Opposing rallies were staged Monday to support and denounce the province's mandated curriculum on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).
At least a hundred protesters gathered in front of the B.C. Teachers' Federation office to protest the province's decision to introduce LGBT-inclusive education — known as SOGI 123 — in all grades.
Protesters waved signs saying "Parents Have Rights" and "Sex Ed Not In School."
To counteract the rally, SOGI supporters assembled across the street with rainbow flags and signs that said "Love Is Right" and "Protect Trans Youth."
Cars honked in support of both rallies, which each drew at least a hundred supporters at various points.
Another rally was held in Victoria.
The province rolled out SOGI 123 last year as a pilot and has so far introduced it in 51 of 60 school districts.
According to its website, the initiative helps educators align their school's code of conduct with provincial policy, promotes inclusive environments and integrates SOGI in classroom learning.
It says sexual identity and gender are not binary but exist on a spectrum.
Starting in kindergarten, for instance, students are taught why using "gay" as a slur is harmful.
In Grades 2 and 3, students learn to analyze gender roles in fairy tales.
Parents say they have right to choose
Angelina Ireland said parents should be allowed to decide whether their kids participate in discussions about sexual identity.
"If I choose not to sign that form, then I'm saying that my child is not going to be involved in that discussion. Period," she said.
"If they try do it, then you're going to see what happens. The inner mama bears are going to come out."
Conny Vollweiter said she believes the province is making the wrong choice.
"You can't force your system on to us and take over our belief system," she said.
"That's democracy, and I don't believe they have the right to do that."
'The more education, the better'
SOGI advocates say sexual orientation and gender identity are human rights.
Stacey Wakelim, a mother of three who organized the pro-SOGI rally, said some kids remain afraid to be who they are.
"The more education, the better," she said. "I think there's a lot of fear-mongering that's happening."
Shawn Ewing said the curriculum would have made a difference in her life growing up as a lesbian.
"I struggled coming out. I struggled being different," she said.
She said the curriculum is about acceptance rather than converting children.
Province: 'We're not moving backwards'
Education Minister Rob Fleming said Monday the curriculum reflects the province's respect for student diversity.
"There are those who have tried to polarize the situation, who want to drag society back," he said.
Fleming accused anti-SOGI critics of not "sticking to the facts" and "grossly misrepresenting" the program's place in B.C. schools.
"I can say as the minister of education, we're not moving backwards. We're moving forwards."
With files from Tina Lovgreen and Megan Thomas