Monthly Archives: May 2019

Let it Go or Continue to Show?: How to Deal with Harmful Public Rhetoric

I was sent a letter from a group of concerned parents, teachers, educators, and other stakeholders.  It is timely in that It relates to some things that have been on my mind for a while lately.  Protests and counter-protests.  Information and misinformation.  Helpful or harmful public commentary.  Pro-SOGI / Anti-SOGI.

The entirety of the letter is shared below.  It is perhaps a fitting complement to an article I authored that appears in the Summer edition of Education Magazine, a Gender and Sexuality themed issue.  https://www.edcan.ca/articles/how-young-can-sogi-go/

The letter is in response to Anti-SOGI speakers, touring around the province making claims that are harmful to LGBTQ+ youth.   There are claims using loaded words like “brain-washing” and indoctrination when talking about how Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) are being addressed in classrooms.  If you’ve had the opportunity to read some of my previous blog posts about SOGI, you’ll recognize that I’ve attempted to address some of the misinformation that has been spread about what SOGI is, and what it looks like in schools.  I’m an educator, and I find it disturbing that someone who is not involved in SOGI professional development opportunities or in implementing curriculum, is passing themselves off as having an expertise as to what is going on in schools. I find it problematic that one person, with a unique set of experiences, seems to declare to speak on behalf of an entire community. It saddens me that families are being subjected to false information that creates fear, and mistrust in communities.  I’m disappointed that not all people are approaching the information being received with a critical mind, and applying logic to evaluate the messages.  I have been confronted with ridiculous claims about what SOGI is and how it unfolds in schools, including that our entire objective is to make all kids gender fluid.  Absolutely not the truth.  What we do, as educators is make safe, inclusive spaces, so that students who have different experiences of gender are able to learn in an environment where they are not harassed, ridiculed or shamed for who they are, or for who the members of their families are.  At its core, that’s what SOGI is.

I am further saddened by the burden that we place on members of our communities that are already marginalized.  Trans and non-binary youth are some of our most marginalized, and perhaps the least understood members of our communities.  I continue to have difficulty understanding why we can’t make space and accommodate them, and why we routinely put them in positions where they have to justify and explain their experiences.  This is an unfair and unjustified emotional toll that we demand of them and their families.  Thankfully, I’ve met some trans youth and been amazed at the clarity they have with regard to their identities.  I’m further impressed with their ability to navigate a world that can be hostile and unaccepting, and to do so with agency, grace, humility, and the ability to advocate for themselves.  I’ve met with families of gender-creative, gender non-conforming, gender variant, transgender, or non-binary youth (depending on which vocabulary you apply).  You might be surprised how informed, thoughtful, articulate, and genuinely concerned these parents are, and the most important thing they want to know is that their child is going to be safe at school.  Similarly to the parent who wants to know that their child with anaphylaxis isn’t going to be deliberately exposed to an allergen, and the parent whose child may have mobility issues wants to know that their child will be able to navigate the school and its facilities.  Can we stop making parents of vulnerable youth do extra work to create safe spaces for their kids when we already know what needs to be done for these spaces to exist?  Addressing the unique needs of specific children isn’t endangering other kids in the ways that some people would like you to believe they are.

There has been a narrative perpetuated that Pro-SOGI advocates are “oppressing Freedom of Expression” of these self-proclaimed speakers.  It saddens me that the dialogue, which is typically phrased as “Freedom of Speech,” consistently revolves around whether or not people are free to communicate messages they’d like to disseminate, but the conversation rarely focusses around responsibilities they ought to have in exercising said freedoms.  As an advocate and an ally, I’m not sure how best to respond to these scenarios.  Do we show up and protest and allow the speakers to frame a false narrative about our intentions?  Do we sit passively at home to avoid giving them any attention, allowing them to deliver whatever message they want without any challenge?  It’s hard to know what to do, but I do think that this letter is a really good start.

And you may notice that my perspective is offered freely, with no expectation of donation, and no link to a Go Fund Me (or other revenue generating platform) page.

Here is the letter from concerned community members:

 

