(Submitted photo: Laurie Guerra)

(Submitted photo: Laurie Guerra)

Surrey councillor defends SOGI 123 stance after resigning from AutismBC

Laurie Guerra stands by her opposition to SOGI 123 resource as backlash over meeting comes to a head

Surrey Councillor Laurie Guerra is speaking out in the face of intense backlash involving a meeting she recently attended that was said to be in opposition to the SOGI 123 resource.

Guerra has resigned as an AutismBC director amid growing pressure to do so but told the Now-Leader she was “going to do it anyway” and didn’t resign “because anybody bullied me.”

It was not a paid position, according to AutismBC, and her resignation is effective Nov. 12.

Guerra was at the meeting last week, along with fellow Surrey Councillor Steven Pettigrew, who has yet to respond to the Now-Leader’s requests for comment.

News1130 recorded audio of Guerra speaking at the event.

“This whole SOGI movement is all over the world, not just British Columbia, and so, Christians, stand up. Just stand up…who cares what anybody says? And just stay strong,” said Guerra, addressing those in attendance.

In an interview with the Now-Leader on Tuesday, Guerra insisted media reports that called the meeting “secret,” and anti-SOGI, were false.

“There was never an anti-SOGI secret event,” she said.

She said her understanding was the meeting was a celebratory party for politicians of faith who ran in the civic election. She said it was a private, ticketed event at John Volken Academy and was called “Freedom of Faith in Politics.”

Did Guerra know SOGI would come up at the meeting?

“Absolutely not,” she replied. “But I’m not a fool, I know a lot of the people aren’t in favour of the SOGI 123 resource. But never, ever has anybody, it wasn’t promoted as that, it wasn’t anything to do with that. I would be very honest if it was. I don’t have anything to hide.”

The SOGI resource, 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.”

Guerra told the Now-Leader she’s not anti-SOGI, but that she’s against the resource in B.C.

“I’m not anti-anything, no. You can’t be anti sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not that I’m anti that. I’m not in favour of the SOGI 123 resource. That is my position… A lot of people that are of the same mind as I am. I don’t apologize for that. I never have.”

Guerra said she is in “favour of parental input into an education system when their children are involved” and “of evidence-based practices and scientifically based education.”

But while Guerra says she thinks the goal of the SOGI 123 resource is “a good thing,”she says children are being asked questions about sexual orientation too early, and the resource is “not appropriate.”

“I don’t think anybody should be bullied,” she said.

The issue, according to Guerra, is that the teachings have to be “objective, not subjective.”

“It’s not based on facts, there’s no evidence behind it, none at all, that gender is non-binary,” said Guerra. “There’s no evidence behind that. Let’s look to the evidence, isn’t that what scene is all about? I’m into the science, I’ve studied a lot about science, even with autism treatment. It’s got to be evidence-based.”

Guerra told the Now-Leader she was “looking at it right in front of me and it’s asking a five-year-old child to say who they’re sexually attracted to. I don’t want to see that for my children, I just don’t want to see it, I think it’s wrong.”

That doesn’t seem to be in line with a statement from the Surrey School District, when asked if this was happening in local schools.

“Gender stereotypes may be discussed in kindergarten (five-year-olds), but schools are not asked to inquire about a five-year-old’s gender preference,” said district spokesman Doug Strachan in an emailed statement. “The discussions are about everyone being free to have interests or preferences—whether in colours, toys, careers, sports, etc., that might not align with traditional stereotypes; it’s okay.”

News of Guerra’s resignation comes after a petition was launched, calling for the new Surrey councillor to resign from AutismBC. As of Tuesday morning, more than 1,300 people had signed it.

Vancouver resident Mirella Russell launched the petition and said Guerra’s resignation is a “small victory,” but added: “I don’t call it a victory, really.”

“AutismBC, in their release notifying us of her resignation, noted it was all based on unfounded information. Am I 100 per cent happy with the response from AutismBC? No. But I’m happy with the outcome,” Russell elaborated.

But Russell said Guerra’s resignation “sends a strong message to the public” and “to people in positions of power.”

