Skip to content

What you need to know about the “Parental Rights” protests

Over the past months, groups advocating to dismantle advances in 2SLGBTQIA+ rights and education in schools have been building momentum across the country.

The Council of Canadians is in proud solidarity with 2SLGBTQIA+ communities (see below for what this acronym means). We have written the below FAQ to clarify what’s going on in the current moment and encourage support for these communities. In order to build a world in which people, our planet, and our democracy are valued and protected, we must organize against forces that seek to divide.

We encourage you to share this resource, have conversations with the people in your lives, and show up and support counter-protests. Click here for information on a counter-protest near you.

What is the “One Million March for Children”?

Under the banner of “1 Million March 4 Children,” protests have been taking place at legislatures, city halls, and school board offices across the country. According to the organizers’ website, the protests want “the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology, and mixed bathrooms.” 

The most recent catalyst for these protests was a decision in June by the New Brunswick government to change existing school policies so that students under 16 now had to get parental consent before asking their teachers to use a different first name for them. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has filed a lawsuit against the province over the policy. The Saskatchewan government soon followed suit and passed similar legislation. Premier Doug Ford and his Education Minister Steven Lecce have floated similar policies in Ontario.

Protestors have demanded that all school districts tell parents if or when a child’s gender expression changes, invoking “parental rights.” This can include students asking to be referred to by different names or pronouns or using a bathroom that matches their gender identity. They have also talked about “safeguarding children’s innocence” by banning school education around gender and sexual education.

The first round of protests took place on September 20th, and it was met by widespread counter-protests under the umbrella of “1 Million Voices for Inclusion.”

Another round of protests and counter-protests is scheduled in cities across Canada for Saturday October 21st.

What is the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) program, one of the stated targets of the protests?

There has been a lot of misinformation, disinformation, and fearmongering around what’s happening with school curricula and policies.

It is important to note that the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) program – one of the stated targets of the protests – is: a) not sexual health education, and b) not a mandatory educational program or curriculum in any Canadian province or territory.

Rather, SOGI is a resource for school districts and educators that provides policies, procedures, and teaching materials that can be integrated by schools and districts to ensure that students of all genders and sexual orientations have a safe learning environment in which to succeed. These resources provide age-appropriate ways to answer questions that children might have about gender expression and sexual orientation, opportunities to change vocabulary to be inclusive and respectful, and lessons around gender stereotypes, bullying, and the harm that people can face when they challenge gender expectations.

Sexual health education, meanwhile, has been a part of provincial curriculum for decades, and parents continue to be informed about when and what sexual health education will be provided to their children. Importantly, parents can choose to remove their children from class when sexual health education is being provided if they do not want their children to be a part of those discussions.

I’m a parent. Shouldn’t I have the right to know what is happening in my child’s school?

Legally mandating that schools share information about a child’s gender expression can put some of those children at risk.

It is unfortunately the case that some children, especially some 2SLGBTQIA+ children, do not experience trust and safety in their relationships, be it with their classmates or the adults in their lives. At school, these kids face an increased likelihood of bullying and isolation when there’s a lack of support or education around sexual and gender diversity. At home, they may fear judgement or violence if they share their gender identity or sexual orientation with their parents, which increases chances of depression, suicidal tendencies, or homelessness.

Forcing schools to tell parents if their children are using new pronouns, names, or bathrooms will put some children in harm’s way, which is unacceptable. The priority within our shared public institutions must be to protect those who are in danger of direct harm – a primary purpose of human rights. In this case, that means protecting children’s access to appropriate levels of privacy, as well as education on relevant issues. These practices help keep gender diverse children safe.

Why are these debates heating up now?

Phrases like “parental rights” have become a smokescreen. In the current context, they’re being used by politicians and protest leaders (who include anti-2SLGBTQIA+ activists, far-right extremists, religious conservatives, and conspiracy theorists) to seem as though they are providing a solution to the fear that a lot of people are experiencing while scapegoating the very children they say they want to protect and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community they pretend not to hate. They are fanning the flames of people’s anxieties to distract from the real causes of social, economic, cultural, and political grievances.

Pierre Poilievre, as leader of the national Conservative Party, has often used these dog whistle politics to align with anti-trans movement leaders while attempting to distance himself from the consequences of such language. Poilievre and others would have us believe that we must choose between the health and wellbeing of trans and gender-diverse individuals and the rights of parents or, in some cases, of religious communities. This is a false dichotomy, and we must reject it. Canada has a long history of navigating human rights protections for different communities when they conflict with one another.

I’m not a parent or a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Why should I care about this conversation?

Across the globe, the rise in anti-trans and anti-2SLGBTQIA+ movements goes hand in hand with a rise in authoritarianism. In Canada, sacrificing the rights won by and for 2SLGBTQIA + communities would mean weakening human rights protections for all of us. We must see the current moment for what it is: unacceptable and dangerous attacks on loved members of our communities and, at the same time, a false choice that if entertained weakens human rights for all of us.

Showing up for the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is showing up for all of us and the world that we want to build together.

Share this resource, have conversations with the people in your lives, and show up and support counter-protests.

Click here for information on a counter-protest near you!

** What does 2SLGBTQIA+ stand for? **

Acronyms capturing the diversity of experiences around sexuality and gender have been evolving to become more inclusive. Along with many other groups in Canada, we now adopt the 2SLGBTQIA+ acronym, which stands for:

2S – Two Spirit: A term used by some Indigenous people who identify as having both a male and a female essence or spirit. It is also used as an umbrella term to encompass sexual, gender and spiritual diversity in Indigenous communities. The term is reserved for those who identify as Indigenous. Putting 2S at the front of the acronym recognizes that Two Spirit people were the first 2SLGBTQIA+ communities on this land.

L – Lesbian: A woman who is attracted to women.

G – Gay: A person who is attracted to people of the same gender.

B – Bisexual or Bi: A person who is attracted to people of more than one gender, but not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.

T – Trans: An umbrella term referring to people whose gender identities differ from the sex they were assigned at birth. “Trans” can mean transcending beyond, existing between, or crossing over the gender spectrum. It includes but is not limited to people who identify as transgender, transsexual, non-binary, or gender non-conforming (gender variant or genderqueer).

Q – Queer: An umbrella term used and reclaimed by some whose sexual orientations and/or gender identities fall outside of heterosexuality or the gender binary.

I – Intersex: A person born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the typical medical definitions of male or female bodies.

A – Asexual or Ace: A person who experiences little to no sexual attraction to people of any gender.

+: A signifier of inclusion and acceptance for all who identify as part of sexual and gender diverse communities.

(Definitions adapted from The 519 Glossary of Terms and the PFLAG Glossary.)