MEDIA RELEASE
In response to anti-SOGI activist Jenn Smith’s presentation in Surrey tonight, called “The Erosion of Freedom: How transgender politics in school and society is undermining our freedom and harming women and children” (https://transanityca.wordpress.com).
The following letter was written in collaboration with parents, guardians, grandparents, & step-parents, of LGBTQ2+ kids, including teachers and educators.
We are the parents, step-parents, guardians, grand parents, teachers and educators of LGBTQ2+ kids. We juggle family life the same as everyone else. We help our kids with homework; chauffer them to their sports and activities; encourage them to chase their dreams; and wipe their tears when they’re hurt. We all want the best for our kids, and that’s what being a parent is all about.
What makes us different is that our children are under unrelenting public scrutiny, and their very existence continues to be questioned by anti-SOGI activist, Jenn Smith. Jenn Smith has taken it upon himself (Jenn uses male pronouns) to organize public speaking events, where he goes from one community to the next, sharing his presentation to the public. The content of his presentation is misinformation, debunked pseudo-science, conspiracy theories, and a few of his own personal life experiences. Those of us who have LGBTQ2+ children and families consider his presentation dangerous because it incites hate, targeted at our kids and our families.
Our position is not about Jenn’s “freedom of expression”.  It is about protecting the defenceless, vulnerable kids and youth being targeted and shamed. Jenn refuses to recognize that his presentations are hateful.
Please remember that this is about our kids, and their right to not be shamed and ridiculed for who they are. This is about our kids’ right to attend safe, inclusive schools where who they are is reflected within our education system. This is about our kids’ right to be confident and live happy, normal lives.
We don’t enjoy having to shield our kids from constant hateful rhetoric. We don’t enjoy having to publicly defend our kids, or debate their rights. We don’t enjoy our kids’ healthcare options being questioned or debated on social media. Nobody wants to constantly be on the defence because groups and individuals are relentlessly targeting our children. We would much rather spend our time doing regular things with our families and loved ones.
Statistically speaking, most of you reading this don’t or won’t have an LGBTQ2+ child.  That said, we welcome your allyship, and sincerely hope that you will stand up against the spread of any type of hate that targets minorities or marginalized groups of people.
We have a number of people willing to share stories that elaborate on LGBTQ+ experiences and identities. Here are their stories…
“Presentations that aim to challenge human rights are particularly damaging to LGBTQ2+ youth. As a high school teacher and GSA sponsor and ally, I can confirm that representation matters. SOGI has helped build a bridge between acceptance and celebration, and presentations that diminish these goals are harmful. Every second of every one of these hateful chats chips away at the safety our kids deserve. Hate should not be given a platform, and as adults, it is our duty to stand up for youth. We must continue building our bridge of love. Each new stone has immense power – building a foundation of support. In the distance, a rainbow of celebration lights the pathway for our kids. There may always be monsters underneath the bridge, but our light is too bright for them to surface. As fierce allies, we will always light the pathway of hope.”
 – K. F., teacher / educator
“I’ve known who I am since before I had the words to describe it. I have never been “confused”, even as a child. And yet I didn’t fully come out until recently, in my 30’s, because I didn’t want to face hate and discrimination. If SOGI123 had existed when I was in school, maybe I wouldn’t have been afraid to be myself because my peers would have been more understanding and accepting. Maybe I wouldn’t have self-harmed and considered suicide from a young age. Not being able to be your true self is a huge emotional weight for a child (or adult) to bear and since coming out that weight has been lifted. I only wish I could go back and lift it for my young self. SOGI123 doesn’t make kids LGBTQ+, it makes LGBTQ+ kids safer.”
 – Langley Resident, Anonymous
“I see the impact. I see the impact of those continuously fighting against the existence of the LGBTQ+ communities, against the science that confirms our individualities, against the safeguards and education that needs to happen for acceptance and self-worth to breed. As I work alongside foster parents, I see those youth who have been kicked out of their homes for not being who their parents wanted them to be, who have not found a safe place to exist within their own families, and whose whole lives have come crashing down due to the very nature of their beings. I see them in hospital beds after suicide attempts and I see their anguish as parents continue to deny them access to the assessments and guidance they desperately need through their journey. This must stop! The damage of those spreading misinformation and faulty beliefs is killing our young people. I hope for a day when acceptance and inclusivity reigns supreme!!
 – J. H., Foster Parent Support Counsellor
“I am writing this as the parent of a transgender youth. There are so many things in this big wide world that concern me but this specific topic burns my soul to the ground. Jenn Smith has a concerning amount of time on his hands to try and destroy the progress that the LGBTQ community is making, and specifically he is targeting transgender children and youth. Regardless of how Jenn identifies, he does not speak on behalf of parents, educators, medical professionals and least of all the youth and children he targets. This type of hate speech, misinformation and denial of factual evidence is causing harm to our children. It doesn’t get any more personal and not once have I questioned my “parental rights”. I advocate for my sons health and well being and this, “Erosion of freedom” tour that Jenn is doing WILL NOT support the well being of any transgender children/youth.”
 – Heather, parent from Langley
“We are the proud, loving parents of a transgender son. He began his social transition in grade 8. Fortunately for him, he attends an inclusive school that supports SOGI 123, and the teachers and staff have been nothing short of amazing! His friends were all immediately accepting of who he is, as was his entire family.
Our son is now in grade 12, preparing to graduate from high school. He has a steady girlfriend, and they’re both excited about university in the fall. Over the past 5 years, we’ve watched our son grow into a handsome, compassionate, intelligent, caring young man. We’re proud of him, for what he’s accomplished throughout his high school years. As parents, we all want our kids to do well at whatever they put their minds to, and to be sincerely happy. Despite all the odds against our son, he is one of the lucky ones.
Sadly, there is a person by the name of Jenn Smith, who trying to undo everything we have worked so hard to accomplish for our son. Jenn Smith has produced a presentation, entitled “The Erosion of Freedom: How transgender politics in school and society is undermining our freedom and harming women and children”, and he shares this publicly in communities around B.C. When we heard about this, we immediately looked into what was being shared. What we found out was shocking and disturbing. Much of his presentation is a deliberate attack on our son and his identity, which has put him at greater risk of emotional and physical abuse in our community. When someone purposefully sets out to spread harmful lies about trans kids with people in our community, and shares misinformation with our neighbours and parents of our son’s classmates, it is abusive, irresponsible, hateful, and cruel.