“I am the mother of an autistic boy and from his birth, I’ve been fighting for his inclusion,” Russell told the Now-Leader Tuesday morning. “When I define inclusion it means inclusion for all.”

Ahead of the Now-Leader’s interview with Guerra, Russell said she had “been very silent about her position” and “never came forward and spoke publicly about what inclusivity means to her.”

Russell noted that SOGI 123 is “an educational tool for teachers to access, and parents to access, to teach children about kindness.”

“When you oppose SOGI, you oppose inclusivity,” said Russell. “I think nothing she could say would’ve made it better but it would be great to hear from her on her position.”

An outspoken Langley father who has a transgender teenager had also called for Guerra’s resignation from AutismBC.

“Inclusivity is inclusivity,” said Brad Dirks, adding that Guerra’s attendance at the recent meeting was “extremely concerning” to him.

“Nobody is saying that she can’t have her beliefs and opinions about LGBTQ+ students & families. But when you hold such an important role as Director of AutismBC, there’s cause for major concern. I’m glad she did the right thing by stepping down,” Dirks said.

Guerra said it’s “ridiculous” that people are saying her stance means she’s not inclusive.

“I think everyone that knows me, knows my position. I have an autistic child,” she said. “The last thing I’m going to do is not be inclusive of people. I have a lot of people even posting on my social media now that are defending me, that are transgender, that are admittedly gay males that are posting on my own social media standing up in support of me,” she replied. “I’m the least judgemental person you could ever meet. That’s just not who I am.”

The backlash against Guerra has been swift, and she says it’s been the same for AutismBC.

“That organization has done so much for so many people, and to criticize them and put them in such a horrible position just makes my skin crawl,” she said, later in the interview adding that she’s received messages so “disgusting” that she’s considered involving police.

“Groups that are supposed to be anti-bullying shouldn’t be the ones that are pushing the bullying,” she said. “If anybody looks at my social media in the last few days and saw the filth and the disgusting comments people are making about me that my mother gets to see, and my father gets to see, and my children get to see, you would never, ever expect that to be coming from anti-bullying groups. So shame on them for doing that kind of stuff.”

She added: “I know, I got into politics, I get it. I know you’re going to be judged. I feel as though I was judged and tarred and feathered before I even said a word.”

How does it feel to be described by some online as a bigot, or homophobic?

“Stick and stones,” she replied. “People know who I am, I know who I am, I have no problem standing up for myself. I just feel bad for a non-profit organization. It’s very difficult to protect my families and the ones that I love. I see the looks on their faces.”

Guerra also said she won’t be resigning her city council seat, and will be focusing on “the work of the city,’ which she’s “been elected to do.”

During the campaign ahead of the Oct. 20 civic election, Culture Guard, a group opposing SOGI 123 in schools, endorsed eight Surrey candidates, Guerra and Pettigrew included.

See more: Culture Guard endorses eight candidates for upcoming Surrey civic election

At the time, the Now-Leader asked the Safe Surrey Coalition team to comment on the endorsements.

The party replied in an emailed statement that the slate’s “candidates have endorsements arriving from across the political spectrum.”

“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.”

Why didn’t the public hear about Guerra’s stance then? She told the Now-Leader on Tuesday that she was “crazy busy” and “had I had a chance to respond I would’ve been very honest and open.”

AutismBC President Gary Robins announced Guerra’s resignation in a statement on Nov. 13.

“Over the last few days, some concerns and negative perspectives about AutismBC have been expressed by our members, by others in the autism community, and in social media,” Robins wrote in the statement. “While the basis of these issues is unfounded, we are deeply concerned about the undue stress this situation has caused. Our Past President Laurie Guerra has resigned as a director of AutismBC, effective November 12th.

“Our guiding light is to be a leader in the Autism community, providing education, training, information and support for families,” Robins added.

On Nov. 13, after releasing the statement on AutismBC’s website, Robins sent an email to members saying he has “listened to views and concerns of the community over the past few days.”

“Today I reached out to the Oger Foundation for assistance in developing a comprehensive inclusion policy and guidelines,” Robins wrote. “They have accepted and over the coming months we will work on insuring that our organization can demonstrate a commitment to inclusivity in our society.”



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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