A flood of emails and calls have come into Oak Bay out of concern that the district shouldn’t be hosting an upcoming anti-SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) event at Windsor Pavilion.
The event, which advertises itself as The Erosion of Freedom, is booked for Thursday night, 6:45 p.m. It’s part of a four-city tour on Vancouver Island that started in Campbell River on Sunday, is in Duncan Monday night, Nanaimo on Wednesday and Oak Bay on Thursday. Jenn Smith, who previously presented at a event organized by Kari Simpson of the Lower Mainland-based website Culture Guard, an anti-SOGI website, is the speaker. SOGI helps educators make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch asked those residents who are concerned with the event not to call the front line staff.
“We’ve had a lot of angry emails to booking staff, and that’s not their job [to deal with], they [only] take the bookings,” Murdoch said. “We’ve got a large number of emails, mostly concerned with the talk, but also a number saying ‘It’s free speech, you’ve got to let it happen.’”
The issue concerns Oak Bay council enough that they added it to their in-camera agenda for Monday night at which time they’ll seek legal opinions and possibly decide on whether they will cancel the booking. An announcement could come Tuesday morning after Oak Bay News deadline.
“The only justification for cancelling is if it violates hate laws,” Murdoch said.
“It’s also an eye-opener for council,” Murdoch said, adding they need to update their policies. “There is a policy that bookings should reflect community values but it’s hard for a front line working to interpret that. Often, they don’t know what the booking is.”
With “a lack of clarity right now” council will consider updating the policies around who can book venues to assist staff who are making the bookings, Murdoch said.
Murdoch is also organizing one of two gatherings to run simultaneously as the Thursday night event. Murdoch’s event is called a Mayor’s Gathering For Inclusion and Hope on Thursday at 6 p.m. with the location likely to be at Willow’s Park. The other rally is a protest by Greater Victoria School District 61 trustee Ryan Painter called Pro SOGI 123. It was originally scheduled to happen outside the Windsor Pavilion during the Erosion of Freedom event but Painter is now working with Oak Bay to book to Queen’s Park (not yet confirmed) for 6 p.m. Thursday.
Painter has had a huge response to the rally which will feature members from the LGBTQ community sharing their lived experiences and stories, he said.
“We want the school district to be a place where students know they are loved,” Painter said. “It’s hard because there’s so much hatred out there. This is about elevating love, acceptance, and hope, and allowing LGBTQ and gender non-binary to speak their truth.
Speakers will range from recent high school grads to adults, who are not gender assigned, talking about their struggles with the gender binary that society prescribes, Painter added.
Painter will also read out loud the messages of other members who can’t make it or wish to stay anonymous. Those can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erosion of Freedom speaker Smith told the Oak Bay News her two hour presentation does not promote hate speech. She attended a SOGI protest at the legislature and this is her first time presenting her own tour.
Smith says it SOGI tramples parental rights.
“Christians shouldn’t have ideas they don’t agree with shoved down the throats of their children,” she said. “The content [of the presentation] is not hate speech and it’s not something I have to defend.”
But LGTBQ members don’t believe it, Painter says.