The so-called “1 Million March 4 Children” protest outside the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) on Sept. 20 sought to target the removal of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum in schools. A local advocacy group, United for Change, could not let the protest go unopposed.
To mount the counter-protest against the anti-2SLGBTQIA+ “1 Million March 4 Children,” Julia Clifford, Kaylee MackIntosh, and Kayla Halliday crammed over 40 hours of organizing and calls to action in less than four days.
“It seems like all these anti-2SLGBTQIA+] folks have kind of banded together since COVID. They really started pushing this far-right extremism that we’re seeing in the states,” Halliday said. “I felt like we couldn’t let that continue to go unimposed.”
“That’s exactly how we will all lose our rights. If you don’t stand up for one, then eventually we all lose. We need to come together and stick up for those rights we do have and push for more,” she said.
The marches under the loosely organized “1 Million March 4 Children” banner advocate the removal of SOGI curriculum and pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools. Protesters waved Canadian flags and signs that read “stop SOGI,” “protect our children,” “this is abuse,” and “Jesus is coming soon.”
One organizer told the crowd: “this is a spiritual war.”
The language of “parental rights” and protecting children has been used to support anti-2SLGBTQIA+ rights and inclusion for decades. Before the latest anti-trans push, fuelled mainly by religious conservative activists (such as Moms For Liberty), much of the same rhetoric was used to vilify lesbians and gay men in the 70s and 80s.
Studies show school interventions that support children with diverse genders and sexualities hold clear benefits for all students, not only for those who identify as 2SLGBTQIA+. Support services, intervention, and gender-positive spaces reduce depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.
United for Change
“United for Change is a grassroots organization,” MackIntosh said. “We have been doing activism together for several years protesting hate groups and those who preach homophobia, transphobia and hate to all of our minority communities.”
United for Change said their advocacy was 2SLGBTQIA+ specific, but began doing social justice in all quarters.
“We wanted to start an organization that was able to address all minority communities, not just reproductive freedoms,” they said. “So, when we launched United for Change, it was to cover all minority groups that deserve social justice.”
Clifford was previously with Fight for Equity, the activist group that organized the Edmonton Black Lives Matter protest in June 2020 after George Floyd’s murder. MackIntosh and Halliday were two of three founders of People for Reproductive Freedom and Choice, a group that opposed anti-abortion and restrictive reproductive policy changes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court repeal of Roe v. Wade.
MackIntosh said that United for Change only recently launched as an official organization.
“I thought it was really important as we’ve seen the rise of all these different types of extremisms for us to push back against that,” Halliday said.
“Regardless of what topic we’re talking about, whether we’re talking about 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, women’s rights, or any minority group facing oppression or discrimination.”
Julie Clifford, Photo provided by Julie Clifford
United for Change originally staged their counter-protest in the south of the Telus World of Science parking lot across the street from the “1 Million March 4 Children.” After the Alberta Teachers Association invited them to its grounds, they moved the counter-protest across the street to stand in solidarity with the teachers.
Union presence was also visible alongside the ATA and United for Change. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Public Service Alliance of Canada, Canadian Union of Public Employees, Alberta United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, Alberta Federation of Labour, and other local advocacy groups like Public Interest Alberta had members at the counter-protest.
“Our biggest goal was making sure that trans and LGBTQ2S youth felt supported no matter what hateful rhetoric the other side was saying, and we kept our side safe which was our biggest worry of all,” Clifford said.
“But I think we showed the youth out there that they’re supported, even if we were outnumbered.”
More anti-2SLGBTQIA+ protesters arrived at one point, almost doubling the size of the counter-protest, and eventually spilled onto the street and affected traffic. Car honking punctuated throughout the rest of the protest.
There were several close calls between vehicles in the intersection as drivers slowed to watch and take pictures.
“We saw a need for safety,” MackIntosh said. “A lot of folks haven’t had the prior experience dealing with these specific hate groups and organizing counter-protests, so immediately, we jumped in.”
“When there aren’t folks trained in de-escalation and nonviolent crisis intervention, or who aren’t community workers with that education behind them,” they said, “it becomes very risky and a hot spot for escalation.”
“Not only with our community, but the other side as well.”
As the protest swelled, a silver Infiniti stopped between the groups. The occupants yelled and taunted the counter-protesters while waving a large Canadian flag from the sunroof.
The driver stepped out of the car, then shouted slurs and waved his middle fingers. An Edmonton Police Service (EPS) officer politely urged him back to his car, and then a line of officers moved onto the meridian between the protesters and counter-protesters.
Protesters, counter-protesters, and the police
“They made sure we never stepped out of line on our side. But, the other people were allowed to keep encroaching and keep encroaching,” Clifford said.
The anti-2SLGBTQIA+ demonstrators went around EPS officers on the meridian and crossed the street toward the counter-protesters. EPS redeployed another line of officers between the groups.
“After doing this for as many years as we’ve all been doing this, we know the police are never on our side,” Clifford said.
“They claim they don’t take sides, but they do.”
“When people were coming over, I would be marching these gentlemen out of our group as soon as I could see them because I know the police aren’t going to do anything,” Halliday said.
