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Chilliwack students shoot video to counter ‘homophobia, bigotry’ of school board election

‘We’ve joined together to make a change for the better in our community,’ says Students’ Voice member
Members of Students’ Voice (L to R): Anisha Huq, Isabella Oberst, John Rene, Aaron Hadley, Jaden Welch and Gabe Rowaan. (Students’ Voice)

A group of Chilliwack students are flooding social media with a positive message of inclusion to counter what they describe as “homophobia and bigotry” in the school board election campaign.

“As students with a diverse spectrum of gender identities and sexualities, we are calling out some statements made by the far-right candidates in the upcoming school board election,” said Isabella Oberst, who helped create a YouTube video titled ‘We need change.’

Oberst is a 16-year-old in Grade 11 in Chilliwack, who identifies as a gender fluid person, and she led the effort to create the video by the group Students’ Voice to correct misconceptions.

The video the students wrote, filmed, and edited themselves takes aim at the inaccuracies being repeated during the campaign and previously about students and the SOGI 123 (sexual orientation gender identity) program.

“I chose to speak out because I have witnessed first-hand the homophobia and bigotry in our school systems,” Oberst said. “These candidates do not support us and do not speak for us. We have joined together in an effort to make a change for the better in our community.”

Several school board candidates, including some incumbents during the campaign, have made negative comments about SOGI 123, against gender diverse washrooms, or in favour of book-banning to censor LGBTQ content.

It was incumbent Barry Neufeld in 2017 who launched the first salvo against SOGI 123, ignoring its calls for respect and inclusion, labelling it a “weapon of propaganda” and that allowing students to talk about gender was “child abuse.” Neufeld, who claimed to support “traditional family values” made the post on his Facebook page that: “the BC Ministry of Education has embraced the LGBTQ lobby and is forcing this biologically absurd theory on children in our schools.”

The post was later taken down but led to widespread condemnation, as well as calls for Neufeld’s resignation and censure.

John Rene said he’s heard students referred to as “political pawns” and “brainwashed” and that they were forced into situations “they didn’t want to be in” as a result of SOGI.

“None of these statements are true,” Gabe Rowaan underlines in the video. “We recognize that everybody has their opinions but infringing on our most basic human rights is something we won’t stand for. These candidates do not speak for us.”

SOGI 123 is a curriculum resource designed for students to understand themselves better, “not an item of the gay agenda,” clarified Anisha Huq.

She also offered clap back at the inaccurate assertion that students are being shown “pornography and explicit content” during sex ed, adding simply: “That is not true.”

What is sometimes forgotten is that SOGI is about respect.

The sole purpose of SOGI 123 is to provide “a safe environment for students to be themselves,” Jaden Welch continued, adding the program focuses on the fact that “everybody deserves respect” regardless of how they identify.

The video was posted on the Students’ Voice Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

RELATED: Ed Minister reinforces support for SOGI

RELATED: EDITORIAL: Compassion at heart of SOGI

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Isabella Oberst being filmed for Youtube video, ‘We need change’ by Students’ Voice. (Students’ Voice)

Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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