Rainbows began appearing outside Salmon Arm’s city hall early Wednesday morning.
Around 8 a.m. on Sept. 20, people began gathering in front of city hall, most with rainbow-themed accoutrements as well as signs with comments espousing human rights and inclusivity fostered through the SOGI (sexual orientations and gender identities) 123 approach adopted by B.C. school districts, including SD83, to “help ensure our schools are inclusive and safe spaces.”
The small but growing gathering was there in response to another group of people expected to arrive soon after for a local “One Million March for Children” rally, one of the numerous demonstrations occurring across the country too, in the words of organizers, advocate “for the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) ‘curriculum’, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.”
For Monica Gail Kriese, SOGI is about acceptance of differences, and letting people be who they are. A sign she brought with her read “SOGI 123 means safer schools.”
“It doesn’t mean you have to be who they are, or that you even have to always understand, but it’s just general acceptance of ethnicities, gender, sexuality, whatever,” said Kriese, stressing SOGI 123 is not part of the curriculum in B.C. schools.
“I think that people don’t understand what SOGI really is – It’s not a curriculum, it’s an enhancement to education,” said Kriese. “And there is an option to opt-out, so it’s not like people are being forced, or their children are being forced. But… it saves lives. The program does. That’s what’s important.”
In advance of the March, the Vernon Teachers’ Association (VTA), along with School District 22 and CUPE 5523 issued a joint statement: “Promoting Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI)-inclusive resources should not be a subject of controversy.
“Rather, it is a matter of ensuring that all students and their families find themselves represented in educational materials. It is also about safeguarding students and staff from discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, in accordance with the BC Human Rights Code—our province’s law.”
School District 83 families in Salmon Arm received emails from their schools explaining while protesters weren’t expected to visit Wednesday, doors would be locked shortly after classes were in session and would remain locked throughout the day.
“I’m here because I’m a parent of a trans child and I find that this whole attitude they have – they basically want to erase the whole idea of LGBTQ from the whole conversation,” commented Richard Sevigny at city hall. “They see the whole idea as a threat to them. I’m a parent of a trans child and I know what they went through in school, and I know what it’s like when you can’t tell anybody how you feel. They do things like self harm. When there’s no resources for them to go to they feel alone. And what these people want would only make it worse.”
Later in the morning, a large group of march participants gathered along the eastbound lane of Highway 1 in Salmon Arm, Across the highway from them stood a much smaller group of people displaying a large rainbow flag. The number of march attendees also expanded at city hall, with people carrying signs advocating for protecting youth from “harmful content,” and stating that SOGI is “destroying our children” and is a “doctrine of the new world order.” Another sign referenced lockdowns.
In advance of the march, Donovon Koch, executive director of Essie’s Place, a non-profit that works to address and prevent problems faced by members of the LGBTIQ2SA+ community and their families in the Shuswap, issued a statement. In it, Koch asserts the march is not to “serve the rights or protection of children.”
“Rather, it perpetuates false and offensive narratives that allege the sexualization or harm of children through inclusive education,” reads the statement. “These claims are not only baseless but also deeply harmful, demeaning, and unacceptable.
“Furthermore, such campaigns undermine the rights and protection of children, hinder gender justice, and threaten human rights. They create environments where LGBTQ2SIA+ children and young people are more likely to face bullying and less likely to report genuine safeguarding concerns. These campaigns also contribute to educational environments that are less safe for ALL children and young people.”
For those choosing to “counter-protest,” Koch and Essie’s Place urged prioritizing safety and well-being, and to avoid engaging in conversations or situations that “could expose you further to misrepresentation or abuse.”
“In unity and resilience, we stand against these campaigns that threaten the LGBTQ2SIA+ community and the principles of inclusive education,” said Koch and Essie’s Place. “We call for a society that fosters acceptance, respect, and safety for all, especially those who are most vulnerable.”