A group protesting sexuality and gender-diverse education held signs reading ‘Teach biology, not ideology,’ ‘Let kids be kids’ and ‘Parents’ rights matter’ in Prince Albert on Wednesday.
The local event was one of several across Canada called 1 Million March 4 Children. The Prince Albert protesters walked from City Hall to the Saskatchewan Rivers Public School Division, where several people spoke to the crowd.
This included Saskatchewan Rivers MLA Nadine Wilson, Elevation Academy teacher and business owner Melanie Markling and Pastor Kevin Tabuchi.
“(Parents) want to teach their children the good things of life and for them to be innocent as long as they possibly can in the world we’re living in today,” said organizer Hannah-Mary Shenouda.
Shenouda said she’s against elementary-aged children “being taught how to masturbate and create sodomy and to use dildos.”
According to a news release – and shown in some signs at the march – the group is protesting SOGI 123 in schools, which the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation wanted to implement in a pilot program.
“The people pushing SOGI 123 think it is the only way to ensure that schools are safe and inclusive for all students. They think it is their way or nothing,” said Wilson.
“But by the crowd here today, with their babies and their children, with their parents and their grandparents, I’m here to tell you that it’s not the only way to respect the rights of a child. Inclusion must include parents and caregivers.”
Last month, the Ministry of Education said teachers are no longer allowed to bring in outside sources to teach about sex education. This comes after Planned Parenthood offered ABC sex cards to Grade 9 students at Lumsden High School.
SOGI is not specific to sex education and focuses on “diversity and respect” of the LGBTQ community. According to its website, the SOGI program has three pillars: policies and procedures, inclusive environments and teaching resources.
When it comes to elementary school students, SOGI suggests teaching proper language surrounding LGBTQ people. For example, it explains, a child may say “that’s so gay” and assume being gay is bad, without understanding what the term means.
The province also announced that schools now require parental consent for anyone under the age of 16 to change their name or pronouns.
“We didn’t have any of these discussions,” said Shenouda about her upbringing.
“Yes, they brought in sex education, but in a healthy way. This is not healthy, this is destroying the minds of our future generations.”
The news release also states that “planned and forced indoctrination and sexualization of our children” makes them vulnerable to sexual predators. It adds that allowing children to choose their genders results in irreversible sex changes and hormone suppression.
“If you feel like you’re a girl at five years old, well I’m sorry, but medically, most children know their gender,” said Shenouda.
“SOGI, in our opinion, is brainwashing.”
Shenouda said she’s not against the LGBTQ community and wanted counter-protestors to come and listen.
However, when two people waving pride flags approached, a member of the group began cursing at them – which Shenouda said she doesn’t stand for.
“We would encourage to love the members of the LGBT community. Many of them have struggled desperately in their own lives, and if that’s their choice, that’s their choice because we have that freedom,” she said.
“We’re not down (playing) them and saying ‘You’re wrong, we’re right.’”
Shenouda also referenced a recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute. It shows that two in five Canadians, or 43 per cent, say parents should be informed and give consent if their children wish to change how they identify.
The poll shows that number is the highest in Saskatchewan among all provinces, at 50 per cent.
March met with counter-protests
Counter-protests occurred both at City Hall and down the street from the Sask. Rivers building.
The treasurer of Prince Albert Pride, Lana Wilson, said the group wanted to “be a symbol of hope” for the LGBTQ community.
“This is an issue of life or death for gender-diverse kids. The suicide rates are so high. There’s a lot of kids that don’t feel safe talking about their identities or their questions with their parents, and I think that’s the part that’s getting lost,” said Wilson.
According to to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth in Canada are five times more likely to die by suicide and seven times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.
“Standing out here today, I don’t expect to change other people’s minds,” Wilson added.
“But it’s so important for me to let people know, to let passerbys know, to let that group know that they do not stand unopposed.”
‘You don’t have to completely shelter children from reality’
Chelsea Bleau, who’s non-binary and goes by pronouns they/them, is the chair of Prince Albert Pride.
Bleau said sexualizing gender identity is creating stigma about gender-diverse people.
They added that teaching children about the various sexual orientations and gender identities isn’t confusing youth, as the news release about the march claimed.
“This isn’t making people confused, it’s empowering people,” said Bleau.
At the same time, though, they stand for comprehensive sex education at any age. It just depends on how you talk to children, they said.
“It doesn’t have to be really vulgar stuff, it can be as simple as teaching consent. I think about that a lot. I would have really, really benefitted from that in school,” said Bleau.
“You don’t have to completely shelter children from reality.”
When questioned about the 1 Million March 4 Children, Sask. Rivers director of education Neil Finch only asked protestors to remain on public property. Finch said he was aware that the march was headed to the Sask. Rivers building.
A photo is circulating on social media of a sign at Red Wing Public School that reads “We will embrace diversity, inclusion, belonging.”