Wednesday September 20, 2023 | VICTORIA, BC [Last updated September 27, 2023]
EDITORIAL ANALYSIS of TODAY’s PROTEST & COUNTER PROTEST ~ by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends
Sex is part of life, and along with that gender identity. There’s the biological aspect and then there’s the social construct of what gender is. Gender only becomes recognized when individuals interface with society.
Every individual should feel safe about being who they are, including in schools. Here in BC that is the position of the provincial government, something the premier and many of his MLAs posted about in social media today. Few people would argue with the premise of being accepted for who they are, and that in school they should feel safe.
So the perplexing aspect of protests and counter protests in Victoria and across the country today is that really — if you pause for a moment to think about it — is that both sides want the same thing, i.e. a safe educational space for their children.
When the chanting roused up from counter-protesters with “leave our kids alone”, frankly that could have been the position of anyone there — including parents who don’t want their children influenced at an early age about mature subjects, and those who seem to think that many households are unsafe for children and prefer schools to fill that role.
The chanting was non-stop throughout the three hours of protest and counter-protest from noon to 3 pm. It was a loud experience, with angry expressions at every turn.
It became a social experience for every participant, in a range of ways. Either they were on the front lines or deep in the crowd with signs, or standing back to watch. But everyone was engaged. Police maintained a line formation for a good chunk of the time, and apparently made two arrests. One of the protesters said that people had been spat at and pushed by some counter-protesters.
Where the huge disconnect comes is that one faction — Million March 4 Children — wants Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) taken right out of schools or at least adapted to be more age-appropriate, while the other says all content is okay and wants schools to have more control (and rejects the idea of parental consent for how children express their gender identity at school).
The content of SOGI material can vary from classroom to classroom, as it’s up to teachers on how to deliver it. But in many schools children are now exposed to concepts about sexuality and gender — including gender range and fluidity and even the steps to achieve transition from one sex (gender) to the other — in ways that don’t match how parents might want their children raised.
Handing the well-being of children over to the state is the core issue here. It’s truly mind boggling how over 2,000 people on the lawn of the legislature today could all profess to care about children (and no doubt they do), but that the ‘two sides’ are coming at it from such different stances.
What the protesters want:
Million March 4 Children protesters today were parents who still want to have involvement and consent in their children’s gender identity experience in schools (we’re talking gender pronouns and related issues of who is what at school vs at home). In brief summary, their definition of this caring for children is:
- letting children enjoy their innocence;
- waiting until children are old enough to process concepts of adult sexuality and the implications of gender in society;
- involving parents in any gender-change discussions or transitions that might take place.
What the signs said:
Take a look at the two sets of sign content, and determine for yourself who is expressing any type of ‘hate’:
Protesters were chanting slogans that were also on their protest signs, loudly and boldly. Messages included:
- Truth is not hate
- Public schools shouldn’t teach religion as fact, gender identity ideology is a religion
- We are parents and grandparents protecting our children — education, not ideology
- Sexualizing children is child abuse
- Get the cult out of schools
- Protect childhood innocence – math not pronouns
- What happened to consent?
- School is for education not sexualization
- Love is Love ~ Medical Transitioning is for adults not children
They care about their children. Deeply. So the ‘confusion’ comes in why a large segment of society — including educators, elected government officials, and supporters of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community — have interpreted the position of protesters as ‘hateful’.
And in particular, it seems the counter-protesters have interpreted parents wanting consent as a direct attack against transgender education or action. Genital-change through surgery and hormone therapy is a major life step that in many ways is irreversible — having this discussed and supported in the K-12 education system is something that only 25 years ago would have seemed like science fiction.
Parents who have no involvement or consent in this process (or the comparatively ‘simpler’ decision to change one’s pronoun) are speaking up for their rights as parents… afterall, the state can easily take children away from parents if the adults are seen to be doing a bad job.
Parents have responsibilities. They also are the anchor for family life.
