B.C. Conservative leader causes uproar with anti-SOGI comments in Legislature

Tuesday marked the first day back in the B.C. Legislature for the fall sitting, and with his very first question as leader of the Conservative Party — which now officially has party status — John Rustad managed to cause uproar.

Pointing to recent protests, Rustad took aim at Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI 123) resources in B.C.’s schools, asking if the education minister would “look at the divisions that this is creating.”

“Parents are concerned about the sexualization of their children in this NDP government’s education system. Will the minister admit that SOGI 123 has been divisive, an assault on parents’ rights, and a distraction on student education?” he asked.

Rustad’s question immediately drew the ire of Premier David Eby.

“I welcome the member to the House as the leader of his new party, but I’ve got to say, this is not an auspicious start. When you talk about the issues of the day for British Columbians — cost of living, housing, we heard from the BCUP, health care, addiction, mental health — to come into this place, to use the authority of his office, his new party, to find a small group of kids in our province, to leverage all of that, to make them feel less safe at school, less safe in our community, to feed the fires of division in our province and bring culture war to British Columbia, it is not welcome,” Eby said.

“When he sat on this side of the House, he supported those same policies, honourable chair. It is outrageous that he would stand here and do this. He sees political advantage in picking on kids and families and teachers and schools who are just trying to do their best for kids who are at risk of suicide. Shame on him. Choose another question.”

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Minister of Education Rachna Singh also responded to Rustad’s comments, after he made more claims about “the divisions that SOGI 123 is creating.”

“I’m so saddened that the member opposite is talking about this. Here we are trying to create inclusive safe spaces for our children, where every child belongs, and the member is the one who’s trying to create these divisions,” she said.

Singh doubled down on the promise to provide “safe and welcoming spaces.”

“We want to make sure that every child feels included, and they feel they can be themselves in the schools, and that’s what we are committed to,” she said.

This is not the first time Rustad has stirred controversy since becoming leader of the B.C. Conservative Party. On the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, the MLA for Nechako-Lakes took to X — formerly known as Twitter — and invoked parental rights, saying, “Today, we remember what happens when the Canadian government thinks it’s better at raising children than parents. I will always stand with parents.”

According to the ARC Foundation, SOGI 123 is a resource, not a curriculum, that “helps educators make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

The 123 is meant to reflect creating this inclusive education environment being “as easy as 1-2-3.”

Many protesting SOGI have claimed that what they describe as “gender ideology” in schools is harming children. However, experts have pointed out transphobic and anti-gender diverse rhetoric doesn’t actually prevent harm to kids.

According to a report from the B.C. Representative for Children and Youth, issued this past June, exposure to this kind of narrative and misinformation “can have a direct impact on the mental health of 2STNBGD (Two Spirit, transgender, non-binary and other gender diverse) children and youth.”

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