‘It shook her to the core’: Kelowna mom says child harassed at track meet

A Kelowna mom is urging others to step up and speak out after two people attending a school track and field meet last week demanded she somehow prove her daughter's gender. Kier Junos has the story.

Mounties have launched an investigation and a Kelowna mom is urging others to step up and speak out after a man attending a track and field day last week demanded she somehow prove her daughter’s gender.

According to one of the girl’s moms, Heidi Starr, the nine-year-old — who has a pixie cut — was taking part in the shotput portion of the event when a grandparent of one of the other children walked up to officials and questioned the girl’s gender.

“And he said, ‘This is supposed to be a girls’ event, why are boys throwing?’ And he points at my daughter and he points at another girl in line with short hair,” Starr recalled.

The mother tells CityNews she stepped in and confronted the man, at which point she says he called her daughter and another child trans.

“After the gentleman said if they’re not boys then they’re definitely trans, his wife then started shouting … that myself and parents who support trans kids are ‘genital mutilators’ — specifically said ‘genital mutilators’ — and that we were groomers,” Starr explained.

The situation didn’t end with name-calling. Despite saying her daughter was born female, Starr says at this point, the man “demanded to see a certificate” proving that fact.

“My daughter was so shaken up. She has gay parents, she’s had trans coaches, she’s got a trans cousin — she’s well aware of the gender spectrum and orientation, but we have never, ever exposed her to the hate and the vitriol. It’s the first time she’s ever seen anything like that. It shook her to the core, she was visibly shaking, she was sobbing, she cried, she was in and out of sobbing tears all night,” Starr said.

“She says, ‘I don’t understand why I have to prove I’m a girl.’ It was awful.”

Starr says other parents also stepped in, telling the couple to stop. Eventually, organizers and spectators asked the man to leave, but Starr says he refused.

“So they told him if another word came out of his mouth they would disqualify his granddaughter from competing in anything,” she recalled.

“My daughter is nine years old. What on earth? It was a grade four shotput track event. There’s no reason. What’s the scam there for a grade four shotput event?”

Okanagan school district looks to ban man

In a statement to CityNews, Central Okanagan Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Kaardal confirms the district is taking steps to ban the man who levelled the accusations from all school-related events.

Kaardal says staff at the event “responded and intervened at the time,” and even moved the event the child was competing in across the field, away from the man.

“The person(s) who accosted the student and family was not from one of our Central Okanagan Public Schools. In response, the District worked with other local schools to confirm the identity of the person(s) and take steps to formally ban them from any District property or events,” the statement reads.

“The safety of our students and staff is our top priority, which includes protecting human rights and ensuring safe, inclusive places to learn and work. Central Okanagan Public Schools work to create caring learning communities. We expect that adults who are invited to celebrate student success govern their behaviour and conduct themselves with the civility and respect we expect from students.”

The incident comes as Canada marks Pride Month across the country, and Starr says it has “rocked” her family.

“I’m so tired of it. I thought we had moved beyond this, I thought we were going somewhere, and somehow, in the last couple of years, this rhetoric and vitriol that is coming out of … corners of our society, people are feeling so emboldened with this really gross hate,” she said.

“This man would never have done that if he didn’t feel like he was 100 per cent speaking from a place where he was in the right.”

‘This kind of hate is not acceptable or welcome in British Columbia’: Eby

The situation has prompted an outpouring of support for the girl and her family and has renewed calls from officials for people to show allyship and call out transphobia.

“I’m really hoping that, if nothing else comes from this, people start to see that when so and so on their social media is posting gross or transphobic or queerphobic or just inappropriately dehumanizing things, that they are able to step up,” Starr said.

Premier David Eby weighed in on Tuesday, calling what happened to Starr’s child “awful.”

“This kind of hate is not acceptable or welcome in British Columbia,” he said in a tweet. “Let’s keep calling out transphobia when we see it. Hate hurts everyone. And let’s stand with this girl and everyone who is targeted just for being themselves.”

Kelli Paddon, the NDP MLA for Chilliwack-Kent and the provincial parliamentary secretary for Gender Equity, described the actions of the man as “horrific and unacceptable.”

In a release Tuesday, the Kelowna RCMP said it had “received a number of messages from concerned citizens about an incident that took place at a regional elementary track and field day,” though it did not elaborate.

“We too share everyone’s grave concerns with discriminatory behaviour,” the RCMP said. “In response to this incident, we can confirm that the Kelowna RCMP have received a report and created an investigative file, but, due to the Privacy Act, we cannot share further details regarding the incident or the investigation at this time. However, we want to encourage you to continue to be a strong voice and to show your allyship, support, public positions and commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

Meanwhile, Starr says her family has been touched by the support from the community and beyond.

“People reaching out from all across North America sending their love and support I think has really been impactful in a way … that my daughter has seen nothing but overwhelming love and support since the incident happened. I think that’s helped her to be resilient in this,” she said.

Starr says her daughter is a lover of sports and dreams of becoming a professional soccer player when she’s older.

She adds the child was confident going into the track meet.

“This is directly from her mouth: ‘I really, really think that I would have gotten a ribbon if that man hadn’t yelled at me.'”

CityNews has reached out to the man who allegedly made the comments but has not yet heard back.

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