As the general election looms, and we collectively approach the three week marker, boards, trustees and the public have much to consider. SOGI 1 2 3, a learning resource created by ARC Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and educators, and developed with the goal of supporting all students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity and providing educators with the capacity to build inclusive school environments, has become a contentious talking point.

Despite the conflicting messaging that has been broadcast along various campaign trails, BCSTA remains committed to the belief “that schools need to be safe and welcoming places for ALL students, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion or background. It is important that we all stand up and defend our students and our staff against any incidents of prejudice, bullying or discrimination,” as stated by BCSTA President Gordon Swan in a news release last October.

This was preceded by a Message of Support for SOGI Policies and Initiatives, posted in issue 16 of the Education Leader. The statement reminded readers that “The mission of the BCSTA is to support and advocate for improving student achievement for all students in BC. Embedded in that is the responsibility of upholding of each and every student’s and staff member’s right to a safe and inclusive environment, where they can express themselves without fear of discrimination or harassment.”

BCSTA’s announcement of its intent to be a part of the creation of safe, inclusive environments for BC’s students was reiterated three issues later through an article titled Successes and Challenges in SOGI Education. The article featured input from key stakeholders, including Matt Carruthers, BC SOGI Education Lead, who stated “The support of trustees is particularly inspiring given the political courage required within some districts. Looking ahead, SOGI 1 2 3 will continue to support inclusive education for students, staff and parents across B.C.”

Most recently, in June, President Swan followed up these words in an advocacy letter to Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety & Solicitor General, in response to a resolution passed at the April annual general meeting. The motion called on BCSTA to contact various ministries and encourage them to “work together to develop a gender-based violence prevention strategy for youth.” The letter further elaborated on the sentiment behind the motion, stating that “We should all be proud of the fact that we openly supported these students’ inclusion within the public school system and their right to be treated with respect and dignity. Considerable work, however, remains to be done to ensure the safety of all youth regardless of their gender identification both within the school system and in our communities.”

SOGI 1 2 3 is likely to remain a lightning rod for conversation throughout the duration of the election, and the days that follow. Through the democratic process we will see leaders elected in short order that will provide guidance and local understanding of their communities to boards of education. BCSTA remains committed to working with all locally elected boards of education in ensuring the youth of our province are provided with safe, inclusive places to learn, grow, and challenge both themselves, their peers, and their caretakers.

We invite all trustees to discuss the important issue of student safety in our schools and to ensure parents are provided with factual background information. Our students and their communities will be best served by respectful and rational debate of this topic.