Protests and counter-protests take place in Edmonton over LGBTQ2 education in schools

Click to play video: 'Protests in Edmonton for and against sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum'
Protests in Edmonton for and against sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum
Hundreds of people with the One Million March for Children movement gathered in Edmonton to protest sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) being taught in Alberta schools. As Kendra Slugoski explains, a counter-protest in defence of the LGBTQ2+ community gathered on the other side of the road. – Sep 20, 2023

Protests and counter-protests involving Canada’s trans and LGBTQ2 communities and how topics of gender and sexuality are handled in schools took place across the country on Wednesday, including several in the Edmonton area.

A group called “1MillionMarch4Children” says rally participants are “standing together against gender ideology in schools,” which is a reference to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity programs being taught in B.C.’s public schools.

“I would like the ATA (Alberta Teachers’ Association) to know that we’re not going to put up with their indoctrination. We are parents of children who have been affected and damaged,” said demonstrator Lilo Forsyth, who has four children.

Click to play video: 'Gender identity protests, counter-protests draw thousands in Edmonton area'
Gender identity protests, counter-protests draw thousands in Edmonton area

In response, LGBTQ2 allies and supporters showed up to counter-protest at rally sites, like the headquarters of the ATA in Edmonton.

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“I was a teacher and I am openly queer,” said Kit Etcheverry. “I grew up in a household where I wasn’t able to be myself until my 30s and it is really important that all children know that there are people that love them and support them.

“Most parents, most families, have been great. This is a minority,” Etcheverry said about the march. “And I want every student, every family, every person to know they are loved … for who they are — exactly who they are.”

Click to play video: 'What effect can gender identity education protests have on youth?'
What effect can gender identity education protests have on youth?

Benita Pedersen is the co-ordinator of 1MillionMarch4Children in Edmonton. She is a local activist known for her involvement with the right-wing Take Back Alberta movement, a movement she has recently said she has distanced herself from.

She said demonstrators are worried about what’s happening in schools.

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“Parents are concerned about the secrecy in schools. There are times when teachers aren’t sharing with parents what’s going on with their children.

“For some reason, the schools are planting seeds in the minds of young children to start thinking about transgenderism and that’s not right,” Pedersen said.

She said Wednesday’s march is not about hate or discrimination.

“We’re not opposed to people who identify as a certain community. What we’re opposed to is introducing young children to adult concepts.”

Protestors and counter-protestors demonstrate in Calgary on Sept. 20, 2023, over sexual orientation and gender identity education in schools. Global News

Many protesters held up signs referencing “SOGI.”

“Sexual orientation and gender identity,” Pedersen explained. “This is embedded in various subjects in schools … and this information is teaching young kids concepts of sexuality and gender ideology that’s not appropriate.”

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Late Wednesday, Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said SOGI is not a part of Alberta’s curriculum. He also said any courses or materials that include subject matter “that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality” requires school boards to notify parents.

“Furthermore, parents have the ability to request that their children be excluded from any such course or program,” Nicolaides posted on social media.

Rebecca Lippiatt, who was part of the counter-protest, said there’s a lot of misinformation about what’s being taught.

“I want people to ask questions about what the curriculum looks like. I want people to Google the curriculum because it’s online and they’re allowed to see what it is.

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“My biggest concern … What the people are being told is happening in schools isn’t what’s happening in schools, and if they would bother to actually ask the teachers, they would know that’s not true,” Lippiatt said.

Counter-protestors at Alberta Teachers’ Association headquarters in Edmonton on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Global News

The president of the ATA says parents’ voices are important and included.

“We have a piece of legislation that’s called the Education Act, and another piece of legislation that’s called the Choice in Education Act,” Jason Schilling said. “Parents’ voices are embedded within those pieces of legislation. They have that right already.

“But they don’t have the right to spread hatred and discrimination towards students who are attending our public schools,” he added.

