By Charlie Senack
It was a chaotic scene outside Nepean High School on June 9, as demonstrators protested against what they called “gender ideology” being taught in schools.
The group, made up of a few hundred people, were outnumbered by counter protesters who were there to show their support of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
Broadview was closed between Carling Avenue and Tillbury Avenue for over five hours as both groups expressed their opposing views.
The demonstrations come at a time the LGBTQ2S+ community is being faced with increased discrimination, hatred and attacks from far-right extremist groups.
Protest organizer “Billboard Chris” Elston, who rallied for “Education over Indoctrination”, is against puberty blockers being used for Transgender children.
Puberty blockers, also known as puberty inhibitors or hormone blockers, are used to postpone puberty in children. They help to delay unwanted physical changes that don’t match with a person’s gender identity, a life-saving medication for those in transition.
Elston wore a sandwich board with a sign reading that “children cannot consent to puberty blockers.” It’s the same slogan he used when demonstrating outside the same location in Oct. 2021.
The counter protest was first started by parents from nearby Broadview Public School who are in support of LGBTQ2S+ education being taught in schools.
Hintonburg resident Sam Hersh, who is also with Horizon Ottawa, said it was important to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ2S+ community. He said the “anti-gender ideology” demonstrators were primarily from outside of Ottawa. Some of their members came from as far away as Florida and other parts of the United States.
“These are people who came from across Canada to be here. The fact they can’t get more than 150 people but we have 400 to 500 people shows how much residents in our community support queer and trans people,” Hersh said.
The trans community is often the prime target by far-right groups, Hersh said, calling them an “escape goat” for their movement.
“Trans individuals are the group they have chosen to victimize and lay all the problems around. The rights of trans folks and the rights of queer people shouldn’t be up for debate,” he said. “But the far-right isn’t interested in dialogue. They are interested in getting content for their live streams. We aren’t ever going to debate someone’s right to exist.”
Tara Sypniewski, founder of the Ottawa Trans Library located at 1104 Somerset St. W, was among the counter demonstrators. She said the world is seeing increased trans hate from extremist groups who want to prevent people from living their authentic lives.
“I felt like I had to be here. When I was young, counter protests like this would have been unimaginable. I’m really glad I’ve lived long enough to see the day,” she said. “In my day it would have made it easier [to be trans]. Maybe I would have started the trans library before I did. It’s important that trans kids of this generation feel they have the support.”
The demonstrations were not all peaceful. Ottawa Police arrested five individuals, but no charges were laid.
Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden was punched in the face with his megaphone after separating an altercation.
“A woman was grabbing another woman by the hair. I put my body between them and separated them. I looked over my shoulder and was punched,” he said on Twitter. “I was holding a megaphone against my face. The blow glanced off the megaphone and my face was cut.”
Harden said he did not want the woman charged, yet would rather have a conversation with her “about why she needed to be violent, and why she needed to protest outside public schools.”
Counter protesters were displeased with Ottawa Police’s response to the demonstrations and believe their lack of action allowed situations to escalate by “emboldening” the demonstrators. Some officers were seen shaking hands and giving words of support to the far-right group.
Hersh said he’s been to many rallies and oftentimes police are facing the LGBTQ2S+ side. In this instance, police did form a divider with their bikes but faced the anti gender ideology demonstrators.
“When you think back to the roots of pride, it started because of police violence against the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “They haven’t always been there for the queer community. I recall at least one incident during this demonstration when people were linking arms and an officer ran through. One person was hurt and fell to the ground. I went up to the police and asked why he did that. He said he wanted to get through. All he had to do was ask.”
The strained relation between police and the LGBTQ2S+ community dates back generations to a time when it was still ‘taboo’ to be gay.
On May 22, 1976, Kitchissippi’s Club Ottawa Baths, located at 1069 Wellington Street W., were raided by Ottawa Police leading to the arrest of 27 men. The patrons were subjected to brutality and humiliation — they were unable to get dressed before their arrest. The membership list containing over 3,000 names was also taken; it was later returned but it’s believed police kept records of the names on the list.
The bathhouse still remains in operation, but no sign advertises its location between Mint Hair Studio and Bread By Us Bakery.
Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in Canada in 1969, but same-sex marriages weren’t legally recognized nationwide until 2005. Some provinces allowed it a few years prior in 2003, including Ontario. Ottawa’s first same-sex couple married in June 2003.
While progress has been made, it’s expected demonstrations will continue as LGBTQ2S+ hate continues to rise.
Former Somerset ward councillor Catherine McKenney, who is queer and identifies as non-binary, was at the counter demonstration and said it’s important to stand up and drown out the hate.
“The queer community has always been a target of violence and harassment, but we have always celebrated the movement that we’ve made in terms of our freedoms and acceptance of the community,” they said. “We have to remember, though, that there is underlying hatred that we need to stand up for.”