May 2024 Education Report

By Patricia Gall, Education Convenor

The Controversy around SOGI

For several months a group of people stood on an overpass in North Vancouver with signs and banners. Waving a huge Canadian flag, they shouted as the cars passed on the highway beneath them. I observed this small and vigorous demonstration on my way home from teaching in the late afternoon and wondered what cause they represented – saving old-growth forests? protecting the ocean? protesting the TransMountain pipeline? Rush hour traffic demands that drivers stay focussed, so I could not linger and read the print on their signs. Only after reading the North Shore News did I learn of their mission. These people were protesting the “SOGI curriculum” in schools.

Before looking at the debate, it seems fitting that we understand what SOGI is and what it is not.

What is SOGI?

SOGI is the acronym for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. The first, Sexual Orientation, is the enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people. Gender Identity is one’s internal concept of self as male, female, or a blend of both or neither. Gender Identity can be the same or different from one’s gender at birth.

SOGI 123 is a resource endorsed by the BC Provincial Education Ministry and introduced in September 2016 by the BC Liberals. It is not a curriculum but a policy; thus, it is not mandated.

The following is copied from the BC Ministry of Education website.


The B.C. Education Ministry offers SOGI policy because it allows schools to be fully inclusive and welcoming to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). It’s an inclusive term that applies to everyone, whether they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit, heterosexual or cisgender (identifying with the same gender that one was assigned at birth).

It’s important for schools to be inclusive and safe spaces for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Being SOGI-inclusive means:

  • Speaking about SOGI in a way that makes every student feel like they belong
  • Not limiting a person’s potential based on their biological sex and how they understand or express their gender
  • Welcoming everyone without discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity

BC schools and school districts have found the following methods are helping reduce discrimination and risky behaviours among all students: 

Including SOGI in school codes of conduct and anti-bullying policies

This improves the school climate for LGBTQ and heterosexual students by reducing discrimination and harassment.

Teaching about valuing diversity and respecting differences

There is no “SOGI curriculum.” However, throughout K-12 curriculum and school activities, students and teachers explore the topic of human rights and:

  • What it means to value diversity and respect differences
  • How to respond to discrimination

Teachers may include discussions around the BC Human Rights Code, sexual orientation and gender identity.

SOGI 1 2 3 is a resource that supports educators in addressing these topics in the provincial curriculum. It helps schools create safe, caring, and inclusive learning environments for all students regardless of their race, culture, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. Educators are not required to use this resource. (my emphasis)

SOGI 123 was created by ARC Foundation in collaboration with the BC Ministry of Education, the BCTF, school districts across BC, UBC Faculty of Education, education partners, and various local, national, and international 2SLGBTQ+ community organization.

Thus, SOGI is a resource for school districts and educators that provides policies, procedures, and teaching materials. The inclusive education curriculum is about students discussing diversity in society and the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect, including individuals from the LGBTQ community. Individual teachers, however, review and determine the learning resources that are appropriate for teaching their students. This may or may not include using the SOGI 1 2 3 learning resources.

A variety of age and grade-appropriate topics may be addressed in a teacher’s actual lessons. The SOGI 1 2 3 materials are an optional resource that educators may utilize in addressing such topics. They are intended to align with the existing provincial curriculum but can also be customized by educators to meet the needs of their students.

These resources provide the following: ways to answer questions children have about gender expression and sexual orientation, opportunities to change vocabulary to be inclusive and respectful, and lessons discussing gender stereotypes, bullying and the harm people face when they challenge gender expectations.

SOGI is not sexual health education. Nor is it mandatory in any Canadian province or territory.

Sexual health education has been part of the provincial curriculum for decades, and parents have been informed, and continue to be, about what and when sexual health education will be provided to their children. Parents can choose to remove their child from class when sexual health is being provided.

Why are some people protesting SOGI?

Critics of SOGI say SOGI policies are a form of indoctrination. Anti-SOGI protesters believe exposure and discussion of various sexual identities and gender expressions encourages children to change genders and to have gender-affirming surgery. If diversity is presented as “normal,” then young people will be encouraged to adopt diverse genders and sexualities. For other anti-SOGI proponents, SOGI goes against religious values.

The protesters’ website demands the end of the following: the SO and GI (SOGI) curriculum, the use of the pronouns they/them, any gender ideology and lastly, mixed bathrooms.

What does SOGI look like in the schools?

In many of the elementary school libraries in North Vancouver, there is a section identified as Teacher Resources. The books on those shelves offer enrichment in any number of teaching areas. Amongst them are “Picture Books” deemed suitable for teachers to use in teaching. These books touch on themes and messages that teach empathy for others, for the environment, nature, and animals.

SOGI for younger children might be something as simple as teaching about different types of families. For example, a Kindergarten / Grade 1 lesson on families may teach students that families exist in many forms. The modern family is not just the traditional nuclear model of a mother and a father. Families are foster families, families have two fathers, families have a single parent. At the primary level, a teacher might choose to read a book aloud such as One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dad.

For students in Grades 5 – 7, a lesson might cover gender stereotypes and bullying, or teaching how traditional gender expectations limit a person’s potential and self-expression. It also explores the harm, stigma, and bullying that people who challenge gender expectations can face. For example, it may discourage students from saying “That’s so gay,” as the statement holds a negative connotation.

For older students, SOGI 123 offers a lesson in social or Indigenous studies, focusing on Indigenous perspectives on gender.

“There is no influence on students to do anything other than learn to be themselves and to be comfortable with themselves and with everyone in their school.”

Schools today

There is such a variety of expression in youth today – hair colour, body tattoos and piercings, clothing….Growing up is discovering who we are, and the youth of today are exploring and searching actively. Whether or not we are ready for diversity, it is happening!

From the perspective of my generation, gender identity can seem confusing and complicated. But for many of the students in school, it is not an issue. They accept each other and, in many cases, advocate for each other. Whether this is because of the SOGI policies or because of society today, who knows? However, SOGI notwithstanding, a number of students still leave the regular public schools and complete their education in an alternate setting. They may not “fit” the regular school for several reasons.

In previous eras, being gay and/or not fitting one’s assigned gender created enormous angst for the individual and discomfort for those around that person. Academic achievement and mental health derailed because of emotional isolation, often due to censure from within oneself, from family and/or from friends. Being different can be traumatic for many. When society becomes more open and tolerant of individual expression, perhaps we all become freer.

If you are interested in learning more:

An academic, Judith Butler, has written two books: Gender Trouble (1990) and Who’s Afraid of Gender? (2024 not yet released). In the interview about their (yes, the correct pronoun) new book, they commented on the fear many people have around gender identity.

There are podcasts that include studies and personal stories about Gender Identity.

Search on your browser for Gender Identity podcasts. There are many available.

If you are interested in books for younger children on developing empathy and appreciation for others, check your local public library. Children and Young Adult books have come a long way since our youth.