Thousands of LGBTQ2S+ and allied counter-protesters gave so-called “parental rights” groups a wakeup call on Wednesday as both sides took to the streets of Canadian cities in the growing fight about trans and queer inclusive education.
Billed as the 1 Million March 4 Children, an assortment of right-wing, anti-trans and conservative organizations and advocacy groups called on supporters to march against things such as inclusive pronoun policies and sex ed in schools, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity programming (SOGI) in general.
The groups, which borrow or in some cases outright copy anti-trans and anti-queer strategies employed in the U.S. and U.K., are trying to build momentum on the heels of new policies in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan that, among other things, require that kids get parental consent before changing their name or pronouns at school.
“These protests are supported by a big tent of right-wing and conspiratorial groups, including Christian Nationalists, conservative Muslims, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, sovereign citizens, anti-public education activists,” Hazel Woodrow, the education facilitator for the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told Xtra earlier this week.
In cities and towns from St. John’s to Vancouver, the groups were largely outnumbered on Wednesday by a strong contingent of counter-protesters, including education workers, teachers, doctors and elected officials, who drowned out chants about “groomers” with messages of love and support for trans and queer youth.
In Toronto, a group of a few dozen anti-trans organizers were met by over 1,000 vocal supporters of queer and trans rights at Queen’s Park, the home of Ontario’s legislature.
Earlier this month, Premier Doug Ford gave a speech in which he said Ontario school boards were “indoctrinating” students on the subject of gender issues. He also said parents should be informed of gender identity decisions their children have made at school. His government hasn’t introduced policies that would legislate how schools handle such matters.
At two separate locations in Vancouver—the city’s art gallery and Jack Poole Plaza—protesters faced down thousands of Pride flags and signs of support for the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Images on social media showed a heavy police presence in some cities as protesters from the two camps clashed. A handful of arrests were reported. Charges included inciting hate and displaying hateful material.
Government leaders show their colours
In Ottawa, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attended a counter-protest. While B.C. premier David Eby did not attend the Vancouver event, MLA Kelli Paddon, the Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity, spoke at the counter-protest and affirmed her government’s pledge to protect trans youth.
There was less support from elected officials elsewhere. New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was spotted shaking hands with anti-trans protestors. Higgs was the first provincial premier to push parental rights at the policy level this year.
The Canadian Press reported that federal Conservative MPs were told by leader Pierre Poilievre not to post online or speak to the media regarding either the protest or counter protest.
The memo reportedly included notes that the parental rights protesters had “legitimate points to make.”
Poilievre’s Conservatives overwhelmingly adopted two anti-trans measures during the party’s policy convention earlier this month.
One pledges a “Conservative government will protect children by prohibiting life-altering medicinal or surgical interventions on minors under 18 to treat gender confusion or dysphoria, and encourage positive mental and physical health support.”
The other policy states “women are entitled to the safety, dignity and privacy of single-sex spaces (e.g., prisons, shelters, locker rooms, washrooms) and the benefits of women-only categories (e.g., sports, awards, grants, scholarships).”