By the time speaker Jenn Smith’s talk on transgender politics was cut short at Oak Bay’s Windsor Pavilion on Thursday, the fire alarm was sounding, and an air horn was being blasted amid shouts and pushing and shoving.
The crowd erupted in a cheer when told the talk was over and the police had been called.
Even before Smith’s lecture began, its future was in doubt.
More than 150 people, many from the LGBTQ2 community, some carrying protest signs, others waving rainbow flags and balloons, gathered outside the pavilion more than 90 minutes before the scheduled 6:45 start.
Many were dismayed that Oak Bay had rented the space to Smith, whose views of B.C.’s sexual-orientation and gender-identity policy in schools are considered by some to be hate speech.
By 6:30 p.m., the small upper level room in the municipal pavilion was already packed beyond capacity. Many in the room hadn’t come to listen.
An organizer was shouted down as he tried to explain some ground rules, telling those in attendance they would be asked to leave if they interrupted or disrupted the presentation.
His suggestion that there were four undercover RCMP officers in the room was met with laughter and jeers.
Catcalls, drumming, chanting, noisemakers and shouts started before the sound system was even set up.
There were shouting matches between protesters and those in the audience who had come to hear the controversial Smith, who wears a long blond wig and says he is a "transgender identified male."
When Smith eventually stepped up to the dais in attempt to deliver his message, a string of protesters stood at the front of the hall drowning him out with chanting.
“This is what the wall of resistance looks like. There is no room for hate. This is what the sisterhood looks like,” Rose Henry said to the assembly. “We are standing here to say: No.”
It was clear it would be a struggle for Smith to be heard even after they quit. Every time he tried to speak, he was shouted down — and all the while, noisemakers clattered and a drum was pounded.
By 7:30 p.m., after about 15 minutes of Smith being drowned out by the crowd, a scuffle had broken out near the back of the hall and the fire alarm was pulled.
Smith’s talk, called “The Erosion of Freedom: How transgender politics in school and society is undermining our freedom and harming women and children,” is critical of B.C.’s sexual-orientation and gender-identity (SOGI) policy in schools.
The SOGI 123 curriculum was rolled out in 2017, after the B.C. government directed school districts to amend their anti-bullying policies and promote lessons on family diversity, including same-sex families and LGBTQ2 rights.