Two groups with very different ideologies held peaceful rallies in downtown Huntsville to try and get their points across.
Members and allies of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community including representatives of the North Simcoe Muskoka & District Labour Council were in front of Town Hall with music and banners demonstrating their support for inclusion in the community. But just down the street, at the corner of Main Street and Brunel Road, another group was demonstrating its support for parental rights and against what they said was the sexualization of children in schools. Members of the group, affiliated with a national organization calling itself 1MillionMarch4Children, said they were not feeling included.
“I miss the old days. I miss the community. I miss when everybody was included. I’m tired of the government overreach. I’m tired of the education overreach over our children and that’s it. That’s the only reason why we are here. There’s no hate. It’s just that we’re trying to make sure that our kids are protected and that they’re not vulnerable to what’s going on in society,” said Jason Wilkin who was at the 1MillionMarch4Children rally with his wife.
Scott Morrison was at the 2SLGBTQIA+ rally at Town Hall. Asked why he was there, he said: “I’m here for a whole pile of reasons. Equal rights is the main thing, and we do know that there are some protests happening across the country under the guise of parental rights but if you really dig in and start reading their messages, it’s basically hate-filled and transphobic, homophobic messages that they’re really trying to accomplish.
“They’re gathering people because who wouldn’t want to get involved in parental rights but the group themselves that are behind it, they do have a bit of hate involved,” said Morrison. “I’m not painting them all with the same brush, I’m not judging anyone and I’m not even judging the bad actors on that side. They believe what they believe for whatever reason. I wish they didn’t, but I can’t control that,” he added.
Morrison said he has family members who are in the LGBTQ community whom he loves dearly and knows first-hand what they’ve dealt with “and I don’t think it’s fair.”
He said the LGBTQ community has made huge strides. “The biggest reason I’m getting into it now is it seems like they’ve made so much progress decade after decade, after decade. They’ve got some of the rights that they never had before and now because of what’s going on down in the states and what’s going on with the far right, it seems like some of their rights are getting clawed back and taken away, so if we don’t stand up now we have a real danger of going backwards,” he said.
Wilkin insisted that in his family there is no hatred. He said he and his wife have daughters in grades 10 and 11. “Throughout their lifetime we’ve always sat at the dinner table and we always encouraged our daughters to talk about things like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of sexuality and freedom of choice. My wife and I, and the community that we belong to, we do not promote hate whatsoever.” Wilkin said he was disturbed when he saw a caricature of a unicorn being used in education material in one of his daughter’s health class. “This is where my wife and I are a little bit frustrated because we’re okay with anybody’s sexuality but my daughter at the age of 15 is not allowed to vote. She’s not allowed to smoke. She’s not allowed to drink. She’s not allowed to drive but if she decides to change her sexuality, the school system will not inform my wife and I of this because they say we don’t have the consent approval to be privileged in that information, and that’s why we’re here,” said Wilkin adding, “My two brothers in law are two wonderful gay human beings and they love us as a family and we love them as a family and that’s what it’s all about. It’s just freedom of choice and we want our children to be safe,” he said. Wilkin also argued that if the safety of a student is in question if their guardians or parents are informed of major changes in school, then additional resources like child services should be brought in, but he said he does not agree with shutting the parents or guardians out. While Wilkin was speaking, someone loudly questioned why the North Simcoe Muskoka & District Labour Council was involved in the dispute.
Doppler reached out to the union via email correspondence. Union President Mike De Rose responded and said “unions have over-arching social justice mandates. The entire principle of unions is that collectively, we can bring about meaningful and important changes that make conditions in our workplaces and our communities better places. When groups, like the ones we saw protest in front of publicly funded schools on September 20th, seek to influence public opinion or public policy in a way that negatively impacts already marginalized groups, we must stand united against such sentiment. For generations, unions have fought for marginalized and under-represented groups to receive fair and equal treatment.”
De Rose stated that the messaging by groups like 1MillionMarch4Children, is “a narrative that is both damaging and untrue being portrayed by some right-wing groups and individuals… [it]suggests that members and allies of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community are somehow ‘influencing’ or ‘coaching’ students to identify as Trans, or Gay, or any other sexual or gender identity that is not typical. This rhetoric first implies that people ‘choose’ their orientation and gender, an ideology that has been disproven by virtually all medical and psychological science. Next, this rhetoric implies that it is inherently ‘wrong’ to identify or ally oneself with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Both of these positions underpin a hateful message that says ‘We don’t want our kids to learn about these issues because we don’t want our kids to identify as members of that community.’ If public schools are really meant to be welcoming and inclusive places for all children and their families (and we believe they should be), then we must provide safe spaces for students to express their identities without the risk of negative outcomes for those students.”
When asked whether the union is alienating teachers who agree that parents should be involved in a child’s decision-making, and concerns that the union is turning the dispute into a left versus right-wing political issue and further polarizing people rather than bringing them together, De Rose stated: “Polarization is a dangerous thing indeed, and one that no one in a position of responsibility should take lightly. We believe that it is important to bring people together. That’s why we are advocating for safe and inclusive spaces in our public schools, not places where we ‘out’ kids to their families without their consent. Unfortunately, in this debate there is an either/or preposition which makes polarization more likely: either you get parental consent for students who want to be identified by something different at school or you don’t. This is not about ‘shutting parents out’ or trying to impress upon students’ values that are inconsistent with the home and family. I say that with all sincerity. It is about ensuring the public has accurate information about what is and what is not taught in public schools, the intent behind the procedures and processes for young people who may be in the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, and ultimately protecting students from potentially fatal outcomes at home in very rare cases.”
De Rose also stated that of course not all people at the rally were from right-wing groups just like all people at their rally are not from the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, or from far-left groups. “I am saying that the organizers (nationally) of the September 20th rallies and October 21st rallies do come from the right-wing ideological camps. I do not believe that is controversial nor really disputed. Personally, I believe that there is a large contingent of concerned parents and community members who are misinformed about the current curriculum, the exemption process for their kids during ‘Sex Ed’ classes, and how frequently this is an issue in classrooms (which is not very frequent at all). We don’t disagree that it is ideal for parents to be ‘in the know’ with their own child and their child’s identity and pronoun use. However, that choice to have conversations at home ultimately lies with the child/youth, and if they feel unsafe doing so, that is reason enough to not have it be obligatory/mandated that school staff ‘out’ students to their parents/caregivers.”
De Rose encouraged parents “who have questions about what is taught in schools to look at the Ontario Curriculum which is taught in schools. I think it demystifies what is being taught, and helps reassure parents that what our schools are teaching is consistent with the curriculum, and with recommendations from trusted organizations and affiliations. “
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