Counter-protesters outnumber anti-queer movement in Halifax | Education | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Million Person March Halifax protesters square off with counter-protesters in front of the Nova Scotia legislature, at the Grand Parade and along Hollis Street on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. A member of the march is seen wearing a Diagolon flag on their jacket on Argyle Street, as the groups dispersed shortly after noon.

Counter-protesters outnumber anti-queer movement in Halifax

Duelling demonstrators divided over sexual orientation and gender identity education in schools.

Update, Wednesday, Sept. 20: At 9:30am, a few dozen members of the Million Person March Halifax protest arrived at the steps of the Grand Parade in downtown Halifax. Handmade signs read “Groom Dogs Not Kids”, “Secrets Hide A Nefarious Curriculum”, “A.B.C. not S.E.X.” and “Protect Childhood Innocence,” while others waved Nova Scotia and Canadian flags.

Around the cenotaph and occupying the northeast half of the square, counter-protesters outnumbered the marchers 2:1. The counter-protest side included members of various 2SLGBTQIA+ advocacy groups and allies in Halifax, like Education Saves Lives/L’éducation Sauve Des Vie. They waved the Progress Pride flag, a combination of the rainbow flag and the white, blue and pink transgender flag—some included the purple and yellow circle of the intersex flag. Their signs read “Ignorance = Harm”, “Protect Trans Kids” and “No Space For Hate”.

On Hollis Street in front of the Nova Scotia legislature, over 100 counter-protesters stood shoulder-to-shoulder. The sidewalk in front of them was covered in coloured chalk with messages of support for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth, placed directly along the march route that moved down George Street, along Hollis, then back up Prince Street to finally return to Grand Parade as the noon cannon bellowed. Police guarded all sides of the Grand Parade and formed a line between both groups.

A video from CBC’s Brett Ruskin showed one altercation that happened as both groups converged back at the public square.

A volunteer marshal with the counter-protest group, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Coast about an incident they witnessed on their way back to the Grand Parade: “Up at the corner of Duke and Brunswick, the rainbow group got separated and the opposition, I'll call it, went to the corner of Duke and Brunswick. [The protesters were] a much larger group than our group that was there. When I got there, a physical altercation broke out, which involved the children from the other side getting involved and police showed up and [it seemed like they] made some arrests.”

The marshal says they didn’t see whether anyone was handcuffed or placed in police custody because they were focused on getting their people out of harm's way. “I did see [police officers] just like pulling people away, but I don't know what happened from there,” they said.

The Halifax Regional Police released a statement Wednesday afternoon:

Halifax Regional Police maintained a visible presence in downtown Halifax today in relation to a demonstration.

Starting at approximately 9:30 a.m. members of the Public Safety Unit, Community Response Officers along with members of the Traffic Unit attended the demonstration at Grand Parade in Halifax. The demonstration grew to approximately 1200 people that consisted of mainly two separate groups. Officers assisted in traffic control and focused on the safety of the public and demonstrators as they made their way along a short route.

All streets… that were temporarily closed to traffic are now reopened.

A 16-year-old youth was arrested and is facing charges of assault with a weapon, mischief (property damage) and causing a disturbance and is scheduled to appear in youth court at a later date.

Earlier story: Countering anti-queer movement with the message “education saves lives”

Bénédicte Wiggett is an educator with 30 years of experience who, until recently, was vice-principal of an elementary school in Nova Scotia. She is also a parent of a child who identifies as gender fluid and queer. For both reasons, she takes issues of education around sexual orientation and gender identity—a field known as SOGI or “sew-gee”—seriously.

When she heard about a national anti-SOGI movement with a presence in Halifax on Wednesday, Sept. 20, she responded by organizing a counter-protest called “Education Saves Lives/L’éducation Sauve Des Vie.”

Over the past few years in Nova Scotia, Wiggett has been “quite alarmed by the number of very anti-2SLGBTQIA+ and anti-SOGI” views that parents have expressed to her and other school staff, sometimes using “very bigoted and hateful words.”

Wiggett says she’s seen “a rise in ignorance and bigotry in Nova Scotia, with some very violent acts,” and references the burning of a Pride flag at a Tantallon high school in April. “In order to avoid that, we need to become more educated, and that starts with schools.”

Wiggett encourages parents to be involved in their child’s education in a respectful way. “If a parent is concerned about what's being taught in schools, absolutely ask the teacher, ask the administration of school,” she says. “I can't think of any teachers who are not perfectly happy with sharing the materials that they're using with the students.”

Wiggett says there’s a lot of miseducation about what teachers and educators are doing in schools: “Teachers [are] being accused of being groomers and sexual predators by teaching about sexual education, and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.”

“I've even heard parents saying that we're teaching children how to masturbate. It is completely ludicrous and insulting to educators to think that that's the kind of thing we're doing.”

At some point last year, Wiggett realized it was time for her to move away from her job, while not abandoning her efforts to educate and support SOGI and 2SLGBTQIA+ youth. “I decided to take action within my community.”

When a post about the Million Person March, a national movement in Canada happening Wednesday, Sept. 20, came across her Facebook feed, Wiggett decided to gather allied groups and 2SLGBTQIA+ youth groups around Halifax to counter-protest the marches.

