When approximately 40 anti-2SLGBTQ+ protesters picketed the Rainbow District School Board office and the former Wembley Public School today, they were met by more than 200 passionate and colourfully adorned counter-protesters.
The Pride flags, balloons, singing and dancing exhibited, along with the loud music playing out of not one but two speakers, seemed to drown out any of the messaging that the original protesters sought to get out.
And that messaging pulled no punches in its level of misinformation and bigotry.
Organizers dubbed it a “Save the kids” protest and their social media messaging said they were “tired of gender ideology, pride flags, reading material, trans agenda, political agendas, sex in schools (sic).” The slogan they chose — “The grooming of our kids is unacceptable” — highlights the type of misinformation the protesters were pushing.
While the anti-2SLGBTQ+ protesters arrived shortly after 10:45 a.m., many of the counter-protesters had been on the scene for an hour, ready to greet them with rainbow flags and apparel, signs, music and more.
The protesters arrived with Canadian flags hanging out their windows, honking as they made their way down Wembley Drive. They parked further away, and walked past the counter-protesters, shouting about their belief in a Christian god making only man and woman, claiming the school board was grooming and indoctrinating children with information about sexuality, and expressing anger that schools in the area allowed Pride flags to be flown.
One woman spoke specifically of elementary schools with Pride flags, though that is not the case in Sudbury as they only fly at secondary schools.
Many of the counter-protesters explained their fear that a lack of education would increase the number of suicides among young people; trangender youth in Canada are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender counterparts.
The counter-protest also began with a post on social media from local business owner Michael
Sauvé, who called for action. Things snowballed from there to the point where the counter-protest actually dwarfed the other group.
Sauvé, who is gay, owns and operates The Cake Guy. He said he felt the need to do something to counter the messaging from the anti-2SLGBTQ+ group.
“Ever since I came out, I experienced a lot of bullying in high school, so I just kind of made a promise to myself that I wouldn't stay silent when I saw any kind of opposition or any hatred,” said Sauvé.
He said he made a quick post and is overwhelmed by the support. He hopes that each person took one of the rainbow cupcakes he was offering with kindness in their hearts and knowing that “love is going to win over anything that the other group is here to fight against.”
At one point, the anti-2SLGBTQ side offered a microphone to counter-protesters. Those counter-protesters asked questions like “Why are you here and why do you have so much hate?” to which the anti -2SLGBTQ+ protesters replied that their goal was to “save the children.” This ended within 10 minutes as both sides withdrew from each other at the urging of plain clothes Greater Sudbury Police officers. Other uniformed officers arrived soon after.
At one point, the anti-@SLGBTQ+ protesters yelled at the opposition, “We’re protecting our kids!” One young person yelled in reply, “We’re kids! And we’re f**king gay!”
The protest continued for several hours in the hot sun, with a standoff occurring on either side of the entrance to the school board parking lot. It began as yelling and arguing, with both sides moving closer together as the conversations became more animated. At several points, other members of the protest would control their own side if they appeared to be too emotional or escalating their behaviours. It was a peaceful protest on both sides, but for a few heated moments.
In a statement to Sudbury.com, the Rainbow District School Board said, “In Rainbow Schools, we embrace diversity and create warm, welcoming, safe, kind, accepting and supportive environments.
“When students are part of an inclusive school community, where they are respected for who they are, and where they have a strong sense of belonging, they are ready to achieve their full potential as confident, caring members of society.”
Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with Sudbury.com.