Make no mistake about it… this has nothing to do with an attack on “freedom of speech”, as Jenn is trying to portray. Jenn is not the victim, but rather the abuser. Jenn is nothing more than an adult bully, who’s chosen to target kids like ours, and families like ours. My sincere plea is that anyone who reads our story will chose to not attend any type of event that is designed to spread hate. Families like ours simply want to live normal lives, the same as everyone else. People like Jenn Smith make that impossible.”
 – Loving, proud parents of our transgender son – Anonymous from Fort Langley
“The transition between elementary and secondary school is never easy, but without a supportive environment and staff who adhere to SOGI best practices, high school is torture for the gender nonconforming. For a transgender or nonbinary youth, it can be fraught with intense bullying by both students and staff affected by the intolerant rhetoric of Jenn Smith and his group of uninformed hatemongers. My child went from a happy, conscientious, “A” student in Grade 7 to an extremely isolated, bullied, and suicidal shell of a human being in a matter of a few months because of narrow-minded prejudice. Imagine what it is like to see your child endure hatred from strangers, from teachers who openly mock LGBTQ+ students, and staff who show disdain from anything slightly outside of their heteronormative environment. Just try to picture how challenging it is to be confronted by those who would rather you didn’t exist, no matter what the cost to society. It is extremely painful to watch my child suffer from the result of anti-LGBTQ+ hatred. I sincerely wish Jenn Smith et al could see how their views differ so drastically from the fundamental Golden Rule of Christianity.”
 – Langley Parent, Anonymous
“I’d love to say that people like Jenn Smith have no impact on how I live my life, or more specifically how my grandson lives his life, but I’d be lying. People that hold the paradigm that Jenn Smith holds make life infinitely more dangerous for my grandson and ultimately exceptionally stressful for me, his grandmother. Our names will be changed obviously for safety reasons.
My grandson Kody came out to us as a family in 2011, as transgender. When he disclosed, all the round pegs dropped into the round holes and all the square pegs dropped into the square holes. We worried about his safety then because he was so young, just 14 and quite petite and feminine looking. His transition was remarkable and since then he has had two surgeries and has been on testosterone, has a beard and his voice is quite deep, definitely masculine sounding.
However, he is still short and not very muscled as some other young men are. His anxiety disorder often bullies him into not venturing far from home, in fact he seldom ever goes out in public without a family member accompanying him, for obvious reasons of safety. There are certain areas in our city that he avoids like the plague, it is just too dangerous. Among his peer group, of whom the greater majority have accepted him as just one of the guys, there is one in the group however that has made life dangerous for my grandson and of course this friend happens to be Christian, the same sort of Christian that Jenn spends a lot of time having ‘info-sessions’ at their churches.
When he wants to hang with his friends, I drive him to the destination. He seldom ever takes the bus, it just isn’t safe for him to do so, at least not without a group of friends along for the ride. Subsequently I drive him everywhere and I pick him up as well. I don’t drink ever because I never know when I may need to rush to get him from a potentially dangerous situation. In order to keep him safe from people like Jenn Smith and some ‘red-neck’ bullies that could potentially harm him, I remain sober and vigilant, make sure to always have gas in the tank and am prepared to be called at any moment to rush off to collect him. Consequently, his friends’ group is small and unfortunately not all of them live nearby, so I tend to spend a bit of time travelling. I don’t mind though, at least he gets to hang out with his friends now and again. Sometimes they come to visit him at our home, which I prefer as it allows me some stress relief in not having to worry if he’s going to be accosted by some bully while out with friends.
We shouldn’t have to live this way, but because of people that hold a narrow paradigm on how young men like my grandson ‘should’ live their lives or simply not exist, life will be what it is, immensely stressful. In essence, we are bullied continually without even a word being uttered as the paradigm is set by those like Jenn Smith that fuel the fires of hatred and intolerance against anyone that isn’t cis gendered or straight, the only ‘normal’ they can accept.”
 – Phoebe Kenny, Grandmother to Kody Kenny.
“I am a parent of a high schooler who also happens to be transgender, I am former Chair of the PAC, and a working professional. We are fortunate to be in VSB which supports SOGI.  Because of SOGI our school has some of the lowest incidents of bullying, We also have a large and diverse school population from all religions, but predominantly Christian. SOGI reflects the modern world we live in of various versions of family. Jenn Smith does not represent the Transgender community. Kids are not born, homophobic or racist, they are ‘taught’ these views by adults and SOGI is about respecting each others differences and promoting kindness so kids like mine and in fact ALL kids can feel safe at school. My son is just a boy growing up with the same challenges and interests as other kids, worrying about grades, getting homework done, spending time with friends, doing his part time job.  Language that is included in SOGI allows him to just be who he is without fear.  Our kids are the future, education is key to that and it’s time we moved forward in welcoming all variations of families and people. The damage Jenn Smith is doing by fighting SOGI in schools is putting ALL kids at risk, not just LGBTQ communities.  Lets not go back to the 1950’s.”
 – E.G. from Vancouver
“I am a practicing Catholic with children that grew up in the Catholic school system ….. I believe that, although my children had an outstanding education with teachers that truly cared for them and their well being, if my trans child had been able to be herself she could have flourished.  She currently is struggling unnecessarily, I have a parish priest that is inclusive of her, her family and friends have shown nothing but love and support, but, I believe, her needing to hide herself in such formative years has led her to believe that a part of her is “wrong”.  Years of these damaging stories going through her head have created a mind-set of fear and unworthiness, no matter how much love and support she is surrounded with now.    People like Jenn Smith feed off of drama, using false narratives to push their agendas of hatred and fear – and our kids are the collateral damage. I would rather be home, being a mom, doing my thing and allowing others to do theirs, but, if I have to protect my children from hatred and danger, then I’ll keep writing, and showing up.  It’s my job – I take it very seriously!
 – R.F., Vancouver
 
