Close to 300 people turned up to a planned demonstration against gender and sexual orientation education policies in downtown Vancouver Wednesday, where they were met by close to 1,500 counter-demonstrators showing support for the LGBTQ2SIA+ community.
“Wow, what a crowd; I am so overwhelmed; I didn’t know what to expect,” said counter-protest organizer Sophia Banks on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Banks and others addressed the large crowd, which included support from large unions and many B.C. politicians, who billed the protesters as hate-filled, ahead of the rally.
Many counter-protesters held signs and flags supportive of SOGI policies that are being scrutinized by people arguing they are eroding parents’ rights and unduly influencing children.
What is SOGI?
The province's SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) 123 program has been in place for six years and includes parental resources for those who want to learn more about it.
The policy essentially requires schools to have codes of conduct and anti-bullying policies that include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
“Learning about SOGI in schools is not mandated, however, there are different ways inclusivity can be supported and ensured to be age appropriate. Examples could include diverse content in library books, pictures on walls reflecting the diversity of the community, and educators using inclusive language like ‘good morning everyone’ instead of ‘good morning boys and girls,’” states the ministry in a SOGI myth-busting document.
And while it is not part of curriculum, these issues may be addressed in classroom activities “to provide age-appropriate learning opportunities to help students understand the impacts of discrimination and improve awareness and understanding of the diverse people around them.”
The policy does not erase biological sex nor encourage students to transition, the ministry states.
“My goal is to stand up for trans kids and to protect trans kids; and for all trans people, and we are seeing too much of an erosion of trans rights in this country,” Banks told Glacier Media.
“The right wing is peddling lies about kids having surgery and it’s just not true,” said Banks.
While there were some skirmishes between the two sides Wednesday, each side had its organizers open with messages indicating they came in peace.
The original protesters gathered nearby. The protest was billed as a nationwide walkout with rallies across Canada dubbed collectively as the “#1MillionMarch4Children” with the slogan “Hands Off Our Kids.”
Vancouver’s rally was partly organized by Stand United BC, which claims the media is a virus.
According to the “1MillionMarch4Children” website, the protesters advocate "for the elimination" of SOGI, "pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools."
Small business owner Amanda Faborite, 43, travelled from nearby Pemberton with her baby, to attend the protest.
“I’m here because I’m against the SOGI program and teaching that to our kids in school. It happened, gosh, a handful of years ago when I was in my kid’s backpack and she was in fourth grade and pulled out a worksheet called the gender unicorn and it had all the kids in the classroom circled which gender they identified as and what they liked to dress like,” she said.
Faborite said her older daughter is supportive of SOGI and likely attended the counter-protest but that, “We always have open conversations.”
Faborite dismissed any notion the protest was motivated by hate.
“A lot of people are misconstruing this as hateful when it’s not; it’s just about teaching this to children. It’s dividing the family unit and I’m not OK with that,” said Faborite.
One protester’s sign read: “I do not co-parent with the government.” Another read: "SOGI = grooming."
Mike Bryan, 64, a mechanic from Powell River, said he was disappointed in the turnout.
Bryan came to Vancouver to support those concerned about SOGI. He drew a distinction between teaching about gender and sexual orientation to elementary students as compared to high school students.
“They shouldn’t be taught anything until they are older, maybe 14 or 15, like I was.
“We aren’t against any of this LGBTQ stuff; we aren’t against gay people or homosexuals; there is no hate; this hate stuff is a bunch of baloney; just leave our kids alone,” said Bryan.
One man opened the march for the protesters with a prayer for Jesus Christ; others reiterated that the demonstration was peaceful and aimed at love; and most participated in the singing of the national anthem.
Back at the art gallery counter-protest, pro-SOGI speakers took to a mic to express their support for the many communities SOGI policy aims to support.
The two sides mingled on the fringes, with some people becoming aggressive. Masked people in black attire on the pro-SOGI side held black umbrellas against a police line separating the two groups in the plaza; one masked person denigrated the work of reporters and went on to assault an individual who was heckling the crowd. Police also arrested an individual who opposed the pro-SOGI crowd, following a brief fight in the plaza.
The crowd was chanting "trans rights are human rights" as he was led away.
At the end of it all, Alyssa Arbuckle, 34, of Vancouver, said “It was really nice to see the counter-protest really, really outnumber the so-called protest.
“I think it is absolutely fine and is entirely appropriate. We should be teaching children about the whole world, about gender identities; all ways of being.”
Attending the counter-protest in support of SOGI were several BC NDP MLAs, including Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon; also in attendance was Vancouver Coun. Lenny Zhou.
“I am proud of being able to advocate for LGBTQIA2S+ rights for years, especially in the Chinese Canadian community. I have to admit, it’s not easy but I will keep on doing without any hesitation!” stated Zhou on Twitter.
Zhou’s council leader Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim, also put his support behind the “2SLGBTQI+” community, claiming the protest was hateful: “Every person who calls this city home has a right to be here, to feel safe, and to be supported. That is why it is incumbent on City Hall, the Mayor, and City Council to condemn hate, wherever it shows its face.”
Sim was joined by most politicians, ahead of the protest.
B.C. Premier David Eby responded to the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) on Sep. 19 to re-issue his support for SOGI policy and said: “We are seeing a concerning rise in incidents where trans people are being targeted with threats and violence in person and online.”
Eby noted consensus on SOGI was reached under the former BC Liberal government.
BC United issued a statement of support for SOGI on Sep. 19 from its education critic and South Surrey MLA Elenore Sturko. It was re-posted on X, formerly Twitter, by BC United leader Kevin Falcon, stating the party “will always support inclusive schools where all students, parents, and teachers feel heard and respected!”
Likewise, BC Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau issued a statement of support for SOGI.
The only political outlier on a provincial level was Conservative Party of BC leader John Rustad, who said he would cancel SOGI policies in the education system, calling it divisive and a failure. Instead, Rustad said he would “implement a zero-tolerance anti-bullying approach in our schools.
“Children in British Columbia should never be told by any teacher or any government employee: ‘You don't have to tell your mom and dad.’” said Rustad.
The counter-protest was supported by union members, as well.
The BC Federation of Labour issued a statement Sep. 18, claiming there are “forces who have been using fear, disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate to whip up anti-trans bigotry.”
“The events in BC specifically target our SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity)-inclusive education, which helps to represent the diversity of families in B.C.,” stated BC Fed.
The BCTF announced its “unequivocal support of SOGI resources and inclusive schools” while calling the protesters’ stated concerns about parental rights a “dog whistle.”
The British Columbia District Parent Advisory Councils said it stands by SOGI and questioned why protesters haven’t staged rallies for access to affordable child care, a well-funded public education system, learning materials and school lunch programs.
“We would urge everyone to learn more about the current BC education curriculum and understand why it is crucial that sexual orientation and gender identity is part of public education,” stated the councils, signed by 12 individual PACS.
BC Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender, meanwhile, said “denying the existence of trans and gender diverse people—including calls to erase trans and LGBTQ2SAI+ people from our province’s curricula—is hate.”
Federal Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre hasn't issued a statement regarding Wednesday's marches. During the recent federal Conservative convention in Halifax, the party voted to prohibit "medicinal or surgical interventions" for gender-diverse and transgender children.