More than a thousand people gathered in downtown Halifax on Wednesday for what became a tense demonstration between groups of protesters and counter-protesters over 2SLGBTQIA+ policies in schools.
A number of officers with the Halifax Regional Police stood between members of both groups in Grand Parade, and one demonstrator was arrested.
Police estimate that a total of 1,200 people were downtown for the event.
The group calling itself 1 Million March 4 Children organized protests in communities across Canada for Sept. 20. They said they were protesting what they call gender ideology in schools.
Meanwhile, a larger group of counter-protesters also showed up in downtown Halifax. Prior to Wednesday’s demonstration, that group promoted itself with posters on social media that said “No space for hate.”
The counter-protesters shouted, “we’re here, we’re queer, we won’t disappear,” and “protect trans children,” and held up signs that said “protect trans children.” The 1 Million March 4 Children protesters shouted “protect our children” and waved signs that said “education not sexualization” and “I belong to my parents.”
According to a news release from Halifax Regional Police, one 16-year-old protester was arrested. That youth is facing charges of assault with a weapon, mischief, and causing a disturbance. The youth is scheduled to appear in court at a later date.
‘I see that my community needs me’
Yvren and Ayden, two counter-protesters, both attended wearing all black outfits and masks so they couldn’t be identified. Yvren waved a pink, white, and blue trans flag, while Ayden wore several pins on their black hoodie.
Yvren said they attended Wednesday’s counter protest to support their community, telling the Examiner in an interview that “I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for trans health care.”
“I see that my community needs me and I needed my community for many years,” Yvren said. “The first thing I noticed when I got here was there was a family on the same bus as me that is now on the other side. I feel intimidated, but I’m not willing to stop now.”
Ayden, meanwhile, say they were encouraged that there seemed to be more people in the counter protest than among the 1 Million March 4 Children.
“That says a lot about the generation that we’re coming through and that the future is clear and is LGBTQi+,” Ayden said. “I think that shows there’s going to be more acceptance in the future for people like us, and for people who accept us, but we’re not there yet. Today is just proof of that. I am hoping we see that evolve in the future and get better.”
Ayden said they’d like to see more and better education on gender and sexual identity for both students and parents, saying a lot of parents are “misinformed.”
“A lot of [parents] hear about sexuality and they see those first three letters, sex, and they think we are trying to teach children about sensuality, about physicality of sex, but we’re not,” Ayden said. “We’re here to preach love, acceptance, and the idea that people should be who they are, and teachers should be allowed to respect their students, and be allowed to teach them about that ability to be who you are and explore your identity.”
Yvren had a message for any trans children or adults who weren’t at today’s protest.
“It’s a little cliché, but we are here, we are queer, we are not going to disappear, and I see you,” Yvren said. “I may not see in person, but I see you. I understand where you’re coming from, I understand you, and that’s valuable. Don’t give up.”
Guidelines to support transgender students released in 2014
Speakers for the 1 Million March 4 Children included Michelle Lindsay, who calls herself the People’s Party of Canada’s ‘Lieutenant for Atlantic Canada,’ and Dena Churchill, a former chiropractor who in 2019 was forced to pay the Nova Scotia College of Chiropractors $100,000 for professional misconduct after she shared social media posts with vaccine misinformation.
“Henry Ford had said something. Whether you can or you think you can or you can’t, you’re right. I’m here to remind you, we can. Together we can make a difference,” Churchill told the crowd.
Matt Whitman, the former councillor for Hammonds Plains-St. Margarets was in the crowd waving a Nova Scotia flag.
In December 2014, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development released guidelines regarding supporting transgender and gender-nonconforming students in Nova Scotia schools. In a news releases at the time, the department said the guidelines were created to “complement the amendments made to the Human Rights Act in December 2012 that protect transgender people from discrimination.”
The guidelines were developed by a working committee of members from former school boards, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union, Human Rights Commission, The Youth Project, and the Education Department. Those guidelines are here.
By 11am, members of the 1 Million March 4 Children started leaving Grand Parade with the counter protesters following. The counter protesters went to Province House and then marched through the downtown core until the crowd fizzled out.
‘It’s a wake-up call’
One parent who took part in the counter protest, and carried a sign on pink posterboard that said, “Don’t mess with this Momma Bear. I protect trans kids,” said she took part in the protest because “we can’t let voices of hate be louder than the voices of acceptance and love.”
“The disturbing part is the amount of children who were brought to the march who are using violence, giving people the finger, telling people to eff off on the other side,” the parent said. “That’s deeply disturbing that that level of hate is permeating all of these youth on the side of the march that is against trans and LGBTQi+ people’s rights.”
“It’s a wake-up call to see the amount of hate that is in our city, in Halifax. We have such a strong sense of community in this city and it’s really terrifying to see the division that exists.”
That parent said teaching about gender and sexual identity in schools is important because representation matters.
“Children from all walks of life need to hear stories that are similar to theirs, so they know they have a place in this world and their lives matter,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia has the highest proportion of trans and gender diverse individuals in Canada.