On September 20th, the 1 Million March 4 Children held protests across Canada. Supported by right-wing groups such as the Freedom Convoy, Take Back Alberta, and Hands Off Our Kids, the movement advocated for the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum.
Seemingly, many of the protesters did not understand the need for inclusive policies and curricula in schools. Protests like these threaten policies like SOGI, and the safety and security of queer youth and educators. Unfortunately, it is up to us to ensure that policies to create safer environments for students and teachers are not under threat as a result of ignorance.
The protest in Edmonton began at the intersection of 142 Street and 111 Avenue, metres away from the Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) building. The anger toward teachers has been emboldened by policies in Saskatchewan that have refused teachers’ the choice to keep the use of alternative names or pronouns between them and students. Teachers make these choices in order to protect children from the harm that a transphobic parent could cause them. By removing these policies, queer youth are at severe risk. But, policies and protests like these don’t just hurt students — they impact educators, as well.
At the protest itself, participants took aim at teachers and schools specifically, as well as the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Teachers have become a target for these groups, as there is a belief that they are indoctrinating children into being a part of or supporting the queer community.
In reality, teachers are not “making” students gay or transgender by including SOGI in their classrooms. SOGI aims to “treat everyone with dignity and respect.” Additionally, it teaches children about the diversity of the society we live in. The goal is to teach children to treat everyone with respect and kindness, regardless of their differences, not influence their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Again, protesting the inclusion of these principles doesn’t just impact students, but their teachers as well. Teachers of all identities, but especially queer and gender-diverse ones, feel the effects of these protests. The protests, whether intentionally or unintentionally, put into question whether queer and gender-diverse teachers have a place in schools.
Protests like the one that took place can be incredibly discouraging for current and prospective teachers. Teachers face enough, as is — underfunding and overcrowded classrooms are pre-existing struggles teachers are experiencing. Protests like these only add to it.
As well, supporters involved in the protest believe that schools and the government are hiding what is taught from parents. However, this isn’t an excuse.
The Government of Alberta provides resources for parents to better understand what their children are learning, directly debunking these worries. This includes a page that has information on the specific programs of study in schools.
Despite this, these protestors still believe there is some ulterior motive to the current Albertan curriculum. This group displays willful ignorance about what is being taught in schools, as well as the intentions behind it. Then, they voice these concerns in the form of protesting, causing students and teachers alike to fear going to school.
Youth are especially vulnerable to the harm caused by these protests. The rhetoric spread by these groups tell 2SLGBTQIA+ youth that they are abnormal, wrong, unwelcome, and unworthy. This is demoralizing, putting their mental health at risk.
2SLGBTQIA+ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. The determinants of mental health for 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals include freedom from discrimination and violence, social inclusion, and access to economic resources. Promoting a safe and inclusive environment for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth can reduce risk of suicide. Protests like these only make things worse.
Those associated with the 1 Million March 4 Children claim that the protests are not hateful. However, the experiences counter-protesters had told a different story. The rhetoric being yelled at those showing support for queer and trans youth included accusing counter-protesters of being “groomers,” “pedophiles,” and other hateful comments. Three arrests were made for “inciting hatred.” In Edmonton, there is now an investigation into the destruction of a pride flag at the ATA building.
It is not an easy time to be a teacher. But, now is the time that we need caring and supportive teachers in schools more than ever. Protests like these directly threaten the existence of teachers who care.
However loud these people are, many do not agree with the sentiments of the protestors. In fact, many in Edmonton and Canada have shown so much support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Several elected officials across Canada made statements expressing support for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, including Amarjeet Sohi, the Mayor of Edmonton.
In fact, the ATA themselves posted messages of support for 2SLGBTQIA+ students and teachers on Instagram. On the day of the protest, they wrote “Keep Schools Safe For All Kids” on the window of their building. As well, ATA president Jason Schilling issued an official statement regarding the protests, emphasizing the importance of safe learning environments for all.
Though teachers may be up against a lot, that doesn’t mean they’re entirely on their own. The ATA does have policies in place to protect their teachers, including a strong stance supporting and affirming queer and gender-diverse educators. The ATA’s Diversity, Equity, and Human Rights works to ensure that teachers of all backgrounds have equal opportunities in schools.
If we want to keep our 2SLGBTQIA+ youth and teachers safe, we need to continue to show support like this. We need to remind people that queer and transgender people deserve a safe place to learn and grow.
There is a clear message that these protests are sending to teachers, students, and schools. The response, however, is that schools will continue to be safe spaces for all students and teachers regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. We should not be tolerant of hate — it is more important than ever to show public support for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth and ensure that they are welcome, safe, and accepted in their schools and in this country. Don’t let these protesters make you think otherwise.