Thousands of people gathered in cities across Canada on Wednesday for competing protests, screaming and chanting at each other about school policies on gender identity.
Separated by lines of police officers, the protests and counter-protests are linked to school policies, including in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, that require young people to get parental consent before teachers can use their preferred first names and pronouns.
Posters created by a group called “1MillionMarch4Children” say rally participants are standing together against what they call “gender ideology” in the nation’s schools. They say that schools are exposing their children to inappropriate content about sexuality and gender identity, and they support the policies requiring parental consent.
But the rallies are being met with counter-protesters who say those policies are a violation of children’s rights and that transgender youth should not be outed to their parents by teachers.
“We’re not asking people to be converted or change who they are. We’re asking people to have the opportunity to show up as they are — that’s all,” said Olivier Hébert, who was outside the New Brunswick legislature, in Fredericton, to support LGBTQ+ students.
It was New Brunswick’s government that helped spark the debate across Canada when it changed the province’s gender policy in June, requiring transgender and nonbinary students under 16 to get parental consent before their teachers can use their preferred first names.
Premier Blaine Higgs attended the protest outside the legislature, telling reporters that he has a hard time understanding why his government’s policy is controversial.
“I think our parents should become knowledgeable about what their kids are being taught and what is important for them to learn in schools and what’s important for parents to make decisions on with kids that are under 16 years old.”
Meanwhile in Ottawa thousands of people faced off in front of Parliament Hill, and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh led a group of counter-protesters down Wellington Street.
“We know that there’s a lot of folks that don’t feel safe because of the rise in hate and division that’s targeting vulnerable people,” Singh said. “But then you see a lot of people coming together, and it shows the strength of solidarity, of us supporting each other, of having each other’s back.”
He said politicians need to go beyond acts of solidarity and show up with “real protections,” whether that be strengthening constitutional protections or by introducing new legislation.
A heavy police presence separated the protesters from counter demonstrators, with competing chants about protecting trans youth and keeping gender ideologies out of schools.