Out in the World: Thousands protest Canada's school gender policies

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday September 29, 2023
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Protesters marched against gender ideology in schools in Ottawa, Canada, on September 20, 2023. Photo: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via Associated Press
Protesters marched against gender ideology in schools in Ottawa, Canada, on September 20, 2023. Photo: Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via Associated Press

Protests erupted across Canada over gender identity policies in schools, bringing thousands of demonstrators out into the country's parks and in front of campuses.

Conservatives and progressives clashed in the counterprotests September 20 as both sides heatedly debated the rights of parents versus the rights of trans and gender-nonconforming students. New Canadian Media reported that police arrested two people in Ottawa, the Canadian capital, for "inciting hatred" by "displaying hateful material" during the protest. Arrests were also made in Victoria and Halifax, according to police.

Passage of gender identity policies requiring parental consent for children under the age of 16 to use their preferred names and pronouns at school in the provinces of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan sparked the protests.

On June 9, New Brunswick, which is sandwiched between the U.S. state of Maine and Nova Scotia in Canada, passed its policy that went into effect July 1, reported Reuters.

Two months later, on August 9, Saskatchewan, a province between Alberta and Manitoba above U.S. states Montana and North Dakota, passed its policy, which went into effect August 22, reported the CBC. However, on September 28, Saskatchewan's policy was placed on hold by Regina King's Bench Judge Michael Megaw until a court rules on the legal challenge brought by the University of Regina Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity, reported CTV News. Regina is the capital of Saskatchewan.

Anti-transgender demonstrations in Canada's major cities across the country were planned by the group 1 Million March 4 Children.

Conservatives argued that parents should be in the know and rejected what they called the "sexualization" of education. LGBTQ rights advocates argued for students' right to privacy and self-determination. They also pointed out that the consent policies went against school charters and Canada's federal law.

Growing divide

Canada's Angus Reid Institute found in a September 19 survey, the second of its series of reports on "Canada and the Culture Wars," that Canadians tend to feel that the media is fixated on transgender issues. Most respondents (60%) stated they believe the media gives transgender issues "too much attention," a 41% increase from respondents who made the same claim in 2016. The survey had responses from 3,016 people.

In the same survey, seven-in-10 Canadians believed that transgender people in Canada face significant discrimination in their day-to-day lives. Two-thirds (64%) said that increasing acceptance of transgender people is a sign of social progress for Canada.

In recent months, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken out in support of Canada's transgender citizens and against the anti-transgender school policies and the rise of violence against transgender people and drag performers. Polls show that Trudeau faces an uphill battle in his bid for reelection in 2025. Opposition Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre is the preferred choice as prime minister by 40% of Canadian citizens, reported the Free Press.

An August 28 Angus Reid Institute survey asked about the level of a parent's involvement in a child's preferred identification. Researchers found respondents were split, with 43% stating parents should be informed and must give consent if a child wants to change how they identify. On the other hand, 35% stated they believe parents should be made aware of any changes that are happening at school but should not require parental consent. Only 14% said parents should have no role in this decision. The survey had 3,016 responses.

Canadians were asked in the institute's September survey whether society should define individuals as male or female or whether this is too limiting and should be expanded to include other identities on a nonbinary spectrum. For more than half, (56%), the limited male and female option is preferred, the institute reported. This is a more common position for men, for whom twice as many say that a person should be male or female. Women are more divided, though lean slightly toward this binary, while those who do not identify as male or female in this survey are far more likely to say that the gender binary is too limiting, according to the survey report.

The survey found when asking specifically about transgender issues the divisions between Canadians were deeper. One-in-three (34%) define women as only those who were born biologically female. Others disputed that definition, arguing anyone who wants to can identify as a woman (35%), while 18% said a woman is someone who has female genitals, whether they were born with them or if they received gender affirmation surgery.

Among the protesters in Ottawa supporting the new school policies were recent naturalized Canadian citizens. Those who spoke with New Canadian Media were from Egypt and Lebanon. They told the newspaper that they didn't want the school system to promote educational content that goes against their traditional beliefs and that they wanted schools to stop teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation.

"It's not about hating [LGBTQ people]. We do respect these people," Maria, a Lebanese Canadian protester who was only identified by her first name, told New Canadian Media. "It's just we're against the implications of this in the curriculum. We are here just to say no to sexualizing education."

Community Solidarity Ottawa, a coalition of local labor unions, community organizations, and residents, organized a counterdemonstration, reported New Canadian Media. LGBTQ advocates argued that student consent policies intrude upon students' rights to privacy and violate the schools' own charters and Canada's sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, or SOGIE, policies on the federal level.

Kelly Ernst, president of Calgary's End of the Rainbow Foundation (https://endoftherainbow.ca/), told New Canadian Media he was concerned about Canada's reputation as a welcoming and inclusive society with these demonstrations. The organization works with LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers to support their integration into life in that city.

"[These policies] truly do erode not only Canada's reputation — they also instill additional fear in people that have already experienced that persecution," Ernst said.

Trans youth advocates speak out

Transgender youth advocates spoke out in support of gender-diverse youth and the importance of schools being a safe space.

Jordan Anglin-Reimer, who serves on the prime minister's youth council for transgender rights, told Global News that schools are a place for youth to explore and have different experiences.

"If a child's family is not safe, it's the school's job as a public institution to help the child," she told Global News.

Queer teacher Stevie Sulyma, who attended a counterrally in Winnipeg, Manitoba's capital, told Global News, "I'm being the adult that I needed as a kid."

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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