OPINION: SOGI education opponents offer no alternative to help bullied LGBT youth

Anti-SOGI activists, trustee have no answer to high suicide rates among LGBT teens

Six months before activists in the Fraser Valley made the province’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) education materials a major talking point, I sat down for an interview with Dan Cameron, the Christian Heritage Party’s candidate for the Abbotsford-Mission riding.

It did not go well.

I had already engaged in cordial interviews with his CHP colleagues, but Cameron came with one goal: to read a statement railing against the inclusion of SOGI materials in the B.C. curriculum.

After a contentious back and forth, I let Cameron read his statement, then tried to press him on a key underlying fact that has gone largely ignored by those opposing education about sexual orientation and gender issues. That question: How does our society address the fact that LGBTQ youth are much more likely to try to kill themselves than are straight students and teens?

It took a while to get Cameron to engage with the question, but when we got there, he finally came up with an answer: Love them.

As super-broad, non-specific solutions to a deadly serious issue go, “love” sounds good. The problem is, we are talking about teenagers, a demographic not particularly inclined towards the platonic, non-puppy-eyes love of their peers.

Try telling a group of 16-year-old guys to “love” their classmates, especially those who are different from them. I’ve been impressed by how the attitudes of young people have changed in the 15 years since I graduated from high school, but these are still young people we’re talking about.

The SOGI materials at the centre of the controversy actually aim lower than Cameron’s proposed solution. The idea is to create an atmosphere of acceptance for LGBT youth, thereby reducing rates of bullying and suicide attempts.

You don’t need those 16-year-olds to love their transgender classmates. You just need them to accept them enough to not target them for ridicule, ostracism and verbal and physical abuse.

Which is where we get to the recent protests over the SOGI education. Chilliwack trustee Barry Neufeld says the education will spur “gender confusion,” and that districts should be “gently encouraged to be comfortable with their bodies.”

Neufeld’s comments, though, have completely ignored the purpose – and intended audience – of SOGI education. The problem is not girls and boys who may (or may not be) confused or questioning their bodies, but rather the straight children, teens and adults who have for decades bullied them to suicide. Neufeld is proposing a status quo that has cost thousands of LGBTQ youth their lives. He and his supporters have offered nothing to fix the startling suicide and homelessness numbers that undergird the recent move to more inclusive education.

Cameron’s idea that “love” will save us is rooted in the Bible instruction to “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” It’s a noble sentiment, but one that has failed LGBTQ youth for centuries.

Everyone can use more love, but it does not seem to be what the LGBTQ community is asking for or in need of. Hugs are great, but what bullied youth need is to stop being bullied.

Education aims to address that. The solutions pitched by SOGI opponents do not.

tolsen@abbynews.com