A rally in support of the province’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) education program in K-12 schools turned ugly Wednesday afternoon when an anti-SOGI protester in the crowd walked up the steps of city hall and pushed the event organizer.
Jean Baptiste was watching speaker Tess Healy address the crowd of about 300 when the man, holding a sign that read No Sex Exploitation In School, reached out and shoved him from behind.
Immediately, people in the crowd converged on Healy to form a protective shield and rushed to Baptiste’s defence by surrounding the man, using their pro-SOGI signs and a rainbow-coloured umbrella to block out his sign.
After he stood for several minutes facing the crowd on the steps and shouting out his viewpoints over the voice of speaker talking into the mic, two Prince George RCMP officers arrested the man.
Police had been drawn to the rally minutes earlier by two men in a motorhome who interrupted the speeches when they stopped on the road directly behind the crowd and blew four truck horns mounted on the roof for several minutes.
The occupants of the motorhome got out of the vehicle and shouted out their objections to inclusive education policies before they eventually left, returning for one last drive-by blast of the horns just as the event was ending.
The pro-SOGI gathering was in response to the 1 Million March 4 Children demonstration held Wednesday morning in at least 80 Canadian cities to protest inclusive education curriculum in schools.
Aside from the confrontations, Baptiste was pleased with the turnout, which drew three times as many people as the morning anti-SOGI gathering, also at city hall.
“I’m really fortunate to have a really incredible community around me and today we were able to demonstrate we’re here for love and solidarity,” said Baptiste. “Yes there was violence on the side of the anti-LGBTQ+ protesters, but really our community came together and witnesses came forward. We are here out of love and for peace and we are here because equity and our youth and education matters.”
Baptiste said he didn’t know the intention of the protester as he got pushed.
“I knew that he had a sign, I knew he was trying to be disruptive and my concern was Tess’s safety and I think out of that concern we were able to handle the situation in as peaceful of a manner as possible and we were really able to stay true to our intentions of today,” said Baptiste, who said he will pursue charges against the man.
Earlier in the rally, Prince George District Teachers’ Association president Daryl Beauregard told the crowd that teachers are united and will continue to provide students support and will encourage them to not be afraid to show their gender identity and feel safe about expressing that in their schools.
“If public school is not inclusive of everyone, it’s not public school anymore,” said Beauregard. “This is the only institution that educates children that is trusted with opening its doors for every kid, every family.”
Beauregard said people are unaware that the SOGI program is not course material presented to students in a learning block in a certain time slot set aside for that purpose. Instead, its intent is to provide guidelines of inclusivity that become part of daily conversations teachers have with their students throughout the school year.
“What SOGI is, it’s welcoming kids into our buildings as they are and who they are and celebrating who they are and making them feel safe and comfortable and have the students around them comfortable too,” said Beauregard.
”It’s an awful statistic that kids who are gender diverse that come to school are four times more likely without support and a feeling of safety to engage in self-harm or worse. We cannot allow kids to get harmed or a loss of life because someone doesn’t feel safe in a school.”
Family physician Dr. Ingrid Cosio, who operates the Northern Gender Clinic in Prince George, says the 1 Million March 4 Children movement is fed by misinformation that spawns unfounded fear in parents worried about what their kids are learning in school.
“Gender-affirming care, and SOGI is part of it, is about taking a child or youth’s lead and providing them a safe space to express themselves and develop normally like everybody does and whether it’s gender identity or sexual orientation, that’s part of normal development,” said Dr. Cosio.
“They’re human beings like everybody else. Human diversity is normal, it’s beautiful and we need to celebrate it. We just need everybody to feel they can be themselves and safe. Information around sexuality and gender is super-important. That’s what provides kids the information to be safe and make good choices. Not having that provided in a safe, researched well-known curriculum provided by educators, they’re going to learn it on social media, Snapchat, the bathroom door. It’s not safe.”