A protest and counter-protest over the rights of LGBTQ2S+ students has left an Anglican woman shaken but resolute.
Kit Woods, who has a transgender son, was screamed at and told she would go to hell at a protest in Barrie on Sept. 20. Despite the encounter, she says she would do it again.
“A hundred per cent,” she says. “I feel in my guts and soul that I have to because of my son and all the other trans kids. I don’t want them to have to face this – they’ve been through enough. I will always, always go.”
Protests were held across the country by people who were opposed to sexual orientation and gender identity education in schools. The protesters wanted school boards to implement policies that would require young people to get parental consent before teachers could use their preferred first names and pronouns. The policies are currently in place in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. The counter-protests were held to support LGBTQ2S+ students and oppose the policies.
Ms. Woods, who went to the counter-protest in Barrie with her sister, the Rev. Canon Erin Martin, incumbent of All Saints, King City, says requiring young people to get parental consent before teachers can use their preferred first names and pronouns is not only misguided but dangerous. “In an ideal world, all kids would have the support of their families. Kids would be able to tell them things honestly and truthfully. But for the majority of trans kids, they do not have supportive homes. Most of them are afraid to even suggest to their family that they’re something other than what their family wants them to be. School is the only place where they can be free to express who they are, to have it be acknowledged and for them to feel like human beings.
“When my son came out, he was afraid and didn’t know how to tell us, so he came out at school first, using his new name and pronoun. I didn’t know that until he was ready to tell me. When he did, we were supportive. But other kids can face violence or get kicked out of their homes. Almost every single trans kid that I’ve met has tried to commit suicide or contemplated committing suicide, including my son. The suicide rate among trans children is so high. If those kids go to school and they’re forced to hide because they can’t use their names or pronouns for fear of their parents will find out, they will resort to taking their lives. Children will die. It really is life or death. I wish other parents could know that. It’s not their rights being taken away: it’s the kids’ rights to be safe and to live.”
She says the aggression of the protesters in Barrie shocked and disturbed her. The number of protesters far outnumbered the counter-protesters.
“A woman came and stood in front of Erin and I with her thick Bible,” she recalls. “She screamed at us about going to hell. At one point I was afraid she was going to hit Erin with the Bible. There were other people – red-faced and in our faces. Thank goodness for the police. They broke up some really tense moments.”
One moment in particular was seared into her mind. “I always try to see that people are good, and that perhaps people just don’t understand. So if there was an opportunity to say something to someone that might reach them, I always – maybe naively – wanted to do that. There was a man nearby who was on the side of the protesters, saying ‘Protect our kids, protect our kids.’ And I thought maybe I could respond to him. I said, ‘Your kids are protected. Mine isn’t. My son needed protection when he was coming out, when he was transitioning.’ And the man looked at me and said, ‘If your kid was going to transition, he should have killed himself first.’ I couldn’t believe he said that. I couldn’t believe that came out of someone’s mouth.”
Despite the hate directed at her and the other counter-protesters, she says she was glad she went. “People needed to stand there with everyone else. At one point I was with a small group of mothers who had trans kids and we were standing side by side with tears in our eyes, saying protect our children too. It was so moving but very, very difficult at the same time.”
She was encouraged by the turnout of Anglicans at other counter-protests in the diocese. “I see a lot of Anglican communities coming together purposefully. I think it’s really important because Anglicans haven’t shied away from standing on the right side of what we know God wants us to do – love our neighbour and be in community and fellowship with each other. I just hope that these issues come into the hearts of other Anglicans, outside of the ones who are already affirming.”
In Toronto, Bishop Kevin Robertson and other Anglicans took part in a counter-protest that started at the 519 Community Centre on Church Street and made its way through the city’s streets before ending on the west side of the front lawn of Queen’s Park, where more than 1,000 people gathered to listen to speeches and voice their support for LGBTQ2S+ students. In addition, Church of the Redeemer, Bloor St. was open for people who wanted to rest in a safe place.
The counter-protesters at Queen’s Park outnumbered the protesters, who gathered on the north lawn of the legislative building. Large numbers of counter-protesters turned out in other cities such as Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver.
Chris Ambidge, a member of Redeemer and a long-time advocate of LGBTQ2S+ rights in the Church, took part in the walk and counter-protest at Queen’s Park. “I’ve been pushing for queer equality and status since 1985. It’s important for me to stand up and be there when there are public expressions of homophobia and transphobia happening. I needed to be with a group of people who were saying no, and saying it loudly.”
He says adults have a duty to protect students as they go through their formative years and are questioning their sexuality and gender identity. “People who are in their teens are very vulnerable and figuring themselves out. It’s incumbent upon those of us who have gone through that time of life to protect them and make their growing up safe.”
He says Canada has become much more accepting of gender diversity and the diversity of sexual expression, but advocates need to remain vigilant. “Jesus has always had preferential treatment for the downtrodden and the weak, and that’s what we have to do too.”