On Sept. 20, right-wing groups across Canada organized rallies under the banner “1 Million March 4 Children” to protest Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculums in schools. According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, these protests were “supported by a big tent of far-right and conspiratorial groups, including Christian nationalists, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, sovereign citizens and anti-public-education activists.”
Two of the main groups behind the protests are Hands Off Our Kids, run by conservative Muslim activists, and Family ♥ Freedom, a secular group that alleges it is inclusive of 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
As news of these right-wing protests spread across Canada, 2SLGBTQIA+ communities and allies organized counter-protests to support SOGI education in schools.
In Winnipeg, right-wing protesters approached the Manitoba Legislative Building in three waves the morning of Sept. 20. The first wave, around 9 a.m., included about 50 people and was met by a larger group of about 200 counter-protesters at the legislature.
The right-wing protesters were racially diverse and appeared mainly Christian and Muslim. The Christian group stood in a circle, raising their hands while their leader preached and prayed.
The counter-protesters were made up of young people, teachers, professors and community and labour leaders. Two Christian organizations also attended: the Centre for Christian Studies and the First Mennonite Church of Winnipeg.
The counter-protest was organized at the last minute, so there was no set program or leadership. A few individuals from each side began engaging each other in debate. Some appeared respectful, while others quickly escalated into arguments.
For a while, the two groups remained at a distance but eventually got closer, shouting and chanting face to face. Individuals from both sides stepped in and de-escalated, encouraging each group to move back.
Around 11 a.m., the counter-protest had waned significantly. However, the anti-2SLGBTQIA+ protest had yet to reach its peak. A second, much larger wave of hundreds of right-wing protesters marched up Broadway, led by a police escort, to the other side of the legislature, away from the counter-protesters.
The right-wing protesters came in waves largely due to internal conflicts, confusion and disorganization. However, once the second wave arrived, the first wave welcomed the reinforcement after being outnumbered for several hours. They greeted each other and took turns speaking through a PA system. They brought children with them who stood up front with a banner, chanting and shouting along with the speakers.
One speaker called upon everyone in the crowd to continue showing up to all public forums, including school-board and city-council meetings, to advocate for censoring 2SLGBTQIA+ content.
Less than an hour later, a third, even bigger anti-2SLGBTQIA+ group arrived. There were well over 1,000 people in total, the largest right-wing protest in the city since anti-mandate gatherings in 2021. The anti-2SLGBTQIA+ protest remained diverse, as Christians stood side by side with Muslims, Sikhs and some Indigenous people.
One white man casually walked through a group of Muslim women and girls, carrying a Christian flag and wearing a Three Percenter symbol on his hat. The symbol is for a far-right anti-government militia movement.
The counter-protest had dissipated early on, with many not expecting multiple waves of right-wing protesters over several hours. However, some remained throughout the morning and moved closer to the anti-2SLGBTQIA+ protest as it dissipated. Eventually, a police line formed to separate the two groups. The two groups chanted and shouted at each other, and some continued to argue.
The protest and counter-protest lasted about five hours total, finally dissipating around 2 p.m. There was a sense of exhaustion and defeat among the remaining counter-protesters after being outnumbered for most of the morning.
In the local 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, calls went out to ensure a second counter-protest called Rally for Trans Youth was a success.
On Sunday, Sept. 24, thousands of 2SLGBTQIA+ community members and allies packed the legislative grounds. Trans youth spoke directly to the crowd about their lived experiences and why gender-identity education and resources in schools save lives. The subsequent march to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights shut down Broadway.
Published in Volume 78, Number 04 of The Uniter (September 28, 2023)