MIDDLE ARM, N.L. — Only 13 of about 85 eligible students at the school in Middle Arm attended a presentation on LGBTQ inclusion May 15, according to Marley Bowen, a Get Real Movement representative.
Bowen, a Norris Point native, said organizers with the group travelling the country to talk about inclusion and acceptance of all people — focusing on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community – have seen opposition before, but nothing resembling the response in this area of the Baie Verte Peninsula, where parents and concerned community members took to social media to voice their displeasure.
“We have had some parents question it, but I don’t think we have had this magnitude of kids held back from school because of it,” she said. “I think where it is such a small town, it does become more obvious with a lot of kids being held back.”
Bowen didn’t attend the presentation designed for students in Grades 5 through 12, as organizers alternate between tours. Presentations are happening in this province with assistance from a grant from the provincial government. She was notified of Facebook posts by friends, she said, and was later updated by those doing the presentations.
“At first, I wasn’t too bothered — thinking it was only a few parents, writing a few things or whatever — but it started to pick up a lot of traction online,” Bowen said.
A Facebook post — which has since been removed but has continued to be shared through a screenshot post — began with somebody asking others to fill him in on the class at MSB Regional Academy the following day. After getting information, the original poster responded, “If this is right, I hope every family with ANY biblical morals will be keeping their kids home.”
That sentiment was widely agreed upon — and, in light of the number of students at the presentation, appears to have been the preferred action.
Some parents took issue with not having permission slips sent home for them to sign, while others did not agree with the matter being addressed as a school presentation.
“I’m going to pick up my child dinner time!!! Deft not staying for that!! I think there should have been form sent home for parents to sign whether or not they want their kid to stay,” said one parent, who later declined comment when contacted.
“One of these days something bad will happen in OUR schools (like down in the States) and we’ll be all wondering where was God????” another post read. This person did not return a message requesting a comment as of deadline.
“Time to stand up for what we believe in and stop allowing the government to bully us into allowing things in our schools that we don’t agree with,” posted another.
This person also declined comment when contacted.
“I can promise you that I will not be allowing my children to attend this course. I have no interest in allowing my children to become indoctrinated by the Liberal moral compass. As a parent, that is MY job to teach MY children according to MY values and beliefs, not the governments. Disagreeing parents should grow some backbone and keep their kids home,” another parent posted.
There were some posts in support of the program, while others attempted to explain the purpose of the presentation.
“The presentation, not “class,” it’s about inclusion and acceptance. It’s about the kids learning proper terminology and being respectful toward others … Let’s show our kids what inclusion and respect looks like,” a person posted.
“We gave our child a choice to stay for this, I think it’s important to educate your child on these topics. Why try and hide from them, it’s about accepting people for who they are!! I was always told Christianity was about love and peace? Not much love going on here lol,” a parent posted.
Bowen believes there was some misunderstanding and lack of knowledge about the presentation, but said it was difficult and that, because students didn’t attend, they weren’t given a chance to understand what was being presented.
She said they have spoken to over 150,000 students across Canada. This tour in Newfoundland — which continued May 16 in Corner Brook and Cartyville — was meant to get to schools they had yet to reach. It is the organization’s fifth time in the province.
Bowen feels the reaction stems from fear of the unknown.
“Maybe they don’t have a lot of people in that town who identifies as gay or transgender, and they haven’t experienced that before,” she said. “The idea of bringing in a group and exposing that to their children does kind of seem scary. I can totally understand that, but we are living in 2018 and there tonnes of different types of people in the world.”
The presentation focuses on learning from others, she said. Presenters talk about their experiences and encourage those in attendance to open up about themselves.
“We never walk into a classroom and tell people how to feel or how to be,” she said, adding it is about supporting and respecting others.
Bowen says they will not be discouraged and will finish the tour. They are also planning to return to the province next year.
The Nor’wester has reached out to the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District for comment, but hasn’t received a response as of deadline.