Hundreds of people gathered in the centre of the city Sept. 20, some as part of the One Million March for Children, a nationwide protest, and the others there to drown what they say is little more than hate speech.
The One Million March for Children, as it was called, was a nation-wide protest that found its footing in the same groups that supported the Freedom Convoy movement. In Sudbury, the majority of the planning took place in a local convoy social media group.
Though this was a nation-wide protest, it was similar to one organized by the same group in June. At that time, approximately 40 anti-2SLGBTQ+ protesters picketed the Rainbow District School Board office and the former Wembley Public School, but were met by more than 200 counter-protesters.
This time, however, the numbers were a little more even. Though the 10 or so police officers on site separated the 300 or so counter-protesters when they arrived, requiring half the group to assemble on the sidewalk of Paris Street near the corner of Brady Street while the other half was allowed to remain in proximity with the One Million March for Children organizers, who numbered close to 300.
There were also close to 50 children present as well. Part of the march’s protest action was a school walkout, with parents who supported the march asked to pull their children from school.
Sudbury.com looked on as a counter-protester, who brought her 11-month-old twin girls to the event, prevented a Million March protester from taking a photo of her children next to a sign reading “Leave our Children Alone," which the protester had placed next to the infants,
There was a great deal of chanting from the counter-protestors, many sporting rainbow colours and carrying flags representing 2SLGBTQ+ support and many signs, including one that read “Everything they tried to teach me in sex ed I’d already Googled.”
Chants of “love not hate,” “Trans rights” and “What do we want? Trans rights!” abounded.
The chants from the One Million for Children marchers were more varied. “Leave our children alone,” was a consistent refrain, but so was “Freedom,” and the repetition of “Canada,” with the waving of Canadian flags in response.
There were people handing out Druthers, an alt-right newsletter, and a group of five discussing how Oprah and Jeffrey Epstien were influencing Canadian politicians to make gender ideology a part of schools so that the children could be “groomed” and later molested.
There were also demands to remove gender information from the Ontario curriculum, and replace it with training for trades and “teach kids how to do their taxes,” as well as one of the main speakers at the event suggesting the group lookup “Agenda 2030,” a reference to the United Nations’s 17 sustainable development goals. He said that “We are under attack,” that the prime minister is working “with entities that we don’t agree with,” and that “we are the carbon they are trying to erase.”
There were also several biblical references, signs asking trans people to “repent” as well as one that read “sende (sic) the demons back to hell.”
Sudbury.com spoke to Reverend Elizabeth Green, the incumbent priest at Anglican Church of the Epiphany on Larch Street, who had draped a rainbow blanket over her shoulders. Green was on the sidewalk of Paris Street with one half of the counter-protest group.
When asked about the signs reading “repent,” Green replied with the definition of repent: “to turn around.”
“When we are called to repent, or repent of our sins, it means to turn back around to the ways of God,” she said. “What we know, through the teachings of Jesus, and through the creation stories is that the way of God is the way of love and that all creatures are created in the image of that love. And so to say that somebody who is transgendered or gay or non-binary, somehow needs to repent? They're already made in the image of God.”
She added a quote from Dr. Cornel West, philosopher, professor and activist, who said “justice is what love looks like in public.”
“And what we're seeing here is an absolutely beautiful example of what love looks like in public,” she said.
There was not much love for the media on scene either. Sudbury.com’s reporter was singled out on scene and called various names, including “troll,” “scumbag” and “mole”. At one point, the reporter was surrounded by several marchers. One individual repeatedly followed our reporter and attempted to block her camera. At one point, a Million March protester attempted to knock the camera from her hands.
One marcher, a man, screamed at several teenage counter-protesters who had flanked the group, attempting to have their voices heard above the speeches. He screamed for them to sit down, “f–k off” and had to be walked away by other marchers.
Vincent Bolt, a counter-protest organizer, told Sudbury.com the curriculum the marchers are objecting to was in place to offer children the language to protect themselves in case of abuse.
“They said, ‘we need to teach kids language and teach kids about boundaries so they know what is appropriate and what is not appropriate. So they can speak up’,” said Bolt. “They want to eliminate it, and that terrifies me. Why are they so opposed to the language that would stop pedophilia?”
Bolt said that 2SLGBTQ+ students make up approximately 10-14 per cent of the student population in Canadian high schools, “We know that we are speaking up for a minority population.”
But that minority also faces disproportionate hardship. Trans youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide, and Bolt said they make up 20 to 40 per cent of the homeless youth population.
That, and as only 40 per cent of parents support their trans children, he said, “We've got 60 per cent of parents who do not accept their trans kids.”
That’s a problem, he said, as when parents fully support their kids, the risk of suicidal behaviour, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and active suicide attempts, decreases by 96 per cent.
“We're here because we know that their kids are in danger,” said Bolt. “I worry the most for the kids who live with the people who are protesting against us.”
Jenny Lamothe covers vulnerable and marginalized communities for Sudbury.com.