In what has become a regular occurrence in the city, anti-drag and anti-transgender protesters were met by large numbers of pro-LGBTQ2S+ counter-protesters on Saturday outside of City Hall and Olympic Plaza.
Approximately 50 individuals gathered to protest over allegations of indecent exposure at a local Calgary pool, the Calgary Public Library’s Reading with Royalty Program, and what they believe to be the degradation of traditional moral values by the public’s acceptance of drag events and transgender individuals.
They were met by more than 200 counter-protesters, who by and large said they were supporting the Library’s literacy program, and the rights of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Alissa Vradac, one of the organizers of a counter-protest that occurred several weeks ago at the Guthrie Family Library in defence of the Reading With Royalty program, said that the Library’s decision to cancel an upcoming reading event due to safety concerns wasn’t a win for protesters.
“I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
“They are taking the necessary precautions to keep people safe and at this point, that’s what we can do, and I have faith that they’re gonna bring the program back when they and [Calgary Pride].”
The Library took the stance that their event at the Southwood Library would be postponed, after an incident involving Mission 7 preacher Derek Reimer occurred at the Seton Library. Hate-motivated charges were laid against Reimer following that incident by the Calgary Police Service.
Allegations the program isn’t safe is ‘beyond absurd’
Protests had been planned at the Southwood Library over the weekend.
“Because there’s been so many negative messages in the media, a lot of the reasons why we’re out here—at least why I’m out here—is for people to know that this program and the library have been amazing and that positive messages are needed because it’s not a one-sided story,” said Vradac.
“There are allegations that a program like this isn’t safe for children is beyond absurd. It’s now spurious and damaging and, and is impacting real people in a really inhumane way.”
The library’s literacy program, which has been operating for the past five years with Calgary Pride, was accused by protesters of sexualizing children and turning them transgender individuals—allegations that were strongly countered as being false by Vradac.
“I think that to say that this isn’t a program for children, it was specifically designed for children,” she said.
“Everything is absolutely family friendly and built for early literacy. They’re trying to shut down a program that’s promoting literacy for children and which sees grownups playing dress up. What is so egregious about that?”
Vradac said that the cancellation of the weekend’s reading event wasn’t a win for protesters. It was instead drawing more attention to LGBTQ2S+ rights.
“If anything, I think that it’s a real opportunity for our city, for the people in our city and organizations, to let everybody know that Calgary is a place for queer people. It’s a place for trans people. It’s a place for all kinds of people,” she said.
Editor’s note: LiveWire Calgary has chosen to include beliefs expressed by individuals in this story in order to further a public discussion about the impacts continuing to affect the LGBTQ2S+ community. They are presented so that the public has a greater understanding of what positions the anti-drag and anti-trans protesters hold.
Protesters believe drag events turn children into transgender individuals
During the afternoon, some minor isolated incidents of pushing and shoving between protesters and counter-protesters occurred, but the afternoon was largely free from violence.
Protester and well-known political candidate in Calgary, Larry Heather, claimed that the violence at any anti-drag anti-trans protest would result from “paid actors, state actors in the Antifa movement.”
“They’re coming over here trying to provoke some kind of issue for harassment ticket or some kind of disturbance of the peace,” Heather said.
When asked why anti-drag anti-trans protesters wouldn’t just walk away from that type of provocation, he said that standing down to counter-protesters, especially by pastors, was “taking the cowardly way out.”
“I have a message for those pastors. It says in Revelation the cowardly do not enter the kingdom of God, so they better think hard and serious,” Heather said.
He said that they would be continuing to fight—but did not elaborate on what he meant by fighting—in defence of what he said was traditional morality.
“We won’t take any more. We’re going to fight, and we’re going to fight to the finish, even if we lay down our lives. We will not let these people do what they’re doing to children,” he said.
Heather claimed that he was there protesting to ensure that there wouldn’t be any great disharmony in society. It’s something he blamed on the children being made transgender as a result of events like Reading With Royalty.
“You’re making them transgender, you’re confusing them,” he said.
The National Centre for Transgender Equality notes the difference between drag performances and transgender identity, stating that drag performances are highly stylized expressions of either femininity or masculinity by actors of the opposite gender.
“This does not mean they are transgender. Just as actors do not keep being referred to by their characters’ names after stepping offstage, drag performers do not necessarily keep the names or pronouns they use while performing,” wrote the centre.
And although gender confusion has been a commonly held issue of protest against drag reading programs, according to the American Library Association, research into the topic has shown that among library and educational professionals that have held drag story time events—as opposed to those who have not—have overwhelmingly favourable opinions on the ability for these events to provide positive influences on literacy, as well as their age-appropriate understanding of gender.
LWC could find no peer-reviewed evidence that drag events turn children transgender.
Charter rights at stake
Heather took aim at the notion that the protests infringed on the charter rights of LGBTQ2S+ individuals, stating that “the Canadian Constitution says ‘whereas Canada is founded upon the supremacy of God, and the rule of law’ guess which comes first?”
“We’re talking about the Christian God of the Bible, and the supremacy of God’s law is over every single person in Calgary, doesn’t matter whether they acknowledge it or not,” he said.
Section two of the Charter, following the preamble, states that everyone has the freedom of conscience and religion. On that issue, the Government of Canada has stated “government may not coerce individuals into affirming a specific religious belief nor to manifest a specific religious practice for a sectarian purpose.”
An anti-transgender protester, using a loud speaker to speak to counter-protesters across Macleod Trail, said that affirming transgender rights trampled on the rights of women.
At issue for her was the recent claims made that a transgender woman exposed her genitals to a girl in an indecent exposure at a change room at a Calgary pool. Calgary Police Investigated that claim, and issued a statement on March 2, stating that it was unfounded.
“This incident did not take place as initially reported on social media. There was no act of indecent exposure,” they said.
“CPS is sharing this information in the interest of correcting misinformation that causes further harm to our community.”
Paul Goddard, a candidate for the Alberta Party for Calgary Bow, attended the counter-protest saying that he was doing so to ensure that charter rights continue to be respected in the province.
“One of the major stepping stones here for the Alberta Party is to make sure that our rights for everyone are kept up, and no one can take away the rights of anyone, for any reason,” Goddard said.
“It’s all about the human rights that are getting kind of blurred now in this political arena of hatred and distrust.”
He said that politicians that have been targeted by hateful messages for their support of the LGBTQ2S+ community, was outrageous.
“To think that somebody would come to my home to accost myself or my family is, is outrageous,” Goddard said.
“On the other hand, if you don’t stand up for that, then they win. And what kind of world are we gonna live in?”
Former Alberta Liberal Party leader David Khan said that the intolerance and violence directed towards the LGBTQ2S+ community really spoke to the need for there to be continued safe spaces for community members.
“I’ve been really disturbed about what’s been going on in our community with the violence and the threats, especially against children,” he said.
“We’ve come a long way, but things like this, this violence against our community and the intolerance that’s certainly more than seeping back into the legislature, just shows that we’ve got a long way to go still and and that’s why you need safe spaces.”