LGBTQ2S+ policies in schools subject of protests and counter-protests in Edmonton, Canada
Protests and anti-protests over sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum in Canadian schools took place in Edmonton and across the country on Wednesday.
The rallies were organized by the "1MillionMarch4Children" group. On its website, it says the group is "advocating for the removal of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools."
Benita Pederson, the coordinator for the Edmonton 1MillionMarch4Childen, said the group wants "healthy boundaries" in schools and doesn't believe sexuality and gender identity are appropriate topics for children.
"What we need the schools to do is respect the preferences of the parents," she said.
"In my opinion, children should be learning about the biology of the male, the biology of the female and the biology of procreation. And it should stop there. The other aspects of sexuality are things they can explore outside of school," she continued.
Protesters in Edmonton gathered outside the Alberta Teachers' Association building on 142 Street and 110 Avenue Wednesday morning.
Protesters with the 1MillionMarch4Children gathered at the Alberta Teachers' Association Wednesday to call for the removal of "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools." (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV News Edmonton) "I think that our children do not need to have certain topics taught in schools," said a woman with the 1MillionMarch4Children protest who did not want to give her name. "I think teachers have a place for reading, writing and arithmetic, and the sexualization just isn't appropriate in our classrooms.
"The books that you see in the libraries aren't appropriate, they make me feel uncomfortable as an adult."
A counter-protest was organized at the ATA building by United Change Edmonton (UCE).
"As a Queer, non-binary person, it is so personal to me," said Kaylee MackIntosh of UCE.
"When I was in school, and when I was a child, I was alone. I was raised in a Catholic school, I was raised in a conservative household and that affected me dramatically in my life.
"And I understand the implications that happen to children when they're not given an opportunity and an environment where they can express their true authentic selves."
Julia Clifford, another organizer for the counter-protest, is the parent of a trans child. She said inclusive policies in schools are helping more children feel safe and accepted.
"[1MillionMarch4Children] claim that the LGBTQIA Two-Spirit communities are indoctrinating their kids, and it's not. Kids are finally allowed to express themselves, be free," she said. "It breaks my heart that we are still in 2023 fighting for all our children to be honestly, truly who they are."
A counter-protest was organized at the Alberta Teachers' Association in response to the "1MillionMarch4Children" demonstration planned there on Wednesday. (Miriam Valdes-Carletti/CTV News Edmonton)Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers Association, said he was troubled by what he saw and heard from the protestors.
"Having a safe caring atmosphere for all students and teachers is a priority, including our 2SLGBTQ+ students and staff. And what we saw today was a protest against that safety and that caring in our schools," Schilling said.
The Education Act of Alberta gives parents choices in their children's education, Schilling added.
"If they don't want their child to study a book for instance … we find a different book for them," he said. "Part of what I've been hearing in terms of making this about parental choice, it mystifies me … This tells me that this isn't about, necessarily, parental choice."
'DESIGNED TO DIVIDE US'
Premier Danielle Smith posted on social media Wednesday. In a tweet, she asked all protestors to "exercise their right of free speech peacefully."
Demetrios Nicolaides, the province's education minister, said in a statement posted to social media platform X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday evening that parents are able to request their children be excluded from courses or programs that deal with religion or human sexuality and that Alberta's curriculum doesn't include content related to sexual orientation or gender identity.
"I’m always happy to listen to parents, teachers and students to create an inclusive environment for all students, while recognizing the fundamental role parents play in the education and development of their children," Nicolaides said.
Other public figures have condemned the anti-LGBTQ2S+ protest.
Edmonton Mayor Amarjeet Sohi expressed his concern on social media Tuesday.
"The protest taking place tomorrow, guised as protecting our children, will actually cause tremendous harm to our 2SLGBTQIA+ youth, their families, and allies," Sohi said in a tweet.
"These views are not reflective of Edmonton’s values of diversity, inclusivity, compassion, and understanding."
Wednesday, Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley issued a statement about the "1MillionMarch4Children" demonstration.
“The protests being held today are designed to divide us, to spread misinformation and to stoke fear for political gain," Notley said in the statement. "They target the most vulnerable among us, our kids.
“They seek to divide us and spread fear when we should be embracing love and compassion."
"To the queer and trans kids being targeted by today’s protests, I say this — you are not alone," the statement continued. "You are loved and there are so many Albertans standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you against hate, today and every day.”
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, also issued a statement on the anti-LGBTQ2S+ protest.
"Danielle Smith mandated her Minister of Arts, Culture, and Status of Women to 'continuing to support and engage with members of Alberta’s Francophone and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.' But, there's been nothing but silence from the UCP," his statement read.
"Many of us from the Alberta labour movement will proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow Canadians from coast to coast to coast to send the message that our schools should be safe places for all kids, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity," it continued.
North Glenora's community league, a neighbourhood in close proximity to the protest, also denounced the anti-LGBTQ2S+ protest and said it's been in touch with the city and police.
The Edmonton Police Service confirmed to CTV News Edmonton it will monitor the protest to ensure safety and mitigate traffic delays.
"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," EPS said in an email.
"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."
With files from the Canadian Press
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