Calgary was among the major urban centres across Canada that were the target of continued anger and outrage against the existence of LGBTQ2S+ individuals and their communities on Wednesday.
Protests across the nation on Sept. 20 were held ostensibly under the guise of a one million person march for children’s rights.
The number of protesters in Calgary were up from previously held rallies against the LGBTQ2S+ community that have marked the past year in the city, with more than a thousand protesters at the Harry Hays Federal Building, but were markedly smaller than the size of crowds drawn during the national protests during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the crowds at the Harry Hays building were sizeable numbers of Calgary’s Islamic and African communities, along with protesters who have been active in the Covid-19 protest movement.
Children brought to the protest were observed to have been encouraged to shout the slogan of “leave the kids alone” into a microphone provided by protest organizers.
At issue for protesters were lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity being taught as part of curriculums to students, alongside positive messaging about the existence of LBGTQ2S+ individuals.
The fear, said a variety of speakers, was that teaching these lessons were leading to the erosion of parental rights to control what their children learn and believe.
In some of the more extreme beliefs expressed by protesters, that by teaching children in school about the existence of LGBTQ2S+ people, children were being groomed for pedophiles—a position that echoed past decades of hate and disinformation against people of same-sex attraction by claiming that also meant they were attracted to children.
One speaker said that teachers in schools exposing students to lessons in September at the beginning of the year would no longer be their parents’ children by April.
“They do that every year drip by drip. And by junior high school, they’re blue hair and they’re not your children anymore. They are products the propaganda and products of the state,” the speaker said.
That speaker was followed by more children being prompted to speak into a provided microphone about being left alone.
The protest was counter-protested by over 100 supporters and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Calgary Police officers separated the two sides to the north and south of 4 Avenue SE.
‘When those people’s kids come out we will be here for them, and they will not’
James Demers, with Queer Citizens United, said that the messages of hate towards the LGBTQ2S+ were nothing new, and that the protests which have been ongoing near weekly in the city since December of 2022 were becoming boring.
“It’s the same thing over and over and over again. It’s the same arguments from the 60s and 70s,” he said.
“What’s happening here is it’s about the production of the outrage. This is a performative outrage, and they’re just happening to locate it on a group of people that the media doesn’t necessarily always cover well.”
The size of Wednesday’s protest he said had more to do with a message of hate going national after weeks and weeks of buildup, as opposed to anything unique to Calgary.
He said that ultimately, the protests were about the type of Canada that Canadians want to live in and that counter protests and statements against the positions of the protesters made nationally reflected that.
In response to one organizer of the protests held in Calgary, and whom organized previous protests in the city against LGBTQ2S+ communities, stating that he didn’t believe that Calgarians were pushing back against their message, Demers said that simply was not truthful.
“I mean, that’s just patently not true. I think you can see it in hundreds of organizations in the city, including massive institutions and [Mayor Jyoti Gondek] here have made very specific statements about this, and so has Edmonton mayor, and mayors across the country,” he said.
“Calgary again, and Alberta in particular, needs to make a choice about what kind of province and what kind of city it wants to be. I think the powers that be, the mayor, the vast majority of city council, the community, the performance community, the teachers association, we’re all on the same page.”
Ultimately, said Demers, the presence of counter protesters wasn’t about combating the ignorance and hate of a crowd—something he said wasn’t possible in the moment—but rather to be a symbol for the children who were in attendance at the protest with their parents.
“What scares these people is their kids might be queer, and they don’t get to control them. And that’s because that’s child abuse,” he said.
“The thing is, when those people’s kids come out we will be here for them, and they will not.”
Statements made by politicians nationwide
Premier Danielle Smith attempted to side step the reasons for the protests and counter protests occurring, by saying on social media that “the Goverment [SIC] of Alberta is aware of large planned protests and counter-protests happening across Canada today regarding issues that impact the lives and well-being of children.”
“I ask that all protesters, regardless of what their position is on these delicate issues, exercise their right of free speech peacefully and to encourage their fellow Canadians to do the same.”
The Premier’s statement was condemned by members of Alberta’s opposition, and former members of the Progressive Conservative Party.
In response, Alberta NDP MLA Janis Irwin said that she never wanted to hear about the Premier claiming to be an ally of the LGBTQ2S+ community again.
Former Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk condemned Premier Smith’s statement, claiming that it was politics over the protection of vulnerable children.
“No, a real premier, or compassionate human being, would denounce the anti-LGBTQ-children protest. But you won’t. Politics and your political base are more important to you than vulnerable children. Your MLAs are in attendance.”
“Your conduct disgusts me.”
United Conservative Party MLA Jason Stephan attended a connected Red Deer anti-LGBTQ2S+ rally. He categorized the protest as an event that “seeks to affirm the sacred relationship of parent and child,” rather than one of hatred.
Calgary NDP MLA Joe Ceci, who had attended many of the counter-protests held against the drag and transgender community in Calgary over the past year, said that he was on the side that actually provided love and protection.
“I’m here because trans kids, queer kids, they need safe spaces. And I’m out here because that’s what this is all about,” Ceci said.
“It’s a human right. It’s a right for people to be the way they want to be. And I will defend that forever.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement condemning the national protests.
“Let me make one thing very clear: Transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia have no place in this country. We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country – you are valid and you are valued.”
Mayor Gondek provided a stamens to social media late on Wednesday afternoon, saying that her vehicle was swarmed by protesters early in the morning. Gondek had singled out as a target by protest signs, calling for her resignation for support of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“This morning, 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.”