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Nanaimo shows acceptance and allyship in drowning out anti-SOGI voices

Counter-protests held at school district administration office and at city hall

Supporters of sexual orientation and gender identity rights in Nanaimo outnumber those wanting to take away those rights.

A local demonstration against SOGI education in schools was drowned out by the voices of Nanaimo’s LGBTQ community and allies.

Outside Nanaimo City Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 20, counter-protesters chanting “no space for hate” more than doubled the number of anti-SOGI rally participants saying “leave our kids alone.” Police intervened and separated the two groups to opposite sides of the street following several heated nose-to-nose arguments between the parties. Members for both sides continued to pour in, resulting in hundreds of people lining Wallace Street.

Reserve Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesperson, said one person was arrested near city hall for a very minor assault involving a pushing match.

There was an initial protest and counter-protest at Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ administration office prior to a planned march from Nanaimo City Hall to Maffeo Sutton Park.

Erica Bakewell, organizer of the counter-protest, said she was surprised by the number of people who showed up.

“When we heard about this march, I sat back for a little bit waiting to see if our Pride society or if anyone in the community would step up and organize something, because … this doesn’t come across as parents who are upset about a curricula,” she said. “It comes across as a platform for anyone who is harbouring any hate right now … be it towards the LGBTQ-plus community, the government … and it’s not going to be our community that gets to be the victims of that.”

During the rally, Bakewell held a sign that read ‘SOGI saves lives.’

“Not only am I queer, I’m also a teacher within the local school district. And for me, SOGI is a platform in which students get to learn that hetero-normative, mom-and-dad, boy-and-girl marriages are not the only way. And that’s OK. And it’s OK that some families have two moms and two dads and those kids get to come to school and feel welcome and like they belong. And they don’t have to feel like there’s something wrong with them. Because there’s not, they’re beautiful,” she said.

Ahead of the anti-SOGI march and counter-protests, SD68’s superintendent Scott Saywell, the Nanaimo and District Teachers’ Association president Jo Cornthwaite and the local CUPE president Jeff Virtanen signed a letter supporting inclusivity, diversity and the promotion of SOGI rights.

“In our commitment to fostering a more inclusive and equitable school district, we believe that embracing diversity and upholding the principles of SOGI is essential for the well-being and prosperity of our entire community,” the letter noted.

Educators and school staff said they witness first-hand “the harm caused by anti-LGBTQ2S+ campaigns,” and stand against disinformation.

“We have made substantial progress in establishing safe spaces in our schools and remain dedicated to ensuring that every student feels a deep sense of belonging,” they said.

B.C.’s human rights commissioner Kasari Govender issued a statement saying the human rights of trans people and other members of the LGBTQ community are not up for debate, full stop.

“Denying the existence of trans and gender-diverse people – including calls to erase trans and LGBTQ2SAI+ people from our province’s curricula – is hate, and hate should have no place in our community or in our schools,” Govender said.

B.C. Premier David Eby, in a letter to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, stated that he accepts every student for who they are in every way, and denounces threats, hate and violence against the LGBTQ community.

“We are seeing a concerning rise in incidents where trans people are being targeted with threats and violence in person and online,” he said. “We cannot and must not stand idly by in the face of any kind of bullying.”

Lisa Marie Barron, Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP, issued a statement this week saying it’s wrong to play political games with the safety and well-being of children.

“Today’s demonstration tells our kids that they shouldn’t feel comfortable or safe being who they are in our communities, and that’s not OK…” she said. “It’s important that we come together and ensure that our kids can grow up feeling safe and accepted for who they are.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a social media post, said transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia have no place in Canada.

“We strongly condemn this hate and its manifestations, and we stand united in support of 2SLGBTQI+ Canadians across the country – you are valid and you are valued,” he stated.

According to information about the 1 Million March 4 Children distributed to media, “this movement is mainly focused on protection of children against LGBTQIA+ ideology in [the] school system and not to fight back against the LGBTQ community. We firmly believe in the rights of adults to make their own choices regarding their lifestyles.”

Cheryl Land, a participant at Nanaimo’s anti-SOGI rally, said “We don’t discriminate against gay people. Do whatever you want, just don’t be shaking your stuff in front of our children.”

READ ALSO: B.C. Human Rights Commissioner says trans rights ‘not up for debate’

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