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Anti-SOGI 123 group’s Cariboo book ban call fails to gain traction

A list of 68 books was provided to the District of 100 Mile House council earlier this month
Ryanna Thurman, assistant library director, pulls a copy of “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe from the shelves at Soldotna Public Library in Soldotna, Alaska, on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Neither the Cariboo Regional District nor School District 27 (Cariboo-Chilcotin) plan to remove any books from their libraries, despite a request recently to ban several SOGI 123 books.

On Jan. 9 a delegation to the district of 100 Mile House’s regular council meeting asked for council’s support in the banning of 68 books, available at public and school libraries, they deemed as SOGI 123 resources.

SOGI 123 is a resource that supports educators in addressing sexual orientations and gender identities topics in the provincial curriculum. SOGI stands for Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities, while the 123 is meant to reflect creating an inclusive education environment being ‘as easy as 1-2-3,’ notes B.C.’s education ministry.

The delegation’s spokesman Marty Blazina said that in his view all the books were inappropriate and should be removed from the shelves. Around 60 people attended the meeting, both supporters and opponents of the delegation.

“There are 68 SOGI titles in the 100 Mile area that are to one degree or another, sexually explicit and or pornographic. Today, I’m going to look briefly at five of these titles,” Blazina said during his presentation.

The five books he referenced were Identical, by Ellen Hopkins with a target audience of 14+; It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robbie H. Harris target audience of 10+; Gender Queer, an autobiography by Maia Kobabe with a target audience of 16+; Fun Home by Alison Bechdel target audience 15+ and Sex is A Funny Word, a comic book by sex educator Cory Silverberg and illustrated by Fiona Smyth for ages 8-10.

Blazina drew attention to certain passages in the books and what he described as the graphic nature of the illustrations. At the end of the presentation, Blazina said he hoped it had given those present cause for alarm and that SOGI 123 was not welcome in 100 Mile.

After the presentation, Mayor Maureen Pinkney thanked Blazina and the rest of the delegation for attending and being respectful.

“We truly appreciate each and every one of you for coming out today and showing your support or not, as there could be both sides here,” she said. “This is how we do learn about things and try to help and deal with things is by people coming and talking to us and making us aware.”

The mayor promised to reach out to CRD board chair Margo Wagner on the subject.

Wagner said Pinkney passed along the concerns of this group of South Cariboo residents after the meeting. However, at this time neither she nor the CRD plan to remove or ban any of the books on the list from the CRD Library in 100 Mile House.

“As elected officials we represent all people within our area and obviously not all of them are going to agree with one another,” Wagner said. “We give time to both sides. In this particular issue, the CRD feels that we have a responsibility to ensure that the books are in an age-appropriate area. As far as pulling books, the CRD is not planning on doing this.”

Wagner said those sharing Blazina’s concerns can initiate a process with the CRD to have them removed or reallocated to different parts of the library. All they need to do is pick up the necessary forms available at all library branches.

“If we start moving books we have people on the other side who are concerned about it. We’re trying to be fair on both sides, understanding that it is a very hot topic. It’s a hot topic at schools, on the streets and our main thing is that we represent all people within the Cariboo Regional District no matter their ethnicity, their beliefs, whatever,” Wagner said.

“We will listen to anybody but we can’t always please everybody.”

Meanwhile, Chris van der Mark, SD27’s superintendent of schools, said he hasn’t received any communication from the district regarding the delegation. However, he said there still seems to be some misunderstanding amongst the community about what SOGI 123 is.

“Back in 2016 the Human Rights Code changed to include some very basic rights and understanding around gender identity and sexual orientation. Those things are now in the code and respected as they should be in our society and certainly in our K-12 system,” van der Mark said. “Things are taught at an age-appropriate level as they have been going back for quite some time.”

As society’s understanding of topics and issues change, how they’re taught changes as well, van der Mark remarked. At the end of the day, he said SOGI 123 boils down to making sure that people feel safe under the school district’s care and that no students are bullied or discriminated against because of who they are.

While Blazina agreed that bullying should not happen and he would never bully anyone, he said he believes SOGI 123 is not the way to counteract bullying. He said that he made the presentation on behalf of Action4Canada, a grassroots political movement that gained prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

van der Mark encourages parents with concerns about SOGI 123 and what resources their children may or may not have access to reach out to their local teachers and principals directly. He acknowledged it is possible some books may be in circulation that didn’t get vetted properly, but said there is a process to deal with them.

“If you’re in doubt and have a specific concern (talk to us). I don’t have complaints coming in about particular books,” van der Mark said. “I understand it’s a sensitive topic for a variety of folks but I do think it comes down to a basic understanding of people and each other and being kind to one another. Let’s have more of that.”

—With files from Fiona Grisswell.

READ ALSO: SOGI 123 enters into 7th year in B.C. classrooms

READ ALSO: PHOTOS: Anti-SOGI protests sharing misinformation, inciting hate: B.C. educators

Patrick Davies

About the Author: Patrick Davies

An avid lover of theatre, media, and the arts in all its forms, I've enjoyed building my professional reputation in 100 Mile House.
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