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Nation-Wide Anti-LGBTQ+ Protests Embolden Dramatic Rise in Canadian Transphobia

Mirren Bodanis & Sanad Hamdouna

Voices Editor & Cover Artist

Via Mirren Bodanis

Via Victoria News

On Wednesday September 20th, on Sherbrooke Street, at the entrance of McGill University, a crowd of protesters gathered and marched through downtown Montreal under the banner “1 Million March 4 Children.”

Two groups organized the demonstration: Hands off our Kids and Family❤Freedom. According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, both of these groups are known to spread anti-gay and anti-trans fear mongering. Hands off our Kids is explicitly religious and openly hateful, while Family❤Freedom claims to be secular and tolerant despite its history of spreading hateful rhetoric. Their activities are also openly supported and even sponsored by other far right groups such as the infamous trucker convoy, Christian nationalist groups, conspiracy theorists, and the like.

The demands of these protesters are nothing new though. In fact, they echo the demands of the decades old parental rights movement that began in the 1970s to defend discrimination against lesbians and gay men in employment, housing, and public life, all under the guise of “protecting children.” They claimed that gays and lesbians were trying to “recruit” children into queerness by simply existing around them or in public life. The movement went on to target hundreds of gay teachers under the 1978 Briggs Initiative, as well as opposing feminism and civil rights in America.

Similarly, these hate groups call for the elimination of education that takes into consideration topics such as sexual orientation and gender identity under accusations that it constitutes grooming and indoctrination. These accusations, although serious, hold absolutely no water.

According to UNH Sociology Professor and director of the Crimes against Children Research Center, grooming is defined as “a set of behaviors and manipulations that adults use to make it easier to introduce and complete sexual interactions with a child, without having to use physical force.” Talking about gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom does not fit the definition of grooming.

It also doesn’t amount to indoctrination. The claim that gender identity and sexual orientation awareness education will cause children to suddenly start identifying as LGBTQ is a lie born from the decades old fear mongering of the previously explained parental rights movement. Experts in psychology and child development have repeatedly said that there is no evidence showing that increased exposure to LGBTQ people or topics makes children more likely to self identify as LGBTQ.

Despite these two claims clearly being myths, they’ve already done real harm at the legislative level. This is especially true in America, where 83 anti-trans bills have passed, but also here in Canada, where several political parties have adopted policies that limit or ban gender-affirming care. Access to this type of care is crucial for the well-being of trans kids. In rare circumstances, minors can undergo medical operations before they turn the age of majority, but the vast majority of gender-affirming care for younger people involves low commitment, easily reversible procedures. This can include using a different name or pronouns, puberty blockers, voice coaching, and changing their gender marker on official documents.

There is a real danger in preventing access to this care. According to a 2022 study by The Trevor Project, American states that have pursued anti-trans legislation, including legislation restricting healthcare, see an augmented rise in suicidal ideation of transgender youth, going as high as 56% in Texas. Some have argued that it is actually more likely for transgender youth to regret seeking medical care, but gender-affirming surgeries have an extremely low regret rate: just 1%. This is dramatically lower than something like a knee replacement, which 20% of patients regret, or the regret rate across surgeries in general, which is 14%. Only about 1% of people detransition, and the most common reason is social pressure (transphobia).

The “1 Million March 4 Children” is only one of many manifestations of the massive increase in transphobia over the past decade. Every month, we are seeing violence against trans people legislated into American law, and now this trend has reached Canada as well. Recently, policies were passed in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan that require teachers & educators to get written consent from young students’ parents before using their preferred names and pronouns. Although Canada has long been perceived as a safe place for queer people, especially when compared to the U.S., it is clear that this perception is becoming less and less accurate. This has left many Canadians asking why, after years of what felt like queer progress, are we regressing at such a dramatic pace?

“The thing about queer and trans people is they’re disrupting how society works,” says Kelly Phipps, a professor of sociology at Dawson. “Our whole society has been premised around distinct gender roles, and so trans and queer people are challenging that. A lot of people benefit from this organization of society, patriarchy benefits people, so people who are being challenged are going to push back. Queer and trans people are being perceived as screwing it up.”

An expanded understanding of gender has existed since far before the federation of Canada. As explained by an anonymous activist calling for indigenous reconciliation at the counter-protest to the “1 Million March,” the gender binary was brought to Canada through colonization: “In turtle island, there was no gender binary. Every different nation had a different conception of gender, and we need to understand that when we are fighting against transphobia, we are also fighting for indigenous sovereignty and the right for them to have agency over their own gender and the way they define themselves.”

Trans people are showing us how our binary, fixed understanding of gender and sexuality is a construct, rather than an inherent reality. As more and more people are realizing that they don’t fit into the gender they were assigned at birth, or even a binary gender at all, people’s own understanding of who they are is challenged. To many, this can be frightening and trigger the violent and hateful reactions we are seeing across Canada and the globe.

News media has also played a heavy role in failing to counter the spread of transphobia. In an interview with The Plant, Mel Woods, senior editor at Xtra Magazine, explains how news coverage of trans issues is often problematically framed. "So many media organizations continue to center this as a 'two sides disagreeing' kind of debate,” they say, "We don't talk about climate change in that way. We don't put an article that's like 'some people deny climate change exists, and some people think that it is real, and you know there's a debate to be had there’. People have learned their lessons, and yet still when it comes to trans issues there's this need to 'both sides' these things."

This “just asking questions” attitude, often motivated by the goal for “balanced journalism” gives a dangerous platform to conservative rhetoric that often goes against actual fact and science. "Balance is not 'hearing from both sides,' balance is being fair,” says Woods. In an effort to appear “balanced”, many news organizations give the same weight to medical professionals and trans people with lived experience as they do conservative extremists. This is how denying children healthcare has been legitimized as “parental rights.” In their article “We need to talk about transphobia in Canadian media,” Woods points out how articles published by the CBC, CTV, and the Toronto Star have all given unwarranted credibility to misinformed, dangerous views.

Further, the education that the “1 Million March” and other transphobic groups argue against is essential for an inclusive future. “I think it's really important that we teach children what it means to be trans and what it means to be queer in schools,” says a representative of Queer McGill, protesting against the “1 Million March,” echoing the sentiment of many counter-protestors. By educating young people, they can better understand themselves, whether queer or not, and better navigate their experiences through adolescence and adulthood. In the words of Professor Phipps, “[The 1 Million March] is parents who are positioning themselves against kid's rights, for kids to have their own self-determination and autonomy.”

The fight for trans rights is a fight for everyone’s freedom to define themselves, to have agency over their presentation and to be true to themselves. By fighting for trans rights, people are fighting against gender roles and sexism, and against colonialism and white supremacy. Fighting for trans rights is not just a fight for trans people, it is a fight for us all.


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