A Nanaimo-Ladysmith school trustee candidate was escorted by RCMP off school property on Gabriola Island yesterday after showing parents graphic images and refusing to leave an election debate after he was asked to do so repeatedly.
At an all-candidates’ meeting Thursday, Oct. 13, at Gabriola Elementary School, Tanner Scott began causing a disturbance when a question was asked about sexual orientation and gender identity inclusivity.
“Instead of answering the question, he got into everybody’s face, showing off photos which … from what I’ve been told were photos of gender reassignment surgery,” said incumbent trustee Tania Brzovic. “People felt really invaded in their space. He was asked to back off and he refused. He started ranting that this is what SOGI is, which it’s not.”
SOGI inclusivity is about making schools welcoming and safe spaces for individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and about valuing diversity, respecting differences and opposing bullying and discrimination, according to the B.C. government.
Brzovic said she’s angry about Scott’s “lies and misinformation and twisting of the truth” and said Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools has information about SOGI on its website, welcomes questions about it, and has mechanisms for families wishing for alternative program delivery.
“So this notion that we are corrupting children is offensive to me as a human being, as a supporter of the LGBT community, as an auntie, everything. It has to stop,” she said.
Trustee Naomi Bailey said when she started teaching high school in 1999 students were “so afraid” of their peers finding out they were gay, and said there is so much more acceptance and friendship now among gay, bisexual and straight students.
“Everybody should be able to go anyplace – your workplace, your school – and have the right to feel safe…” she said. “We’re supposed to represent all students so for me, philosophically, I could never be an anti-SOGI person.”
Candidate Chantelle Morvay said there has been “a lot of misinformation” spread about SOGI.
“It definitely keeps kids safe. Our core value here in this district and every district is making sure children are safe and included and that their identities are recognized and honoured for who they are,” she said.
Incumbent trustee Charlene McKay said it’s a “complete disappointment” that in this day and age, there are still people who refuse to accept individuals for who they are.
“I wish I was surprised that this was still a conversation, but unfortunately, it still is,” she said. “Being a part of education, we just have to keep educating our students and sharing all of the information available to them and ensuring that they feel safe being who they are so that they can grow up and be the ones that change the world.”
Candidate Leanne Lee agreed, saying “we don’t need to go backwards” and if people are questioning SOGI, it may be that there needs to be more education around it. Morvay said when she was on the school board in another district, there were information nights for parents, which allayed fears.
Incumbent trustee Greg Keller said he’s been personally attacked on social media during the election campaign, with people who don’t understand SOGI and aren’t interested in having a discussion about it accusing him of supporting child molestation and mutilation.
“It’s been bringing out the worst of the folks who are obviously misinformed about what SOGI is,” he said.
Candidate Mark Robinson said if elected, he couldn’t work with Scott.
“There was not one person in that room that felt comfortable and appreciated his behaviour,” Robinson said. “It was quite frankly disgusting and there’s no room for that in schools.”
Morvay said there are big issues that school trustees could be talking about during an election campaign and SOGI isn’t one of them.
“[It’s] very disturbing that he would totally detract from what we were there for, and that was to listen to the Gabriola parents about issues that they were having and concerns. I felt like he totally de-railed the whole conversation to put on a show and he kind of got what he wanted, in a way.”
Gabriola Island RCMP said the person escorted off school grounds left co-operatively and there would be no charges recommended.
The all-candidates’ meeting was hosted by Gabriola Elementary School PAC and chairperson Sarah Holmes said in a statement that she was appalled that one of the participating candidates was unable to engage in respectful conversation.
“He answered a question in an inappropriate manner, and pushed so far past public decorum that it required an RCMP intervention before he would stop,” she said. “To ensure a safe space for discussion and decision-making, candidates must hold themselves, and be held, to higher levels of self-control, debate, and respect than what was displayed.”
Scott did not respond to a request for comment.