their innocence,” he wrote.
Unger did not reply when pressed by the CBC as to what these images and concepts were. The SOGI 123 K-4 curricula focus on anti-bullying language and acknowledgement of diversity in families and each other to promote understanding.
His brochure, however, states that the incorporation of sexuality and gender teaching in classrooms “favours one group of bullied students over another.”
“It helps everyone,” he said.
“It helps all students figure out how to be better allies to those who are struggling. It helps those allies stand up against injustices that may be happening in the schools. It creates an overall environment where everybody feels like they can be themselves,” said Wiens.
“It doesn’t pit one against the other. It doesn’t create a special standard set for LGBTTQ students. It creates a general environment where everyone can feel welcome safe and secure.”
SOGI 123 incorporates data and recommendations made in a national survey conducted by Winnipeg-based Dr. Catherine Taylor and Dr. Tracey Peter in 2012 that found most LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school.
They will be soon repeating the survey.
They found 64 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning students reported feeling unsafe at school. In addition, 58 per cent of straight students reported feeling upset by homophobic comments.
The Manitoba Teachers’ Society has previously endorsed the Every Teacher Project, which came from Taylor and Peter’s work, and has reached out to the Hanover School District to offer assistance on LGBTTQ training and discussion in classrooms.
The Manitoba Department of Education did not respond to CBC’s request for comment on how inclusivity is taught in schools in Manitoba and whether it would adopt the SOGI program.
Parent wants ‘to be the primary teacher of my kids’
In 2016, an LGBT couple filed a human rights complaint against both the Hanover School Division and the Department of Education over the issue of inclusive language and education in school curricula. A second complaint was filed last year.
Unger maintains that his campaign promise supports the parents he represents — 99 per cent of his constituents “are asking me to keep comprehensive sexuality education out of Hanover schools,” he said.
Dylan Barkman is one of them — he has three children in the Hanover School Division.
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“The primary thing that I want my kids to be trained in in school is some of the basic things, like math and science and so on,” Barkman said.
“And when it comes to sexuality I want them to know what the issues are in the world. I want them to treat people with respect. But I also want to be the primary teacher of my kids when it comes to what is right and what is wrong.”
Wiens encourages Unger to consider the students too.
“Listen to voices of people who are saying, ‘Look, I’m being bullied for these reasons, let’s start a conversation about that.’ Listening to those who are telling you, ‘I’m scared to go to school.’ Listening to kids similar to me, saying, ‘I’m scared to turn around the corner in case someone is there to shove me.’
“Listen to those people. And listen to what they’re saying. And then maybe you can think about the kinds of change you can make to help them and to better their education experience.”
He said he doesn’t recall threatening anyone’s innocence when he was a student.
“I just tried to go about my business and survive another school day,” he said. “If kids aren’t feeling safe at school you have an obligation to do something about that, and to fix that.”
Hanover School Division voters go to the polls as part of Manitoba’s general municipal election on Oct. 24.
An LGBT advocate is challenging a school trustee’s vow to keep sex talk out of schools
VIDEO 1:47 4 years ago A trustee in the Hanover School Division, running for re-election, vows to keep LGBT and gender identity education out of classrooms.
Duration 1:47A trustee in the Hanover School Division, running for re-election, vows to keep LGBT and gender identity education out of classrooms.