A controversial billboard near Kelowna, B.C., linked to a website that criticizes a sexual orientation and gender identity education policy (SOGI123) has been taken down following an outcry from 2SLGBTQ advocates. 

The billboard appeared last week along highway 97 in Westbank First Nation (WFN), just west of Kelowna in the Interior, featuring a caricature of a stern-looking school teacher wearing a mask and standing in front of a progress pride flag along with the text, “What are your children really learning in school?”

The billboard and accompanying website, getawake.ca, drew criticism from 2SLGBTQA advocates who say the messaging “provokes hate and mistrust, creating safety issues for the LGBTQ+ community.”

The website has messaging about what it calls the “political and ideological indoctrination of children in Canadian schools” and criticizes everything from social justice ideologies and “woke narratives” to mask-wearing and COVID-vaccines. 

The owners of the website declined an on-the-record interview with CBC News, citing a fear of being cancelled for speaking publicly about their concerns.

According to the website, the goal of the billboard was to start “meaningful public discussion (and) awareness on what’s being done in B.C. schools and how it affects our children.”

photo shows a billboard with a caricature of a stern teacher wearing a mask and standing in front of a transgender pride flag
The anti-SOGI ad was up on a billboard along Highway 97 on Westbank First Nation for 10 days before the WFN contacted the signage company over concerns about the messaging. It has since been taken down. (Jay Bertagnolli / CBC)

Much of the website raises questions about SOGI123, a set of policies and programs adopted by the B.C. education system aimed at creating inclusive classrooms for 2SLGBTQ students and staff, and suggests that parents are being kept in the dark about the conversations their children are having in school around gender identity. 

Attack on teachers and trans students

To Wayne Broughton, a trustee for the Central Okanagan School Board (SD23) and the father of a transgender child, the claims on the billboard and website about how SOGI123 is presented in schools are unfounded.

“There isn’t anything being taught in schools that parents can’t be made aware of. There’s no secrecy there. That’s just nonsense,” Broughton said.

Broughton said instead the website only further perpetuates fears and mistrust against educators and vulnerable members of society.

“It’s an attack on our teachers who work in our district, an attack on trans students, transgender staff — actually LGBTQ in general,” he said.

Despite the uproar the billboard has created, SD23 board chair Lee-Ann Tiede said concerns from parents about SOGI123 are not something the school board has dealt with in recent months. 

“Our board policy expects members of the school community to welcome, include and support each person in our schools and regardless of their gender or sexual orientation,” Tiede said.

“If parents are concerned, they just need to know that we follow policies and procedures to make sure that children are safe at school and that their right to privacy is protected. And we encourage students to have positive relationships with their parents and guardians and to have open conversations.”

‘Large volume of complaint letters’

On Tuesday the ad on the billboard was taken down. 

In a written response WFN said it received “a large volume of complaint letters and reached out to the signage company who ultimately made the decision to remove it.”

“We applaud the power of the LGBTQ+ community in coming together to see this ad removed,” the statement reads.

On Wednesday the anonymous group who put up the billboard released a statement about the billboard coming down, which read in part, “speaking about verboten subjects in Canada gets you cancelled. We firmly believe in the right to free speech and the rights of parents to raise their children how they see fit without interference from government and activist organizations.”

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