Click to play video: 'Canada-wide protests begin against sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum'
Canada-wide protests begin against sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum

“It feels very transphobic and homophobic too. It’s directed towards a marginalized part of our community and it’s unfortunate that they’re here to spread that message of hate. That’s why we have all these people here today to push back.

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“We’re seeing an increased level of hatred towards sexually diverse individuals across Canada,” Schilling said. “Our whole approach to this is that we’re here to make sure our students are in safe and caring schools.”

Click to play video: 'Protests and counter-protests in Edmonton over LGBTQ2 education in schools'
Protests and counter-protests in Edmonton over LGBTQ2 education in schools

In a statement, the Edmonton Police Service said officers would be at the demonstrations to ensure public safety and mitigate traffic.

“While police officers are sworn to uphold the Criminal Code, they are also sworn to uphold the rights of Canadians that are enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Upholding both sets of laws can be a delicate task, but the EPS always works to ensure that a balance is struck.

“The EPS takes hate-motivated crimes and incidents seriously, and supports our community’s right to live free from hate. Should offensive symbols appear and/or hate-related incidents take place during an event or protest, police will investigate whether the incident meets the threshold of the hate provisions laid out in the Criminal Code of Canada and will lay charges where appropriate. In these situations, officers will seek legal advice and consult with the EPS hate crimes unit to determine whether charges are possible.”

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Counter-protestors at Alberta Teachers’ Association headquarters in Edmonton on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Global News

Several school boards and schools also sent letters to families ahead of the demonstrations. Edmonton mayor Amarjeet Sohi also issued a statement about the protests.

“I stand firmly against any form of discrimination, hatred, or bigotry, and for the safety and well-being of all youth,” he said.

“The protest taking place (Wednesday), guised as protecting our children, will actually cause tremendous harm to our 2SLGBTQIA+ youth, their families and allies. These views are not reflective of Edmonton’s values of diversity, inclusivity, compassion and understanding.

“All Charter-protected rights must be respected and upheld by everyone. As your mayor, I stand in solidarity with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and encourage all Edmontonians to do so too. Every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves respect, dignity and the freedom to be who they are.

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“If you are a queer Edmontonian or ally, please know that you are supported,” Sohi wrote.

Click to play video: 'Tensions high in downtown Calgary as protesters and counter-protesters clash'
Tensions high in downtown Calgary as protesters and counter-protesters clash

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared a message about the protests on X, the platform formerly called Twitter:

“Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country – you are valid and you are valued.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith was asked Thursday about the 1MillionMarch4Children.

“I’m sympathetic to parents who want to preserve the innocence of their kids for as long as they can, and that’s part of the reason our School Act allows for parents to have the choice to have their kids be exposed to topics of religion and sexuality at a pace that is their choice.”

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Smith said she’s also aware that protests can get “heated.”

“It’s unfortunate if people take their opposition too far and cross the line, and there are mechanisms in law to make sure that that gets addressed if that’s the case,” the premier said.

“I look at what young kids must be thinking as they’re watching these battles go on in the streets, that’s what I’m concerned about.

“I think every kid needs to feel safe and protected and needs to know that they’re supported in their choices,” Smith said.

“We’re trying to find the right balance. We’re trying to depoliticize it. But I respect the right of people, when they have these really complex, difficult discussions to have, that they do it in a civil way, and I’m supportive of that.”

Protestors oppose sexual orientation and gender identity being taught in schools. Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. Global News

Sarah Worthman, an LGBTQ2 advocate who is helping organize at least 63 counter-protests across the country, said Canadians need to stand up for the community outside of Pride events.

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“Allyship is a verb,” she said, as she called on supporters to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ folks who have increasingly been the subject of hate and political debate by attending the No Space for Hate events.

“Doing these small things shows there is social pushback,” she said.

Sherwood Park school SOGI protest.
Demonstrators opposed to how sexual orientation and gender identity topics are being handled in schools march outside a school in Sherwood Park, Alta., on Sept. 20, 2023. Global News

With files from Global News’ Adam Toy and The Canadian Press

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