Victoria Pride Parade 2018 (Photo by Colin Smith Takes Pics)

Hundreds of Oak Bay and Greater Victoria residents have expressed concern over an event happening this Thursday that features an anti-SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) speaker.

The speaker, Jenn Smith, is hosting the event – titled “The Erosion of Freedom: How Transgender Politics in School and Society is Undermining our Freedom and Harming Woman and Children” – in Oak Bay’s Windsor Pavilion.

Victoria is the last of four Vancouver Island stops for Smith, who has already spoken in Campbell River, Duncan, and Nanaimo.

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Smith’s opponents, who accuse him of spreading transphobic messages and promoting hate speech, have organized a major protest event after the District of Oak Bay ignored calls to cancel the talk.

According to Jenn Smith, the decision to allow his event to continue was made after an in-camera Council meeting in which lawyers found no legal way to justify his material as hate speech.

Pro-SOGI event planned on the same day

The “Pro-SOGI 123” event organized by Greater Victoria School District Trustee and social activist Ryan Painter has garnered interest from over 1,200 people on Facebook, and is slated to take place at Windsor Pavilion – the same venue as Smith’s talk.

While Painter had initially been given verbal consent to host his rally at nearby Queens Park, Oak Bay council declined to issue him a permit for the event as a large number of people are expected to attend.

Prominent speakers like BC Minister of Education Rob Fleming, Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke MP Randall Garrison, and renowned Vancouver-based trans-rights activist Morgane Oger will also be in attendance.

“The speaker at this event, Jenn Smith, has actively spoken against SOGI 123, a provincial program whose purpose is to make schools and curriculum Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity inclusive,” reads the description of the Pro-SOGI event.

“Smith’s work promotes harmful myths and misinformation that is counter to research and evidence-based approaches to supporting trans children and youth. The consequences of Smith’s rhetoric on the lives of young trans people is real and must be urgently addressed and resisted.”

Although the event description for Smith’s talk states that “placards and signs are not permitted”, Painter encourages attendants of his pro-SOGI rally to bring their signs to “show that love and strength conquers hatred and bigotry”.

In response to the event Oak Bay Mayor Kevin Murdoch has also organized a public pro-inclusivity event at the same time as Smith’s talk which will take place at Willows Park.

“This talk is seen by many as very negative towards the people that SOGI is intended to protect – the transgender, gay and lesbian youth in our schools. If this event is making that group feel unsafe, we need to get together as a community and say ‘you are safe, you’re welcome, and we are very happy to have you in our community,'” Mayor Murdoch told Victoria Buzz.

“I’ve invited some of the primarily trans but also LGBTQ+ support groups to come and bring information and share educational pieces so that info is available for people.”

Murdoch also confirmed that staff at Oak Bay are in the process of reviewing policies surrounding what types of events should be allowed to take place in public spaces.

At least one Oak Bay police person will be present at Thursday’s event.

Jenn Smith responds

Jenn Smith, who identifies as transgender, has been conducting public talks about the effects of an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum on parental rights and freedom of speech for a little over two years.

“The reaction has been rather extreme here. My first response to that is that this is hysteria. I’ve talked to a lot of these protestors, they don’t even know the content of my presentation,” Smith told Victoria Buzz.

“My primary focus in this talk is on policies, programs, laws, etc. and the impact that a lot of these laws are having on parental rights, freedom of speech, women’s rights, etc.”

“I believe that men cannot be women. You can love who you want, you can wear what you want…it’s when we start saying biologically absurd things that I get unsettled.”

He argues that children with autism exposed to an LGBTQ curriculum are “brainwashed” into transition against their parents’ will.

Over the course of his talks on Vancouver Island thus far, he has encountered protestors who constantly interrupted the talks and engaged in foul language, leading Smith to compare them to “Brown shirt fascists” – a reference to the Nazi Party’s paramilitary organization.

“If they want to gather outside and protest that’s fine. But I would prefer that protestors not mischaracterize me…I do not promote hate.”

Anti- and Pro-SOGI events

Jenn Smith talk

  • When: Thursday, May 2nd, 6:45 p.m. – 9:15 p.m.
  • Where: Windsor Park Cricket Ground, 2451 Windsor Road

Pro-SOGI 123: Oak Bay

  • When: Thursday, May 2nd, 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.
  • Where: Windsor Park Cricket Ground, 2451 Windsor Road

Mayor’s Gathering for Inclusion and Hope

  • When: 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.
  • Where: Willows Park, 2253 Beach Dr