I didn’t see the swell coming when Parents’ Voice formed last May to oppose the Burnaby School Board’s passage of its anti-homophobia policy.
I didn’t see the swell building when conservative activist Kari Simpson suddenly re-emerged from an all-too-brief moment of silence to take aim at Out in Schools.
I didn’t fully register the connection when Vancouver School Board (VSB) candidates Ken Denike and Sophia Woo parroted Simpson, then got caught echoing her in a video filmed for an American anti-gay-marriage group’s fundraising campaign.
I only realized the dots likely weren’t so random when Denike and Woo got caught blatantly lying to voters in a second video.
We know that Simpson and Parents’ Voice (PV) are working together. Simpson encouraged PV to file a human rights complaint against Xtra three days before the municipal election in November. Tribunal records name her as “the complainant’s agent in this matter,” and PV spokesperson Charter Lau credits Simpson with “really helping us.”
What we don’t yet know is where Denike and Woo fit in.
Did they simply get inspired by the backlash in Burnaby and Simpson’s spiel against Out in Schools and decide to capitalize on it for a few votes of their own? Or did they all sit down for tea to plan their election strategies together?
It wouldn’t be the first time a vocal conservative minority has pooled its resources in the Lower Mainland. The last wave of concerted anti-gay protest swelled (then fizzled) in September 2006 after the BC government admitted its classrooms lacked queer content and reached an agreement with Peter and Murray Corren to slowly foster gay-friendlier schools.
About 1,000 people attended a rally then, including representatives from the Catholic Civil Rights League, BC Parents and Teachers for Life, REAL Women, the Canadian Alliance for Social Justice and Family Values Association, and a new group launched specifically to oppose the Corren agreement: Concerned Parents of BC.
“We’re not fighting against homosexuality,” Concerned Parents leader Brian Roodnick told me at the time. “We’re fighting for parents’ rights.”
Roodnick assured me he had no objection to making the curriculum more inclusive, provided it’s done right.
“What’s the right way to teach kids about gays and lesbians?” I asked.
“It’s kind of like evolution and creationism,” he replied. “The theory of evolution, it’s still just a theory. I mean, a lot of people think it’s a fact, but they call it the theory of evolution.”
In other words, according to Roodnick, teachers should respect the demonstrably outdated beliefs some parents are still feeding their kids and tell the kids “you’re completely within your right to have that view.”
Roodnick and his cohorts were particularly adamant about parents maintaining the leeway to yank their kids out of classes they find morally objectionable — leeway the government restricted when it enforced existing policy exempting kids only from health and planning classes.
Imagine my surprise when Denike trotted out the old “parents’ right to withdraw kids” argument when pressed about his appearance in the two videos.
“It’s a matter of the parents having a right to withdraw kids if it’s something that they consider sort of goes against their culture, morals or whatever,” he told CKNW host Simi Sara on Dec 20, trying to evade questions about the Christian video.
In that video, Denike and Woo explicitly tell voters at a Christian Social Concern Fellowship picnic that, unlike Burnaby, the VSB has no policy specifically addressing homophobia.
Vancouver has only a general anti-discrimination policy, they say, warning everyone to vote for them and their party if they want to keep it that way.
As Denike should well know, the VSB passed anti-homophobia policy in 2004. He was on the board when the policy was first presented in 2002 and funded in 2005.
Denike and Woo are entitled to their views. They are entitled to jump on a Conservative bandwagon, form coalitions, oppose policy, seek its repeal and openly run on that promise. What I find repugnant is their dishonesty — their willingness to misrepresent policy, stoke unfounded fear and seek votes on false pretenses.
For that, they should resign at the next VSB meeting on Jan 16, whether they’re part of a concerted swell or not.