Thousands of protesters gathered in cities across Canada on Wednesday as a conservative movement against “gender ideology” in schools clashed with pro-LGBTQ+ protesters.
The nationwide peaceful protests, organized under the banner “1 million march for children”, stretch from Vancouver to Ottawa. A website promoting the protest said its mission was to support “the elimination of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the marches, posting on X, “Transphobia, homophobia and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hatred and its manifestations and stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country — you’re valid and you’re valued.”
At demonstrations in many cities, people held signs that read: “Leave our children alone!” and “Stop gender ideology,” while counter-protesters chanted “Protect transgender children.”
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“Transgender people – they exist in society and deserve inclusion, just like everyone else,” activist Celeste Trianon told Canadian channel CTV News. Trianon led a counter-demonstration in Montreal, where police were reportedly positioned between rival demonstrations outside the offices of Prime Minister Francois Lego.
“We need to talk to people, teach them the right vocabulary, the right words, at the right time for the age, in order to explain that inclusion is a good thing. We need to make sure that their trans and queer peers at school feel welcome,” Trianon said.
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Nathan McMillan, a protester in Toronto, told CBC News that he was showing “support for children and the importance of preserving their innocence,” expressing concern that the gender identity content is not age-appropriate.
“There’s a lot of political rhetoric right now about what’s going on in our schools,” he said. “I think it’s important to keep kids out of these important conversations that are really happening between parents and their kids. Teachers and institutions, unions, big money, shouldn’t be having these kinds of conversations with kids in such an overt way. “
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The debate in Canada mirrors disputes in the United States between school boards and parents over what content is allowed in the classroom.
Viral confrontations at school board meetings in the US have shown angry parents objecting to pro-LGBTQ+ content available in schools, which they say is not age-appropriate or too graphic to show to children. A nationwide movement to get parents more involved in their children’s education has prompted Republican governors to enact various forms of “parental rights” legislation.
The most controversial of these efforts was a law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSandis, derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned classroom teaching about “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade. .
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Opponents of the conservative movement say “right-wing extremists” are hiding a bigoted and discriminatory agenda behind the “parental rights” slogan that will harm LGBTQ+ youth. Critics have accused parental rights groups such as Moms for Liberty of advocating censorship, pointing to school boards that have pulled books from shelves after parents raised concerns.
Protests in Canada have been mostly peaceful, although Ottawa police said five people were arrested on Wednesday. “Three arrests were made for public incitement to hatred, one for assault and one for obstructing police,” police said.