“The moment I discovered I was going to deliver a baby girl my heart just melted. Ever since I was a young girl I had always longed for a daughter of my own. A girl after my own heart, someone to share secrets with, someone to go shopping with, discuss boys… someone who would understand the inner beings of being a female and share that special connection with me. The tears of joy I cried when the doctor announced “It’s a girl!” after an arduous labour washed over me with pride and satisfaction. My dream was now complete.
Years later I would come to learn that my baby girl, the one I dressed in pink and frills was not a female although “she” had been born with the physical traits of the XX gender. My daughter would painfully announce to me that she was actually a “he” and that he despised the body he had been born into. Right there and then my dreams of having a daughter were shattered. So, to quell my sadness, I told myself that this was just a phase and perhaps my “daughter” would come back. I longed for her to come back! However, she was never coming back. In fact, she had never actually existed. It took a lot of soul searching to wrap my head around this whole idea but eventually I came out on the other end of this with one thing in mind… All I really knew about gender was based on genitalia…not a person’s mind nor their sense of identity. The thought that people could be that complex? Why, yes! Yes, as human beings we are ever complex and dynamic individuals with different likes and dislikes. We are different ethnicities, different religious/spiritual belief systems, different abilities….DIFFERENT! No two people are the same. And honestly, why couldn’t it be possible that someone could be born into the wrong body? I think it’s very possible! I have also learned that I do not own the knowledge of what is considered “normal”. As far as I am concerned there is no quote on quote “normal”. Normal is whatever you make your mind up to be.
It is distressing for someone like Jenn Smith to present information to groups of naïve individuals who may not have had much education or awareness brought to them about the fact that MANY transgender individuals DO live amongst us. Being transgender and coming out as trans at a young age should be made to be OK! Unfortunately, a lot of people who are trans live in silence because of people like Jenn Smith who keep them hiding in their “closet”.  Informing people that they are not ok, that they are unstable and that they have no place in this world. I question why Jenn does this, especially as Jenn is someone who identifies as transgender themselves. Would they not know any better? Otherwise I would have to question THEIR transgender expression.
It took me some time to understand that I never had a daughter but to also understand where it was that my son was coming from. Even though my “daughter” was “gone” I still have a child who needs me to be there for him and to support him with all that I have. Protect him from the “monsters” of society who think he is a disposable human being. He is not. He is my son and I am PROUD of him! Please stop and consider the ramifications of telling these youth that they are not ok and that they are disturbed individuals. No one should have hear about another trans child committing suicide or being bullied in their schools. No more children should have to suffer because an adult could not find it within themselves to expand their understanding and embrace these children who need our love and support.”
 – Proud Mother of her transgender son

 

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