A nationwide protest over teaching gender, pronouns and sexual identity to children found its way to Grand Forks as people for and against exchanged chants and waved flags and signs to garner support from the public.
The 1 Million March For Kids happened in dozens of cities and towns across Canada on Sept. 20, with Grand Forks seeing around 15 people voicing their discontent at City Hall and Gyro Park over Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) education policies in public schools.
Those protesters were soon met with a pro-SOGI and LGBTQ2S+ group that set up across from them on Central Avenue. Both groups received honks and cheers from supporters passing by.
For the anti-SOGI group, Kristy Dabels was with her sons protesting what she and several others called indoctrination by schools, adding parents are not being told exactly what children are being taught.
She said she homeschools her children for this reason, so she can teach them about sexuality the way she deems appropriate.
“The reason I am here is I’m a mom and I am here to protect my kids,” she said. “I’ve had enough of this agenda being pushed on our kids. I homeschool my boys for many reasons, including this and it’s time for the government to take their hands off of our kids and get the inappropriate stuff out of our schools and libraries.”
Schools should be teaching the fundamentals, like mathematics, literacy, social studies, science, geography and history, Dabels said. She also said several friends that had children in schools were being told to not talk about what they were learning about SOGI to their parents.
She stressed she and many others were not against LGBTQ2S+ people, they are against their children being taught about gender and sexual identity at young ages.
Pronouns and gender identity are a personal choice that should be left to parents to decide if they want their children to learn about that.
“If there are gay couples with kids, that’s okay and we are fine with that, but we don’t want their agenda being pushed on our children,” she said.
As happened across many cities, a counter protest waving rainbow flags and signs stating support for SOGI and LGBTQ2S+ persons arrived. Larry Hudema was among the crowd waving his own flag to show his support.
This has much to do with respecting a person’s right to exist as they are as it is teaching children to think critically, he said.
“It is my perception that there is a lot of misinformation,” he said. “ People don’t really take the time to really read what is in SOGI. This is to develop critical thinking and empathy. Gender issues are going to be with us for a very long time and these are real people with real feelings.”
Both sides of the protest stayed separate for most of the time, but even then it was peaceful and mostly respectful, said Hudema, with a few of the anti-SOGI protesters calling them child molesters and other insults.
He said the anti-SOGI group are misrepresenting the issue, adding parents shouldn’t be allowed to tell school boards what they can teach their children.
“If my parents had that much influence on how I was taught and wanted their values pushed, we would not evolve as a society,” he said. “Each generation needs to see society from its own perspective.”
The official policy for SD 51 is to follow The BC Human Rights Code, which protects students from discrimination based on Indigenous identity, race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age, stated an email from Anna Lautard, SD 51 Superintendent.
“Staff in SD 51 work hard to create safe, caring and inclusive learning environments for all their students, including students in the LGBTQ2S+ community,” she stated. “When students feel a sense of safety, belonging and acceptance, it positively impacts school attendance, feelings of attachment and connectedness, as well as academic achievement and overall well-being.
She added students are not being told to keep what they are being taught from their parents.
“To be clear, at no time will students be instructed not to tell parents what they are learning at school. SOGI is not in the curriculum, nor is it mandated. Parents are invited to reach out to their school principals and/or vice principals if they have any questions or concerns.”