The Non-Partisan Association (NPA) has expelled school trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo from caucus for their continued opposition to LGBT initiatives.
“The decision to expel Denike and Woo was necessary given that the two have chosen to follow their own course in various matters without consulting with the other members of Caucus,” an NPA press release states. “The Caucus has concluded that Denike and Woo do not share the same level of sensitivity and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The expulsion follows a June 13 press conference at Flamingo Chinese Restaurant on Cambie Street where Denike and Woo claimed that the Vancouver School Board’s (VSB) proposed amendment to its sexual orientation and gender identity policy, which aims to make schools more welcoming to transgender students, could negatively affect the enrolment of international students and West Side students in public schools.
The two trustees said they’ve received quite a few phone calls from senior people from the real estate board expressing concern about the quality of education. “They are really concerned about the numbers of enrolment in the West Side,” Woo said. “They are concerned about the loss of students, a loss to the public school system.”
Denike said such a loss would negatively affect the budget, which would in turn erode the quality of the school system.
He declined to identify the realtors.
“International student enrolment is a very competitive thing, and one of the issues that you don’t want to have is the kind of controversy in the district the same way that we are going to for sure be affected by the strike in BC,” he said.
Woo said parents are seeking at least one more consultation so that they can work together with trustees to develop a policy that is acceptable to all parties.
Jane Wang, who identified herself as a parent and an engineering professor at UBC, also spoke at the table with Woo and Denike.
“I have put my two young kids on the wait list of a private school,” said Wang, who read a letter of support to Denike and Woo on behalf of other parents. “So apparently I feel that leaving the public school might be the best choice for my kids.”
Several attendees at the press conference expressed concern about the policy revision that would strive to make district bathrooms more accessible to transgender students.
“I want you to stick to the point,” shouted a man who identified himself as a realtor and a parent. “If you have a daughter or a granddaughter in the bathroom, another female or male you don’t know right next to her, how do you feel?”
Several attendees clapped and cheered in response.
“As a parent, how do you feel?” he continued. “We can talk a lot about other politics, but do you want your daughter put in that kind of vulnerable situation?”
“That’s why we are here,” exclaimed Wang, who expressed support for the realtor’s comments.
“If you have a daughter, say in the washroom, and someone knocks on the door and pretends to be a lady, pretends to be a girl, how would you feel?” the realtor asked.
The man, who refused to give his name, spoke for about a minute and a half before Denike attempted to regain control of the press conference.
“If you are concerned about this, make some noise,” the realtor shouted. “It’s two against seven. We’re not going to win; we’re going to lose! But for the sake of someone who can come into a lady’s bathroom who is a man!”
Both Denike and Woo claim they do not know the realtor and, when asked, said they do not support his views.
“Do you agree with the man’s concern?” asked Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert, who was also in attendance.
“No,” Denike replied.
“Then could you tell him that, because you have to stand up to people who spread hate,” Chandra Herbert said.
“Excuse me, I did,” Denike shot back.
Chandra Herbert was unimpressed with Denike’s response.
“Ken Denike and Sophia Woo said nothing until eventually Ken got up and said, ‘All right, this is our press conference’ and continued,” Chandra Herbert said. “He didn’t address the remarks the man made. He didn’t shut him down and let him know this is not about letting pedophiles into bathrooms; this is about making sure kids who are trans actually have safe places to go to the washroom.”
NPA Councillor Elizabeth Ball says she was unaware of the press conference. She also says the timing of Woo and Denike’s expulsion is coincidental.
“We had already made this decision, as it’s been a long-term issue,” Ball explains. “When you work in the caucus, you have an agreement on how to work. We agreed we were going to work by consensus and with no surprises and share the most important sensibilities we have and respect them. We’ve worked for a long time to ensure that our decisions are respectful of the LGBTQ community, and this is something that is extremely important.”
Ball notes that Denike and Woo’s press conference was not sanctioned by the NPA. “The press conference was totally unsanctioned, unexpected and totally ludicrous,” she says.
Damian Stathonikos, a spokesman for the British Columbia Real Estate Association, says he has not received any calls, comments or letters about the VSB’s proposed policy changes.
“I’d be very surprised if those VSB trustees had heard more than from a really small number of people,” he says. “Most realtors are fairly open-minded individuals. I speak to realtors every day from across the province, not just the Lower Mainland, and if something has been in the media, they usually bring it up when I talk to them, and I’ve heard nothing about this.”
The VSB will vote on the proposed revisions to its anti-homophobia policy on June 16.