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Why were there anti-LGBTQ2S+ demonstrations in Toronto?

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Demonstrations protesting LGBTQ2S+ inclusive education took place at least 80 cities across the country on Wednesday, with thousands of people participating in a counter-protest in Toronto.

The demonstrations, under the banner “1 Million March 4 Children,” advocated for the elimination of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculums in Canada.

Gender identity in the education sector has frequented headlines in recent months, since Saskatchewan and New Brunswick adopted gender and pronoun policies that require parental consent for students under the age of 16 who want to change their given names and/or pronouns at school.

Megan Poole, manager of community relations and communications for the 519, an agency in downtown Toronto that supports members of the LGBTQ2S+ community, said Ontario Premier Doug Ford has accused school boards of indoctrinating students and insisting parents should be informed of their child’s gender identity. Poole called this a dangerous discourse that forcibly outs children.

“Unfortunately not all of us come from deeply supportive families,” Poole said.

The 519 is planning a counter protest, with 600 participants registered to congregate at Barbara Hall Park on Wednesday before marching to Queen’s Park, to make it clear that “hate has no home in Ontario.”

“If you showed up for Pride this year, it’s really time to show up for the community the rest of the year as well. Pride is every day,” Poole said.

WHO IS PROTESTING?

There are two “brands” that promoted protests across Canada on Wednesday, Hands Off Our Kids and Family Freedom, Canadian Anti-Hate Network Executive Director Evan Balgord explained. The groups did not respond to requests for comment.

Balgord said one of the groups is religious and openly intolerant of the LGBTQ2S+ community while the other is more secular and appears to be more inclusive. Fundamentally, both are advocating for SOGI to be stripped from the curriculum by hiding behind the illusion that they are just trying to protect children, Balgord noted.

“The concern is that when you let these people organize unopposed, they gain more power,” Balgord said.

To support LGBTQ2S+ communities, counter-protests were planned in every province across the country. Several took place in Toronto, with more spanning Ontario in Kingston, Kitchener, London, Ottawa, Peterborough, Sarnia, Sudbury and Windsor

“I think from the teacher’s side, it’s fair to say there is some frustration and anger about how what we do to support students in schools is being twisted and misconstrued to be something it isn’t,” Jamie Mitchell, an Ontario high school math teacher, said.

“To see initiatives that would take us backwards, good teachers know that would be harmful for students and families.”

WHAT’S THE RESPONSE?

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said she has stood shoulder-to-shoulder in support of LGBTQ2S+ communities, and against discrimination, hatred and bigotry for decades.

“From the earliest Pride parades, through the AIDS crisis, winning same-sex marriage, and much more. I continue to stand with you today in the face of hate," Chow said on Wednesday.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) said it “unequivocally” stands with trans, Two-Spirit and non-binary students, staff and families. “We support everyone's human rights and expression of gender,” the TDSB said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

The education minister released a message on Wednesday morning stating the government’s commitment to the safety and well-being of all children in Ontario schools, “irrespective of your faith, heritage, sexual orientation, or color of skin.”

Toronto, Durham and Burlington police forces monitored the demonstrations on Wednesday, keeping the peace and enforcing applicable laws.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) condemned the protests and said it is “alarming” that several politicians have contributed to this “disturbing” discourse.

“Instead of spewing rhetoric they know is harmful and dangerous and that pits parents against educators, they should be ensuring safe and inclusive spaces for every student in the province,” the ETFO said in a statement on Tuesday.

To visibly show support, the Pride flag will be raised all week at TDSB and Durham District School Board institutions. 

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