School trustee's gender identity rant prompts emergency meeting
A school board trustee who decided to rant against B.C.'s inclusive gender identity curriculum on social media is not losing his job, but his remarks have prompted an emergency meeting in his district.
Barry Neufeld, who has been on the Chilliwack Board of Education since the early 1990s, labelled the province's curriculum "biologically absurd" in a Facebook post Monday.
"At the risk of being labelled a bigoted homophobe, I have to say that I support traditional family values," he wrote. "Allowing little children to change gender is nothing short of child abuse."
The curriculum’s lesson plans were designed to discourage bullying of transgender students and educate children about gender identity issues, and some parents worried Neufeld's post would send the opposite message.
Chilliwack's superintendent of schools told CTV News she was caught off guard by Neufeld's remarks, particularly because the district hasn't even had an opportunity to discuss how it would be implementing the Ministry of Education's Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity program.
"I think there is some misunderstanding," Evelyn Novak said. "That's our job over the next number of months; to be able to have this conversation with parents and parent advisory councils on what is in the curriculum."
The curriculum advises teachers to recognize students' right to self-identify their gender and be addressed by their preferred gender pronoun – a policy that's in line with the protections offered under B.C.'s Human Rights Code.
Morgane Oger, a transgender woman and NDP candidate from the last provincial election, said Neufeld could face a human rights complaint if he doesn't issue a retraction.
"The trustee's role as an elected official is to ensure that everybody is safe in the Chilliwack school district," Oger said. "That trustee has made it so that today, students and staff who are transgender are less safe and less looked after… that is disgusting and it's unacceptable."
Neufeld’s Facebook post, which was no longer publicly visible Tuesday afternoon, also criticized the curriculum's handling of same-sex marriage. He even praised Russia’s approach to such issues, even though the country has been known to persecute gay citizens and turn a blind eye to mob violence against them.
"If this represents the values of Canadian society, count me out! I belong in a country like Russia, or Paraguay, which recently had the guts to stand up to these radical cultural nihilists," said Neufeld, who is also a volunteer chaplain and former church subdeacon.
The trustee declined to comment on his opinions Tuesday for CTV News.
Board chair Paul McManus said Neufeld can decide what to share on his personal Facebook page, but that the trustee's decisions have still put officials in the Fraser Valley city in an awkward position.
"The opinions he has are his own, they are not the opinions of our school board, but because he's on the board of course it draws attention to us and what we're trying to do," McManus said.
"Being an elected official on the school board, you have to consider the things you say and the opinions you express because people will mix the two up."
With files from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim