School board

Norah Bowman

Sexual orientation and gender identity were back before the Central Okanagan school board.

At the most recent public meeting, trustees voted 4-2 in favour of participating in the Kelowna Pride celebration on June 23.

Voting on a motion by trustee Norah Bowman, the board agreed to commit $200 to buy a table at the event, which draws thousands to City and Waterfront parks.

“The table will have a few purposes, but mainly to show the community of how all our teachers not only represent inclusive education, but they create,” Bowman said in an interview. “We offer a safe and inclusive environment, not only for our students, but also for our teachers and staff.”

Board chair Moyra Baxter, who supported the motion, described it “as a good thing.”

“Our school district is very open in wanting to promote diversity and acknowledge our diverse students and celebrate their differences,” Baxter said.

Baxter, Bowman, Rolli Cacchioni and Chantelle Desrosiers voted in favour. Amy Geistlinger and Lee-Ann Tiede were opposed, and Julia Fraser, who phoned in to the meeting, did not vote.

When contacted, Fraser said the charge on her cellphone halted just prior to the vote.

During the discussion, Fraser said she’d prefer money go directly to a program such as The Foundry, which assists LGBTQ+ youth. However, when asked by The Daily Courier how she would have voted, Fraser said she would have supported Bowman’s motion.

Geistlinger, one of two dissenting votes, read from a prepared statement at the meeting.

“At the core of who I am, I believe in loving one another, and no one is excluded from that love. So, although I do not support Central Okanagan Public Schools collectively participating in Kelowna Pride, I respect the right of individuals to take part,” Geistlinger said. “Loving each other is not dependent on us agreeing with each other but has everything to do with how we treat each other.”

Bowman said other elected officials, including member of Parliament Stephen Fuhr, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran and most members of council, have attended in other years. She believes school board trustees, as elected officials, should also have a presence at the celebration.

“This is a highly vulnerable group of young people and the suicide rate is a lot higher in the LGBTQ+ community,” Bowman said. “It’s important we stand up in public for vulnerable members of our community.”

When asked if she’s disappointed her motion wasn’t supported unanimously, Bowman said, “We live in a democracy and I support democracy. People are not always going to vote the same way.”

The issue came to the forefront in 2018 when a group of parents — some from as far away as Abbotsford — crashed a board meeting and demanded that SOGI 123 resources be pulled from the classrooms. Trustees unanimously agreed to not lobby the provincial government for any changes, noting the resources are mandated by the Ministry of Education and offered as a tool for teachers and administrators, should they require guidance.

Baxter said SOGI 123 was an issue in the October municipal election. Candidates in Peachland and West Kelowna were unanimously in support of SOGI, but it was polarizing in both Lake Country and Kelowna.

Tiede, who later said she had reservations about publicly supporting SOGI, topped the polls in Kelowna.

The school board meets next on June 12 at the education centre, beginning at 6 p.m.