Kingston: Slow Roll 1 Million March For Children and Counter Protest

Anonymous Submission to North Shore Counter-Info

Here in Kingston, the September 20th anti-trans demonstration was a bit larger than expected but still did not manage to outnumber the crowd who showed up to counter-protest in solidarity with trans youth and in support of access to gender affirming care as well as open and inclusive 2SLGBTQIA+ education in schools.

From the counter-protest organizers:

The protestors are upset about 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusive education, expressing they would like provincial governments to enact laws similar to the “dont say gay” bills in the USA that ban any mention of topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity within public education. They want to out transgender children to their families, and to ban life saving gender affirming care. Additionally, they are seeking to ban topics such as: conversations about parents of the same gender, teaching about queer history and calling trans children by their correct names and pronouns. The dramatization from what’s actually happening and diversion from the truth causes more harm than good to our 2SLGBTQIA+ youth.

The counter-protest had a fun energy and overall a lot of enthusiasm, love, spirited chanting and good vibes. I also saw a bunch of serious, angry, and worried faces throughout the crowd – I wouldn’t say it was an overall joyous occasion for everybody, but I appreciated the show of strength and indomitable party spirit.

I do wish we had been able to prevent the haters’ event from happening in the first place rather than showing up and mounting a symbolic counter-protest across the street with a handful of cops in between us. Failing that, having a fun dance party to pump each other up felt preferable to seriously engaging with whatever bullshit the convoy folks were bringing to the table. A special shoutout to whoever brought a loudspeaker and made the playlist of gay dance party hits! It lifted people’s spirits and gave us something to do when yelling at bigots felt demoralizing or pointless or boring.

One thing to consider in the future is getting hold of a more powerful sound system, whether that be a heavy-duty system mounted in a vehicle or a collection of multiple bluetooth speakers connected to each other and spread out through the crowd. It sucked to hear their chants and messaging for several hours straight, and it would have been nice to be able to drown them out.

I will admit I felt antsy and disheartened after about an hour of yelling back and forth across the street at each other. We knew the haters were planning to march on foot at some point and I really did not want to let them take the street. Some folks were talking about trying to get the crowd to march or at least prevent the anti-trans folks from marching, a challenging proposal since the organizers had explicitly stated that for the sake of safety, we would only be peacefully protesting and not marching. Despite that, many folks in the crowd were sympathetic to the idea of preventing them from taking the street. I suspect they probably would have joined in if it felt like that’s where the whole crowd was headed.

In the end, the bigots didn’t attempt to take the sidewalk, let alone the street – they went on a really pathetic walk around the block, making a tight circle around Kingston City Hall. Once they left the front steps of City Hall, the counter-protesters took over the steps where they had been gathered while continuing to hold our original spot as well. This made us feel like we had achieved some kind of victory, and made them look foolish when they came around the corner expecting to take back the steps. Several of them left at this point while a smaller number squeezed into a small corner of the block, yelling back and forth with folks from our side while one cop stood in between the two groups.

This part of the counter-protest felt pretty demoralizing for me. I don’t think “having a dialogue” is an appropriate response in that setting, but I also wasn’t thrilled about all of the chants that our side was yelling – “go home” and “go back to school” were popular choices in the crowd. Some folks were continuing the dance party or chanting stuff like “Trans rights are human rights!” which felt somewhat better. Yet others were engaging in conversations with the protesters and commenting, frustrated, that what they were saying made no sense. I think it’s worthwhile to know that fascist ideologues (including those who have been pushing anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-abortion agendas throughout the US to devastating effect and who are influencing these far-right groups here in Canada) don’t feel the need to be coherent, honest or accurate; they play on emotion, and they are willing to manipulate and work with anyone in service of their goals. Engaging in public debate legitimizes their perspective. Again, if we can’t prevent them from organizing, I would rather heckle them with jokes or make them look foolish than pretend that anything they are saying is worth taking seriously.

Some more thoughts about safety: A few people mentioned to me that the organizers had asked us not to march, and that they wanted to prioritize crowd safety. I tried to gently suggest that the biggest thing that would keep everyone safe was each other. The idea of “safety” that the Kingston Police typically attempt to impose on event/demo organizers is one where the police themselves control the situation, where “both sides” are able to express themselves, traffic and business as usual flow unimpeded, and no actual confrontation takes place. But the reality is that many of us are already unsafe when far-right anti-trans groups are organizing public demonstrations to stoke a climate of fear and repression against 2SLGBTQIA+ youth. For example, a few days after the Million Marches for Children took place in cities across Canada, a pride flag was burned at Eastwood Collegiate, a high school in Kitchener, ON, and rocks as well as the burned flag were thrown at 2SLGBTQIA+ students boarding their school bus. What would it look like for our community to be able to defend ourselves and to keep each other safe? What would it take for bigots to feel afraid to gather publicly to spread their hateful views?

I don’t fault the organizers for caring about people’s safety or organizing a counter-protest they felt was an appropriate response to the situation. On the contrary, I am grateful to them for organizing a response and glad that so many people showed up. Personally I am not optimistic that the threats posed by the spread of these far-right and fascist ideas in our communities can be neutralized with peaceful counter-protests alone, but I saw a lot of people making meaningful connections and feeling supported and encouraged by the counter-protest which I think are valuable things. Ultimately 2SLGBTQIA+ people as well as everyone else with a stake in combating this hate will have their own varied responses to the situation, and we can hopefully all respect each other’s diverse choices and tactics in how we want to intervene.

I also want to address the fact that a large portion of the anti-trans crowd was made up of Muslim families with their children. I did feel sad and frustrated to see a large number of Muslim folks standing together with many of the exact same people who only a few years prior had come together to form a movement on the basis of Islamophobia and xenophobia. But I also felt a pretty similar shade of irritation that I feel when religious conservatives of other stripes are yelling homophobic nonsense in the streets on any other given day. I think the work of taking the time to have difficult conversations, build relationships with people and trying to make change within people’s faith communities is good to do, I have no quarrel with that. But just as many Muslims decided to show up to the anti-trans protests across Canada, many others were standing in support of trans youth and still others are queer or trans themselves. I think it’s condescending to treat Muslim protesters like innocent sheep who must not understand what they’re saying, or to helplessly throw up our hands in the face of homophobic or transphobic ideologies because the person saying hateful things happens to be wearing a hijab. If you take a stand against 2SLGBTQIA+ youth, it’s going to be a problem for me no matter who you are. I still stand with Muslim people when it comes to confronting Islamophobia, white supremacist attacks, deportations and indefinite detentions that many in Muslim communities in Canada are subject to, because I also believe those things are unjust and to me that’s what solidarity is about. I hope that we’ll continue to find productive ways to talk about this and to stand in solidarity with all the trans kids affected by this current wave of repression, Muslim, Christian or otherwise. Trans kids deserve caring schools and communities, to see themselves in the world around them and to know that who they are is a beautiful thing worth celebrating.

– a queer anarchist