The counter-protesters had messages of their own, from a viewpoint that the Million March folks were hating children by wanting less gender ideology in schools:
- 1 Million March 4 Kids is a Hate Movement
- Make Fascists Afraid Again – Pro LGBTQ is pro-child
- We Trust Trans Youth
- Two Genders is Like So Boring
- No Space for Hate
- Save Trans Kids
- I Am Not An Ideology
- My Life Fucking Matters
- Stop Teaching Your Kids to Hate
While anyone at the protests today might have ‘hated’ the tension, the frustration and the vitriol, there was no hate for children by anyone. That interpretation is where politicization has been stirred into the mix.
Proof of that — political leaders of all stripes but one (the BC Conservatives, who leader John Rustad says if his party were to form government they would take SOGI out of BC schools) were on X/Twitter and the TV airwaves today with messages like ‘there is no room for hate’ and that all children should be safe and welcome in school. No one is disagreeing with that.
That right there is where the two ‘sides’ can agree — they all care about the children. It’s the approach to how much adult-level decision-making should be imposed on children in early and middle school years as to where they differ. Scientific research has confirmed that the human brain doesn’t fully mature in terms of processing consequence until age 25. Would any of us make decisions at age 25 that we made when we were 12 years old? It might not matter about fashion or food choice, but opening doors to a range of sexual and gender possibilities is something that the protesters feel is inappropriate in school curriculum.
As well, most parents realize the world has changed — they are not trying to hide the world from their children. As loving caregivers, parents want to not be excluded from information or directions that might influence their children in irreversible ways. The in-school pronoun issue — e.g. a child can be ‘him’ at school but ‘her’ at home (and the teacher cannot reveal the disparity in any discussions with parents) is to shut parents out of an important part of their children’s lives.
Parents becoming simply the folks who feed and clothe (working two jobs and seeing their kids probably less than they’d like) while being pushed out of important life decisions about their children is what the protesters are also saying. Parents should not feel they are handing their children over to the state from 8:30 am to 3 pm.
This is no reflection on the intention, professionalism and caring of any teacher or school administrator — it’s about fighting for the dignity of family, and the kind of love and care that only family can truly provide in society — and not having that shelved once kids walk through the doors of schools.
The ‘hate’ interpretation is off-base:
Not all families are great. Some are quite dysfunctional. But the counter protesters painting all parents or others who are against some or all of SOGI in schools as ‘hateful’ are simply dead wrong. Certainly there are some sad and tragic stories of youth who’ve had a very difficult time with gender expression (and more specifically the trans experience), and have found little to no support at home.
But why is the approach to demonize the home environment? It might be really hard to do — and might be far beyond the purview of the mandate of public education — but it’s time to include parents and bring them along for the ride.
If the train is already on the track for children to explore or express gender variation and sexual orientation, at least don’t kick the parents off the train. There are other areas of Canada’s history where we can examine the impact of tearing children away from their families. While a child who is ‘she’ at school and ‘he’ at home still has a home to live in, if parents are in the dark as to how their child is experiencing their days at school (and their life more broadly — including setting them up for a very different future), how is that not breaking up a family?
Today’s Million March protesters included many caring parents and grandparents. Island Social Trends interviewed many of them on the grounds of the BC Legislature today. Every one of those folks had attended because they care about their children. There was no hate. The counter-protest was equally heartfelt but it was a huge misrepresentation, and became unabashedly politicized.
Deep into the politics:
Let’s get into the guts of the politics. The NDP in particular has added significantly to their voter base by welcoming the 2SLGBTQIA+ community with open arms. The BC Greens and BC United also say they have no issue with folks in that community. They would also be welcome in the BC Conservatives, it sounds like, but the politics runs differently there. Those who say they are simply using ‘common sense’ want children to be able to grow up without sexualization of education in the public school system; that voter base is already being targeted by the BC Conservatives.
It’s not being suggested that the BC Conservatives picked the SOGI-in-schools issue specifically around which to build a political base, but it sure will help them now as the 2024 provincial election looms large already (October 2024). The NDP which presently holds a majority government in BC are fully behind SOGI and their most visible cabinet ministers were out in full force today to support it.
This is a national movement, with protests held across the country. Some of the counter-protesters were holding up Canadian flags but in such a way that they were upside down. Some conversations became quickly heated. One woman said to one such flag bearer: ‘don’t desecrate the flag that my father worked so hard to fight for’.