As of publication deadline Tuesday, 394 people had responded to the Million Person March - Halifax Facebook event that begins 10am in front of Halifax City Hall before marching downtown to the Nova Scotia Legislature. The march’s purpose is: “Standing united as one against the perversion that is targeting our children in schools but also online.”

In response, Wiggett and others are gathering at 9:30am in front of Province House to counter-protest the march.

“Hate Has No Space Here” is a nationally coordinated effort in response to Wednesday’s protests. Wiggett is the organizer of Halifax’s event, “Education Saves Lives/L’éducation Sauve Des Vies” that will take place at 1726 Hollis Street. As of Tuesday, 490 people had responded to the counter-protest on Facebook.

“There's a lot of LGBTWST+ groups and allied groups gathering tomorrow,” says Wiggett, “and we are hoping it's going to be a very peaceful gathering. There will obviously be people there who are just standing up for the protection of SOGI education in Canadian schools and the LGBTWST+ youth around us.

“We're hoping it's going to remain very calm [so] Halifax [knows] there are people willing to defend these marginalized groups.”

The anti-SOGI Million Person March will meet at Halifax City Hall at 10am before marching downtown to Province House. Wiggett encourages counter-protesters with Education Saves Lives to not engage with the other group, saying she’s already been targeted online for being named as an organizer.

“I've even heard parents saying that we're teaching children how to masturbate. It is completely ludicrous and insulting to educators to think that that's the kind of thing we're doing.”

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“It's kind of useless sometimes engaging with someone who's at the height of their emotional anger in any situation,” Wiggett says. “We're just there to stand in solidarity together. It's not the place to debate these issues at all. But just to know that we're there, and we're there to protect our LGBTWST+ and SOGI education.”

For this reason, Wiggett’s group is not marching but staying in place so there’s less likelihood of engagement with protesters.

“The [Million People Marches], I think, have been encouraged to keep their children away from school and to bring them to the march,” says Wiggett. “So, being conscious that there may be children and very young children at the protest, we definitely do not want any violence or any kind of engagement whatsoever.”

The Halifax Regional Police told The Coast on Tuesday: “We are aware of the planned protest [the Million Person March]. We continue to gather information and monitor the situation closely, however, we do not speak to the specifics of our deployment planning. Our primary focus is everyone’s safety and we will continue to monitor the situation and will take appropriate actions dependent on the specifics of the day.”

Nova Scotia P-12 curriculum on all subjects, including SOGI or “health education,” is publicly available online, though Wiggett and other educators and advocates note the province’s SOGI curriculum remains vague.

“School boards need to defend teachers and schools who are following the curriculum and review their SOGI education and their general sex education, to make sure it's up to date and respects all communities,” Wiggett says.

She also says provincial school boards should clarify their SOGI curriculum for parents and teachers alike, to make these discussions safer and transparent, because children and youth are going to ask these questions. They’re normal and they’re inevitable.

“Sometimes parents are fearful to approach that conversation,” says Wiggett, “as it seems that sexuality and gender identity are topics that are still taboo, in some households. But if they approach it in the same way, as you'd explain to your child, why the sky is blue, or why elephants have tusks, it's just a simple question for a child. And these discussions are important to have.

“It's not protecting your child to keep them in ignorance, because the child will find that information elsewhere.”

She recommends that both the English and French provincial school boards update their SOGI curriculum as frequently as they revisit other subjects, like math, language and history.

I'm glad that we are staying open in Nova Scotia to having SOGI in our curriculum, and not limiting it as other provinces are,” says Wiggett. “I am glad Nova Scotia is not following New Brunswick footsteps.”

“On the other hand, I think Nova Scotia really does have to review its curriculums and bring them up to date. And quickly. Parents want clarity. Our curriculum at the moment is a little bit vague and when things are vague, they can be interpreted in lots of different ways.

“When we teach in primary school, ‘What does a family look like? Is a family simply a mummy or daddy or can a family look very different. Can it be a mummy and a grandmother? Can it be two mummies and two daddies and so on?’

“We teach about, as they get older, about adoption, and so on. So, these are things that need to be made a little bit clearer for all to understand, because there is misinterpretation of what's being done in school. So the more clarity can be delivered through a curriculum, the less confusion there will be.”

What to know for tomorrow’s counter-protest, from the organizers:

Where: Province House, Nova Scotia’s provincial legislature, 1726 Hollis Street, Halifax

When: 9:30am, AHEAD of the protesters involved in the Million Person March

Safety: “We are NOT planning on moving from the Legislative Bldg (NOT marching alongside the protesters).The protesters are scheduled to gather at City Hall at 10am, so AVOID that location if possible. Please arrive and leave with at least one buddy.

“We cannot stress enough that this is a peaceful gathering, possibly with children in attendance, so we must remain calm, non-combative, and NOT engage or debate with the protesters, no matter how much they may try to draw us into discussion.

“Please bring masks, not only for covid protection, but to avoid doxing from the protesters.

“Please bring respectful signs, and flags.”

There will be marshals, first responders and mental health care professionals on site.

“Stay safe and aware at all times. Remain with the group for safety in numbers.”

About The Author

Lauren Phillips, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Lauren Phillips is The Coast’s Education Reporter, a position created in September 2023 with support from the Local Journalism Initiative. Lauren is a graduate of the journalism program at the University of King’s College, and has written on education and sports at Dal News and Saint Mary's Athletics for over...
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