Horns honking, speeches projected over loudspeakers and chants of “Canada has one flag,” could be heard across downtown Kelowna, as hundreds of people gathered for the 1 Million March 4 Children event on September 20.
Approximately 500 people stood in support of the event and cheered for speeches that called for the abolition of gender-affirming care, including the use of preferred pronouns, gender-diverse education and sex education in public schools.
Adults could be seen holding signs that read “No to SOGI, no to gender ideology,” while children in the crowd of demonstrators held signs saying “Don’t impose your beliefs on us.”
Approximately six years ago in B.C., an educational resource called Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) was implemented to be used by teachers, families and students with the goal of improving understanding and inclusion for all people in addition to educating people on 2SLGBTQIA+ identities and the issues the queer community faces.
Gender and sexual identity-inclusive education is not a formal class, but rather a resource designed to help educators, parents and students feel more comfortable with their own, and other’s unique identity.
All people, including heterosexual and cis-gendered folks, have a sexual orientation and gender identity and use pronouns like he, she and they.
Heather Lucier, a local pastor and organizer of the march in Kelowna, explained that the event is being held in congruence with the 1 Million March for Children that is taking place in Ottawa and across the country.
Lucier said that the march is not about SOGI education and is instead about “parents maintaining and having a right to decide what their children are taught in school.”
Advocates from the Kelowna Pride Society and Advocacy Canada chose not to organize a formal counter-protest due to safety concerns and instead will be hosting a gender-affirming and inclusive event in October.
There was, however, a group of rainbow-adorned folks who attended the event to share messages highlighting the importance of queer visibility and inclusion.
The co-chair of the Kelowna Pride Society Claire House, said that the atmosphere at the event was tense and that they experienced abuse directed at the queer community who were in attendance in opposition to the march.
House explained that SOGI education and teaching youth about all types of people helps to prevent bullying and create safe spaces for all people.
“They say they want to protect kids, we want to protect kids as well,” said House.
They explained that “misinformation” about the alleged “sexualization (sic) indoctrination, and so-called harm to children,” being shared at the march is not true.
“The number one thing that people who are interested can do is go out there and educate themselves… This is about creating environments in which bullying is tackled, children are safe, included and in which every child can fully accept and be themselves.”
Many Queer advocates across Kelowna spoke out against the anti-SOGI march and called on public officials to denounce the “hateful and harmful” messaging being promoted by the March for Children event organizers.
City councillor Loyal Wooldridge has been an outspoken advocate for the queer community throughout his career.
“The movement against the transgender community has been growing to intentionally dehumanize people. Events that target marginalized members of our community are harmful,” said Wooldridge.
In response to the demonstrations the Central Okanagan Board of Education also reiterated its commitment to safe and inclusive places to learn.
B.C.’s human rights commissioner Kasari Govender also spoke out saying the human rights of trans and LGBTQ2SAI+ people are not up for debate, full stop.
Premier David Eby even put forward a statement.
“Without hesitation, I denounce threats, hate and violence against 2SLGBTQIA+ communities,” he said. “We are seeing a concerning rise in incidents where trans people are being targeted with threats and violence in person and online.”