This past summer the issue of parental consent around gender identification in schools arose in New Brunswick, where the Premier stood by that stance to the point of losing some cabinet ministers and not denying it could be an election issue. Manitoba and Saskatchewan — also with Conservative governments — are dealing with the parental consent issue now too.
[ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW]
- New Brunswick premier going to bat for including parents (June 18, 2023)
- Seeking SOGI right-balance between schools and parents (June 24, 2023)
Sexualized western culture:
This might be splitting hairs, but it’s important … the base argument is not about SOGI curriculum per se. No one in the 21st century is naive about the need for children and teens to learn about and understand sexuality and gender. Western societal culture is highly sexualized, and that’s not likely to change.
But excluding parents from involvement in how their children’s lives are being shaped is in fact the baseline issue of the protest today.
Young parents and grandparents:
The NDP government (and their school districts) may wish to note a very common thread that Island Social Trends heard today among the protesters, some of whom were just standing there quietly — including older folks and young adults with babies and toddlers. Wherever and whenever they can, these people are choosing to put their children into private schools.
Not many people can afford that, but some parents are making it work. Whether or not they are of the Christian faith, some are choosing local Christian schools as a way to avoid the SOGI curriculum, as well as turning to home-schooling.
One couple had two children under the age of three with them at the protest, calmly watching; they said they wouldn’t be putting their children into the public education system but felt they still had time to make a final decision.
Grandparents there today said they attended for the future of their grandchildren, no doubt remembering a time when things were very different. Their own children (the parents of their grandchildren) were in some cases unable to attend due to the load of parenting or employment combined.
While there was a lot of chanting today, in fact the protesters were there with calm resolve matched in intensity by the fired-up verbal flames of the counter-protesters. This issue is no flash in the pan.
Government leaders know this. While in Vancouver for the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) convention today, several cabinet ministers posed for a counter-protest solidarity photo on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. “Today we stood shoulder to shoulder to support those who support ALL students, no matter who they are. It was a privilege to join with so many who stand for the rights of all our students to be safe, seen, and accepted as they are,” said Kellie Paddon, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity (MLA for Chilliwack-Kent) in a post on X (Twitter).
Communication is key:
Much more could be said. But it’s enough to say that there is room on both sides to perhaps correct a few misunderstandings.
And there is room on both sides to recognize that everyone does care about the children.
For the BC government (including the Minister of Education and Child Care) to jump on the counter-protest bandwagon calling out ‘hate’, homophobia and transphobia is likely seen by some voters as a step too far. Communication, conversation and learning — both in the home and at school — is a big part of what these intense protest/counter-protest positions require. Two sides of the same coin — kids are at the centre of this — must be upheld by both ‘sides’ as the reason this has all become so intense in the first place.
Content hand-in-hand with dignity:
If the BC education system (i.e. schools and school districts, when it comes right down to it) is more open with parents, the necessary conversations will begin. Several political leaders said that today, and so the process has hopefully begun.
Some parents might be relieved to find out that some aspects of the curriculum are not as bad as they had heard or believed, but also some school districts and politicians might realize that they’ve crossed a line into the dignity of families and will hopefully begin looping in parents in appropriate ways and fast.
===== ABOUT THE WRITER:
Mary P Brooke has been applying socioeconomic insights to the local and political news of south Vancouver Island news since 2008. Her series of publications has seen the influence of her writing grow over the years, through: MapleLine Magazine* (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News* (2011-2013), West Shore Voice News* (2014-2020), and Island Social Trends (at IslandSocialTrends.ca since mid-2020). [* Archived at the Sooke Region Museum]
Mary Brooke holds a B.Sc. in health science with a second major in sociology and community education. She is the mother of four (now grown) children who attended schools in SD61, SD62 and SD72. She ran for school trustee in SD62 in 2022, during which time — while door-knocking — she learned just how many parents and senior voters were displeased with SOGI in public schools. | SD62 NEWS SECTION
Mary P Brooke was nominated in 2023 for the Jack Webster Foundation Shelly Fralic Award to recognize a woman who contributes to her community through journalism.