Clifford said the police confronted some Antifa counter-protesters as soon as they arrived. EPS backed down only after she intervened.
“They’re peacekeepers [Antifa], they always do a wonderful job,” Clifford said. “The police are just trying to find anything they can to tear apart our side.”
“We were assaulted me, Kayla, and Julia — physically by an individual while the EPS were standing there,” MackIntosh said. “And that’s with EPS there. Imagine if they weren’t?”
EPS said members were deployed to the protest and counter-protest to maintain public safety and limit impacts to traffic flow. EPS told the Griff since the protest, investigators are following up on incidents that occurred, and those investigations are still ongoing.
Kayle Halliday, Photo provided by Kayla Halliday
Rising anti-2SLGBTQIA+ hate
MackIntosh said they held a rally last October in response to the anti-2SLGBTQIA+ resolution passed during the United Conservative Party (UCP) Annual General Meeting.
On Oct. 22, 2022, The UCP hosted its first Annual General Meeting under Danielle Smith. Members voted on resolutions for future policy positions, and Resolution 17 passed overwhelmingly.
According to the resolution, the government would not be involved in education about identity, sexuality, and morality. Parents do not need to affirm their child’s gender if it does not conform with the child’s birth sex.
“This ideology held within the UCP is from the “Don’t Say Gay” movement in the U.S.,” MackIntosh said.“So that’s really when this all started.”
“We talked with the Alberta Teachers Association and tried our best to advocate. Unfortunately, folks don’t listen until it’s too late.”
“I also find it very concerning that the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) just passed their two anti-2SLGBTQIA+ policies,” Halliday said. “And I have no doubt that Pierre [Poilievre], should he become prime minister, will implement them.”
At the CPC Policy Convention on Sept. 8, delegates recently approved one policy that will limit transgender health care for minors and another which dictates that single-sex spaces be only open to women. The party defines a woman as a “female person.”
“I think it’s also important to note that a lot of these folks who disagree with SOGI 123 are joining these organizations that have affiliation with hate groups,” MackIntosh said. “And they don’t necessarily deny it.”
The “1 Million March 4 Children” protests are supported by far-right conspiracy groups, including Christian Nationalists, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, sovereign citizens, and anti-public education activists.
Two of the more prominent “brands” who organized the protests are “Hands Off Our Kids” and “Family Freedom.” One organizer for “Hands Off Our Kids,” Mahmoud Mourra, was charged with hate-motivated criminal harassment in July.
“They say they aren’t affiliated with those people and they’re not there, but yet we’ve seen it,” MackIntosh said. “We’ve been counter-protesting these people and trying to educate folks who might be, for example, a concerned mother or a concerned family member.”
“At the end of the day, you’re standing with white supremacists and hate groups, and you’re being given misinformation that is harming and targeting our communities.”
“I do think that it’s interesting that our premier didn’t release any sort of statement like our mayor condemning these folks,” Halliday said. “But, she had zero problem taking that photo with the fellow in the straight pride t-shirt.”
During her visit to the Calgary Stampede, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith took a photo with a man wearing a “straight pride” shirt. After it surfaced on social media and sparked public reaction, Smith’s office stated that she did not read his shirt and disagreed with the message.
Representation and Queer visibility
“I think that it’s important because representation matters,” Halliday said about the counter-protest.“It’s a way for people to not feel so alone, that we’re here and we’re not going to let everyone trample over them and take their rights away.”
Halliday said SOGI 123 helps; schools are often the only safe place for some kids.“Many families we know will just throw their children on the street if they’re gay,” said MackIntosh. “And they say that we’re indoctrinating our children,” MackIntosh said.
“No, it’s completely the other way around. They are indoctrinating youth by trying to specifically choose what they can and cannot learn.”
MackIntosh said programs like SOGI allow kids to choose their gender identity in a way that is not forced. “It is there as an option in case they are queer,” they said. “Because you can’t choose to be queer.”
“There haven’t been safe spaces for our queer youth and for gender diverse families and those who are within our 2SLGBTQIA+ community,” they said.
Kaylee MackIntosh, Photo provided by Kaylee MackIntosh
The future and how people can help
“What we want to see is sharing factual education with the community that’s available for parents,” MackIntosh said. “And enforce safe spaces for our youth and advocate against these harmful ideologies.”
“We are going to continue to counter-protest against hate groups.”
Clifford said people can help by showing up to the rallies and protests.
“I think it’s really critical to note that this isn’t going to always be the hot moment,” MackIntosh said. “We need to continue to show up even when it’s not the new thing.”
“It’s just going to continue to get worse if we don’t do something about it.”
Halliday said, “We are always looking for more volunteers. Support queer agencies. I know the Queer and Trans Health Collective works solely with 2SLGBTQIA+ community.”
“Continue to listen to queer and gender diverse voices,” MackIntosh said. “And make sure that you amplify those voices.”
“Absolutely,” Halliday said, “Speaking out and continuing to resist and oppose any action, whether it’s from the hate groups or from our government that threatens the lives or the dignity of anyone in our community.”
“Because an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.”
Photo by Amanda Erickson