Kari Simpson of Culture Guard says the organization has a “multi-prong system” in choosing which candidates to endorse. The group has endorsed eight candidates for the Surrey civic election. (File photo)

Culture Guard endorses eight candidates for upcoming Surrey civic election

Four of the endorsed candidates are running for school board

Culture Guard, a group opposing SOGI 123 teachings in schools, has endorsed eight candidates in the upcoming Surrey civic election; four for city council and four for school trustees.

The four council candidates are Laurie Guerra (Safe Surrey Coalition), Steven Pettigrew (Safe Surrey Coalition), Nicholas Loberg (independent) and Neneng Galanto (independent) and the four school trustee candidates are Jasbir Narwal (independent), Julia Poole (independent), Lisa Alexis (independent) and Adele Yu (independent).

The SOGI program, according to sogieducation.org, “aims to make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities” and “equips educators of all backgrounds and experiences with tools and resources for supporting marginalized LGBTQ students and for creating safer and more inclusive school environments for all students.”

Posters for an anti-SOGI event at a Surrey church this past July called SOGI 123 an “assault on the minds of our children, and the trampling of parental and religious rights.”

RELATED: Anti-SOGI talk at Surrey church met with counter rally

Kari Simpson of Culture Guard said the group has a “multi-prong system” in choosing which candidates to endorse. That system, she said, includes personal interviews, public commentary, personal endorsements and track record.

“If a candidate appears on our list it is because we believe the individual candidate will meet the standard of good governance established by Culture Guard and ensure the proper representation of the office they are elected to,” Simpson said.

The Now-Leader reached out to the eight candidates to find out whether or not they were aware of the endorsement and how they felt about it.

Trustee candidate Yu said she is aware of the endorsement but feels “neither positive nor negative about the situation.”

Yu said she is against SOGI 123 teachings in schools, adding, “With or without endorsement, my (stance) towards SOGI 123 is firm.”

“It’s Culture Guard’s decision and power to make their statement,” said Yu. “They were not wrong about my stands towards SOGI 123.”

Trustee candidate Poole said she’s aware that Culture Guard has endorsed her. Poole, who served on provincial committees and helped write curriculum and evaluated resources, said she doesn’t support SOGI 123 “because it has not gone through the normal review — peer reviewing — and input from other groups.”

“As a curriculum writer and a resource evaluator for the province when I was working in the school district, this particular resource would not have gone through,” Poole said.

If the resource was reviewed properly, Poole said she still wouldn’t be in favour.

“It is very biased in its point of view. It doesn’t include all students that we’re teaching to. When we evaluate a resource, it has to be a worldview — a view that encompasses all students.”

Poole said the SOGI 123 teachings address “ideology that we are non-binary,” adding that “is not something a lot of people believe in — some people believe that.”

She said SOGI 123 would be a better resource, and more inclusive, if people “were able to talk about how other people feel about creation and how our bodies are created and identified as.”

“But they (the Ministry of Education) don’t feel that they need to do that side-by-side teaching.”

Safe Surrey Coalition said in an emailed statement to the Now-Leader that the slate’s “candidates have endorsements arriving from across the political spectrum.”

Pettigrew and Guerra are both running for council seats with Safe Surrey Coalition.

“We don’t have control over the endorsements,” the statement reads. “They (the candidates) focus on municipal issues because that’s what the candidates are running for.”

Loberg said he knows he is being endorsed by Culture Guard and feels “honoured to be endorsed by a group of concerned citizens.”

“I think it is very important to reiterate that being opposed to SOGI does not make one opposed to the LGBT community and their actions,” Loberg said.

Loberg said the “root problem” SOGI seems to be tackling is the problem of bullying in schools. He said stepping away from sexual and gender orientation “and realize that bullying in schools is a real problem, regardless of what kids are being bullied for.”

He said the SOGI website says SOGI-inclusive education is “fundamentally about learning to treat each other with dignity and respect regardless of our differences.” That statement, Loberg said, should be the focus of the SOGI teachings.

“To me SOGI seems like a very specific anti-bullying campaign, and as someone who grew up alongside strong anti-bullying campaigns I know they are effective at stigmatizing bullying,” he said.

Simpson said Culture Guard started receiving requests for endorsements earlier this year as the civic election began popping up on people’s radar. She said Culture Guard held “a number of meetings” where members encouraged people to run as candidates.

The list of endorsed candidates, which includes 14 municipalities in B.C., went public about two weeks ago, Simpson said.

“But it’s changing. We tell people, they have to keep looking at it. There’s been a lot of people coming forward here over the last couple of days asking to be put on the list.”

Asked if she thinks the Surrey list of endorsed candidates will be changing before Saturday’s election, Simpson said she doesn’t think Culture Guard will be adding to the list “at this point.”

“For those people that are calling us today, (it’s) probably too little too late.”

Simpson said not all endorsed candidates were asked before being included on the list.

“If we’ve got public endorsements of people and credibility of track record, those people, we don’t need to contact the people that we support,” she said. “A lot of people that we look at their record and just decide ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on.”

According to sogieducation.org, the three essentials for SOGI-inclusive schools are policies and procedures, inclusive environments and inclusive curriculum.

“SOGI is one of many topics about diversity discussed regularly in schools, such as when educators speak about race, ethnicity, religion, and ability. SOGI-inclusive education simply means speaking about SOGI in a way that ensures every student feels like they belong.”

The Ministry of Education mandates SOGI be part of anti-bullying policies across B.C., and makes SOGI resources available for school districts to use in curriculum.

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