Calgarians, for and against gender and sexual diversity education, engage in protest
More than 1,000 people gathered in downtown Calgary at the Harry Hays building on Wednesday to protest against, or to show their support for, the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in local schools.
The organizer for Calgary's "1 Million March for Children" says they want gender identity teachings removed from schools, saying they are inappropriate for anyone under 18 years old.
"All we want is our kids to be left alone in schools until they are mature and adult enough to decide what they want out of this life," said protest organizer Mahmoud Mourra.
"I'm talking about all the kids. Maybe one of these LGBT kids doesn't want to be LGBT – how do we know we are not protecting those kids too?"
Mourra said they also want freedom of choice of how to raise their children.
On the other side of the street, counter-protesters gathered in support of the LGBTQ2S+ community and Alberta's education curriculum.
The counter-protestors argue the 1 Million March for Children was created out of hatred, and say inclusion in schools is a benefit to not just LGBTQ2S+ children, but all Alberta children.
The counter-protesters add that ignoring diversity education harms the development of children.
"There has been a lot of misinformation that's being perpetuated by the other side," said one of the participants of the counter-protest, who asked not to be named.
"We need to be here to challenge that and to show kids that they are safe."
Other people involved in the counter-protest refute the claims that diversity education threatens children.
"A lot has been fought for," said another participant, who also asked not to be named. "The idea that students can go to school and they will be safe and they aren't in survival or coping mode."
Calgary police say that one man was taken into custody, after being in possession of a weapon near the event.
"Officers quickly identified and located that man, taking him into custody without incident," said police in a statement.
"At this time, charges are pending, and investigators are still working to determine if he had any connection to today’s demonstrations."
Police say that officers managed crowds around 1,100 people, the majority with the 1 Million March 4 Children.
"Due to several factors, including potential impacts to public and officer safety, it is not always prudent to issue a ticket or lay a charge in real time within a large crowd setting," read a policestatement.
"Officers on scene spent the day gathering intelligence, which we are now assessing, and will be following up with enforcement action if necessary. Hate-motivated crimes of any kind have no place in our community and we will not tolerate criminal behaviour associated with hate-speech or harassment."
The Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) says the protest in Calgary and on the steps of its office in Edmonton was an attempt to "undermine the right of all students to safe spaces at school."
"Using 'parental consent' as camouflage, this rally was part of a coordinated strike across North America to promote misinformation, intolerance and hate toward the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, as well as toward teachers who work to protect the safety and well-being of all students," said ATA president Jason Schilling in a statement.
"Efforts in schools to support sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) education are not what the protesters are portraying it is. SOGI education is intended to ensure that sexual and diverse students and families feel safe in schools by ensuring that all students gain a better understanding of how different students identify."
Schilling said the support shown for the LGBTQ2S+ community at Wednesday's demonstration was "heartwarming and uplifting."
"Attacks on sexual and gender diverse students and school staff have been increasing to alarming levels and must be stopped. I encourage all Albertans and, especially, political leaders, regardless of party affiliation, to stand with teachers with open hearts and minds and to advocate for inclusive schools for all student," he said.
Both the Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Catholic School District did not provide absentee numbers of students not in class, due to the protests.
CSSD released a statement in response to the protests.
“The Calgary Catholic School District reaffirms that we are honoured to pastorally serve all persons, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender,” read the statement.
“All are welcome. All belong. All receive outstanding education offered with respect, compassion and sensitivity in school communities that are safe, caring and inclusive.”
Members of the Calgary Police Service were also in attendance at the rally, but while it was loud and sometimes heated, no violence was reported at the event.
The protesters remained outside the Harry Hays building for several hours, but then organized into a march, before dispersing around 3:30 p.m.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek was surrounded by demonstrators as she drove by the protest.
In a tweet, she says "so-called 'save our children' protestors swarmed my vehicle. The level of hate was chilling. It did not shake my resolve to stand with 2SLGBTQ+ kids & their families. Calgary is a place of love & inclusion. your hatred has no home here."
This video appears to show the encounter lasted a few seconds, until one protester says "let her go" and the mayor drove away.
(With files from Kevin Green)
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