100s rally in Vernon against LGBTQ rights
Trigger warning. This story talks about beliefs rooted in hate, death and suicide.
About 400 people in Vernon on Wednesday spilled over the steps of city hall, the latest form of protest against Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) resources.
SOGI has been used since 2016 in B.C. schools. It gives teachers and students language to talk about sexuality and gender.
Bob and Pat Jennings at the rally said they’re “not against the gays,” and “it’s not about hate,” but they don’t want teachers teaching about masturbation in schools.
“We’re here to protect the children,” said the elderly couple who don’t have children in school, and who don’t know any trans-gendered people.
These anti-SOGI rallies happened in cities across Canada, and were organized by two far-right extreme groups called Hands off our Children and Families [heart emoji] Children.
Far-right beliefs have been gaining momentum in Canada since 2016, when Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, says there was a resurgence of extremism in Canada.
Behind them initially were Christian Nationalists, who have money. They spread anti-Muslin sentiments at the time. During the pandemic their messaging was anti-government. Now it’s against the queer and trans community. They do not want their, or other, children, to learn about gender and sexual diversity in school because they are anti-queer and anti-trans.
During the pandemic, when people were isolated and scared, they sought community online. Support and adoption of far-right beliefs burgeoned. Literature put out by these groups looks innocuous. People started going out to anti-government, anti-COVID restrictions protests. They went to the trucker convoys. Now they’re protesting SOGI in schools under the guise of protecting children.
Before the rallies on Sept. 20, Balgord says less visible forms of disruption towards schools have been happening across Canada, like disruptions at school board meetings, and trustees getting death threats for protecting queer people.
Full interview with Evan Balgord:
Barry Rourke, the president of the Revelstoke Teachers Association, said in an email to Stoke FM that the association “stands firmly and proudly with the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities in the face of rising regressive education policy, violence, and anti-trans hate speech in Canada.”
The counter-protest on Sept. 20 in Vernon was small. A group of 20-or so in the fringes of the crowd by the fountains outside city hall.
Brianna Healy is a trans woman who said she knew since she was four that she was in the wrong body. Her voice rises in anger at the thought of the belief that trans people groom children to be trans or queer.
“It’s like, no, we don’t want anybody to have to go through what we’ve gone through ourselves,” she said.
“We want people to follow their hearts.”
When she was young she hid her identity because she said she would have died if she acted like herself, because she lived in a small town “with a lot of churches.”
She felt safer when she found a community after moving to Vernon.
“I finally hit the point where I said, I can’t do this anymore I have to transition or I’m going to die,” she said. A lot of teens reach that point, she said.
SOGI is important because it creates a safe place for LGBTQ children in school who may not have that safety at home, Healy said. It can literally be lifesaving.
Diana Morrison’s voice shakes in anger.
“It makes me angry that we’re back here doing this shit again if you don’t mind me swearing,” she said.
“I thought we’d fought this battle already,” said the gay woman who used to get kicked out of restaurants in Vernon for kissing her girlfriend.
The rhetoric of queer and trans people grooming children, and being pedophiles, mimics the rhetoric against gays during the Lavender Scare of the ’50s, Balgord says.
Healy says, everybody needs to be paying attention to the action of these extreme groups. It’s a matter of human rights.
“Well how about this, when they came for the Jews I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t a Jew, when they came for the gays I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t gay. Not they’re coming to me, there’s no one to say anything for me. Think about that,” she said, her voice shaking.
Balgord echoes this sentiment, saying that Canadians who don’t share far-right extreme views need to out-protest these groups, who he said are still a minority in Canada.
Get out there and shout louder than them, he said.
People also need to support teachers and school administrators right now, he said, who, alongside the LGBTQ community, are bearing the brunt of this latest wave of hate in Canada.