This week, thousands of Canadians turned out to protest gender diversity education in schools, and thousands more showed up for counter protests in support of it.
In B.C., a program called SOGI, or Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, is at the centre of the conflict.
Introduced in 2016 by the B.C. Liberal party — now B.C. United — the current B.C. NDP government continues to support the program, as does B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon.
The program has raised concerns, including among parents who worry SOGI encourages children to change genders or undergo gender-affirming surgery, and others who say it goes against religious values.
Protesters for and against SOGI are pictured in front of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria. (CHEK )
Protests against SOGI are not new. In 2018, the Canadian Christian Lobby organized a rally against it — which, like this week, was met with counter protesters.
So what exactly is SOGI about?
What is SOGI, and what does its curriculum entail?
Despite some of the language around the program, B.C. does not have a SOGI curriculum. Instead, SOGI 123 is a resource endorsed by the provincial education ministry.
The program website has a guide that focuses on addressing discrimination and bullying, creating a supportive and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students, and acknowledging there are people of varying genders and sexual orientations.
The site also has teaching materials educators may use, which have been vetted to ensure content is appropriate, according to Scout Gray, SOGI 123 program manager.
Age-appropriate posters are also available, with messages such as 'All Genders Are Welcome Here' and 'All Families Are Welcome Here' that teachers can print and display.
The use of SOGI 123 material is not mandated, however.
"Learning about SOGI in schools is not mandated," reads a document from the education ministry, "however, there are different ways inclusivity can be supported and ensured to be age appropriate."
So how is SOGI incorporated in school?
It can be incorporated into any subject.
For example, SOGI-inclusive language can be used in word problems in math, or feature in reading materials with LGBTQ characters.
"SOGI 123 is a set of tools and resources to help create safer and more inclusive schools for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities," said Heather Vause, who leads the program's strategy and operations.
Are SOGI teachings sexual in nature?
There are concerns that students are receiving material that are sexual or pornographic in nature in class, or that they are learning about sex at an inappropriate age.
Vause says SOGI is sometimes confused with sexual health education, which is an established part of B.C.'s school curriculum.
"There is a lot of misinformation about SOGI 123, and SOGI-inclusion in schools more broadly," she said.
Protesters in support of and against SOGI education are pictured in Vancouver on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Despite some of the language around the program, B.C. does not have a SOGI curriculum. Instead SOGI is a resource endorsed by the provincial education ministry. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
A look at a section of the program's website shows what elementary students could be learning, for example, including changing vocabulary to be inclusive and respectful, and discouraging gender stereotypes.
Gray, the program manager, says for younger children that could be something as simple as teaching different types of families.
"When we talk about families, do we talk about all sorts instead of just talking about families with moms and dads? Or do we acknowledge that there are foster families, families with two dads, families with a single mom?" they said.
For students in Grades 5 to 7, a lesson on gender stereotypes and bullying is available, teaching them to consider how traditional gender expectations limit a person's potential and self-expression. It also explores the harm, stigma and bullying that people who challenge gender expectations can face.
Does SOGI teach kids to change their gender?
It does not, according to Clint Johnston, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation.
"There is no influence on students to do anything other than to learn to be themselves and to be comfortable with themselves and to be comfortable with everyone in their school around them," Johnston told CBC News.
"And to understand that there are differences in each of those people around them and how to live together and support each other to be happy and healthy."
Can parents see what their children are being taught?
Protesters in support of the SOGI program gather in Prince George, B.C., on Sept. 20, 2023. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)
Another provincial resource, Erase — which stands for "expect respect and a safe education" — is also available, and additionally includes information on anti-racism, bullying, mental health, substance use and other work being done in schools to help keep kids safe.
Education Minister Rachna Singh encourages parents to reach out to their children's school or teacher to learn more.
"We know that you are an important part of your child's education," she said, "and we really want you to be that."
Are kids forced to partake in SOGI-related lessons?
Parents of Kindergarten- to Grade-10-age kids can arrange for alternative ways their kids can learn things — particularly around "sensitive topics related to reproduction and sexuality" — outside the classroom. Health and physical education do not necessarily involve SOGI-related material.
According to the province, children can learn these subjects at home or through self-directed studies, but that does not mean students can opt out of studying them.
"It is expected that students will, in consultation with their school, demonstrate their knowledge of the learning standard(s)," the provincial government's website reads.