A protest on the B.C. legislature lawn opposing sexual orientation and gender identity discussions in schools looked more like a Pride festival by late Wednesday afternoon, with rainbow flags and signs with messages like “I was born this gay” covering the lawn.
The event in Victoria and a similar, smaller protest in Nanaimo remained largely peaceful. Two people were arrested in Victoria and one in Nanaimo for assault. In Nanaimo, about 300 people supporting SOGI faced off against about 150 opposing it for a march that was vocal but non-violent, said Nanaimo RCMP spokesman Gary O’Brien.
In Victoria, police asked people to avoid the area near the legislature in the afternoon, which they said had become “unsafe” due to escalating tensions. However, hundreds remained on the lawn.
Queer people and allies who came out in droves drowned out the voices of those who said they want to protect children by removing all mention of sexual orientation and gender identity from classrooms, including discussions about pronouns.
“I know that my life would have been different if I had this when I was in school,” Kelli Kraft, who is queer, said of the SOGI topics covered in schools. “I would have felt a lot safer. I would have probably known myself a lot sooner.”
A secondary school teacher, Kraft carried a sign that said: “Get your SOGI facts straight from this gay teacher.”
As an English and French teacher, Kraft incorporates SOGI concepts into her lessons by teaching students the French pronouns for non-binary people, and facilitating discussions about how gender affects romance languages, how a person’s identity might have affected the way they wrote poetry or why a writer might have used a pen name for their published work.
Kraft said she sees the impact these discussions have on students and school culture.
“I’ve taught so many queer and trans students, and I’ve seen their mental health get so much better because their teachers are doing this work,” Kraft said.
As a woman took to a microphone at noon to demand an end to the “indoctrination of children,” hundreds of people moved toward her chanting “trans lives matter,” drowning out the woman’s voice as they waved Pride and transgender flags and booed.
A smaller group attempted to listen to the woman’s speech from an area behind police tape. They mostly kept their backs to the group behind them, but small conflicts broke out across the police tape.
Speeches lasted about 40 minutes, before confrontations began and police stepped in and ended the event.
The number of people opposed to SOGI in schools had dwindled to about a dozen by 5 p.m., while those on the other side covered half of the legislature lawn.
The small group of protesters remaining was surrounded on all sides by hundreds of people advocating for transgender rights, with a line of police separating the two groups. Counter-protesters clapped and cheered every time a person left the inner circle, usually escorted by police.
Summer Conrad, who helped to plan the anti-SOGI protest, said she’s opposed to “every part” of SOGI in schools and that “it needs an investigation.” Conrad said discussions related to SOGI are leading children to question their own gender identity.
“The gender dysphoria is a social contagion. And its source is in the school. It’s not evident in the school, but outside the school, it becomes almost gang-related, where groups of individuals predate on normal children who are vulnerable in their pubescent stage, and in a way it has become a little cultish,” she said.
Flora Perritt, who is trans, said those protesting SOGI seem to mistakenly believe that goal of talking about gender identity is to persuade people to transition.
“Everyday I see society pushing heterosexuality and cisgender identity. So, I don’t see why we can’t be represented or discussed or talked about,” Perritt said.
Small confrontations took place throughout the day. One man accused counter protesters of turning to “this agenda” to try to control his mind, because pandemic regulations had failed to do so. Another man preached about Jesus and hell to no one in particular.
Across Canada, thousands of people gathered for competing protests, yelling and chanting at each other about the way schools teach sexuality and gender identity and how teachers refer to transgender youth. On Vancouver Island, events were also planned in Parksville and Port Alberni.
Posters created by a group called “1MillionMarch4Children” said rally participants are standing together against what they call “gender ideology” in the nation’s schools. Protesters said that children are being exposed to inappropriate content about sexuality and gender identity, and they support policies requiring parental consent.
But the rallies across the country were met with counter-protesters who said those policies are a violation of children’s rights and that transgender youth should not be outed to their parents by teachers.
— With a file from The Canadian Press