Hundreds of people gathered outside Lethbridge city hall to both protest and counter protest Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sexual Orientation guidelines in Lethbridge schools (SOGI).
The original protest was part of the “1 Million March 4 Children” event, which opposes SOGI policy. Protesters carried signs and flags with messages such as “Straight Pride”, “Hand off Our kids” and “Stop Sexualizing Our Kids in Schools.”
“The 1 Million March 4 Children is a mission to unite humanity around our common goal of
protecting children from premature sexualization and potentially harmful indoctrination,” reads a section from the event’s website.
The Lethbridge School Division has SOGI guidelines, which it says are intended to help schools create welcoming, caring, respectful and safe environments for all students, families and school staff.
“The guidelines set out in this document are intended to support best practices and decision making related to sexual and gender minority students,” reads the division’s document on the guidelines. “The intention of this work is to support members in Lethbridge School Division community in our shared obligation to attend to the equality and dignity of all individuals inclusive of their gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.”
The guidelines include things such as addressing students by their chosen name day-to-day. Kids can have documents changed to reflect their chosen name, with parental permission, or they can use their chosen name informally. It also includes using chosen pronouns and having four options for gender identity available to students in the school’s information system (SIS).
“Gender identity is based solely on self-identification and does not require any official documentation,” the document says. “A gender change in SIS does require parent/guardian permission unless the student is designated as an independent student.”
Providing students with inclusive washrooms and changerooms is also part of the guidelines. “Students may access washrooms and change rooms that are congruent with their gender identity,” the guidelines say. “Some students, whether they are gender and/or sexually diverse or not, may feel more comfortable using a universal washroom (for washroom or change room purposes) that is accessible to all students. These are single stall washrooms with floor to ceiling doors/walls that are unlocked for any student to access.”
People who attended to counter-protest carried signs with messages including “Protect Queer Youth”, “Gender Affirming Care Saved My Life” and “Protect Trans Kids.”
Kim Siever is the president of Outreach Southern Alberta Society and the organizer of the counter-protest. He said his organization is devoted to advocacy for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and it is important for students to know they have support.
“We feel it is important that they have a learning environment where they can feel that support, where they can feel affirmed and that they can thrive and so we felt it was important that we come out together as a community to show that solidarity with them,” he said. “The single most important thing that 2SLGBTQ+ students need in their lives to be able to thrive is that family and community support and so I think it is of utmost importance that families provide an affirming and welcoming and supportive environment within the home because that will really help those youth and those children survive and to thrive in their lives and if they can’t get it at home, I think the next best place for them to have it is at school. ”
Shell Landry organized the main protest and said she wants to stand up for children and ensure they are “receiving education at school and not sexual indoctrination.”
“I really believe that both sides of this and I don’t really think there are sides, we are all here because we care about the children — we just have different ways of believing how to do that and it’s my hope that actually everybody will kind of put their voices down and open their ears and have understanding and hear each other speak,” she said. “Unless we listen to each other, it’s just going to a shouting match at protests — we are not going to get anywhere and we need to be the example that our children need to see.”
For much of the morning, the lawn in front of city hall was full of people chanting, yelling and waving signs and flags. At around 11:00 a.m., the people who were there to protest against SOGI left to march around downtown.