This Wednesday, people will keep their children home from school and march near city halls and school board offices across the country to protest queer-inclusive policies in schools. The event, called the 1 Million March 4 Children, is being promoted by a disparate group of activists, and it’s unclear how coordinated—and effective—these groups are.
“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, tells Xtra over email.
“The degree of local organizing varies widely,” Woodrow says. “Some of the protest locations seem to only have a poster created by one of the national organizers, with no obvious local buy-in. Other locations have march routes, event sponsors and local contact names. At this point, we are aware of graphics for dozens of different cities across Canada.”
Although different groups are advertising marches under #1MillionMarch4Children, there are two main brands involved, Woodrow says. One, Family ❤️ Freedom (also branded as 1 Million March 4 Children), is more secular and attempts to appear inclusive, claiming that it “value[s] the rich spectrum of perspectives within the 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”
The other group, Hands Off Our Kids, is more overtly religious and anti-queer, with leaders of the group invoking Sodom and Gomorrah, Woodrow says. One of the spokespeople for the group, Mahmoud Mourra, was charged with hate-motivated harassment in July. Both groups, however, explicitly target queer-inclusive education in schools, with Family ❤️ Freedom targeting SOGI 1 2 3, a set of educational resources helping educators and parents discuss LGBTQ2S+ issues and identities (which is incorrectly called “curriculum” in some of their protest materials) and Hands Off Our Kids protesting “LGBTQIA+ ideology” in schools.
Woodrow said that there was significant confusion surrounding the events in part because both groups were branding themselves under #1MillionMarch4Children.
“Across both groups, we have seen confusion about the details of local events, especially in cases where protests seem to have been ‘planned’ for two separate locations within a city at the same time,” Woodrow says.
@xtramagazine A coalition of anti-trans “parental rights” groups are organizing and promoting a day of action on Sept. 20 in opposition to queer and trans content in schools. What you need to know about the groups involved and how to counter-protest safely 🏳️⚧️✊ #fyp #foryoupage #lgbtqnews #canadanews #parentalrights #counterprotest ♬ original sound – Xtra Magazine
“Because of the sheer number of alleged protests being planned across Canada for Sept. 20, we at CAHN are not able to assess the local impact, including size of protest, organizing groups or even whether most of these ‘planned’ (again, some just seem to be electronic posters at this point) protests will actually come to fruition.”
Although the level of actual threat these protesters pose may be somewhat ambiguous, local groups have still started to enact safety measures and plan counter-protests. The Alberta Teachers’ Association told PressProgress that it is “taking steps to ensure the safety and security of all staff” after a woman posted a video planning a protest in front of the organization’s building. The Ontario Federation of Labour is organizing counter-protests across Canada. The 519 community centre in Toronto is coordinating a counter-protest march on Queen’s Park for Wednesday morning.
On a smaller, local level, the Terrace Pride Pals in British Columbia are organizing to have a safe, strategic counter-protest in their area. “For our counter-protest in Terrace, we are having a meeting tomorrow at our local library to make signs and discuss safety and strategy,” Oli Sherrill, the administrative coordinator for Terrace Pride Pals, told Xtra on Saturday.
“Our group is small, but the community support has been huge and growing this year, so we are hopeful that our protest will be larger than theirs. We are aiming to keep topics relevant to their points. They believe we are forcing ‘our lifestyle’ on children, when we know that denying education doesn’t make kids ‘not gay’—it just makes them unsafe. We aim to be peaceful and informative and show them that we are done letting them be the loud ones,” Sherrill said.
While the groups advertising the protests espouse varying levels of antipathy toward LGBTQ2S+ people, the discourse driving the protests often resembles transphobic discourse in the U.K and the U.S. One group advertising the protests, Blueprint for Canada, promotes an “anti-woke” agenda, echoing language used in the United States. Indeed, some experts and LGBTQ2S+ Canadians have reported that Canada has been influenced by transphobia from those two countries.
Fae Johnstone, executive director of social justice consulting firm Wisdom2Action, who has also written for Xtra, has explained in Xtra the influence that transphobia in the U.S. has on Canada. “Anti-trans hate surged in the U.S. before it surged here, as we’re often influenced by political shifts in the U.S., albeit with a delay,” Johnstone said.
Woodrow says that the best thing for activists to do is partner with local organizations to plan the best way to counter the Wednesday protests. Sherrill told Xtra that the organization hopes people will show up for their counter-protest.
“We want our queer community and the allies of our community to show up and let them know we are tired of being treated like a sin, or like it’s a choice, or like it’s a dirty way to live life,” Sherrill said. “We are tired of queer people not surviving long enough to retire or die of old age. It starts with education and we will not let them take that away.”