Hundreds of people crowded downtown Montreal Wednesday morning to make their disapproval or support of sex education and LGBTQ rights in Quebec known.
Across Canada, backers of the 1 Million March 4 Children urged parents to have their children miss class on Sept. 20 in protest against educating young students about LGBTQ rights at school.
In Montreal, the march began near McGill University's Roddick Gates along Sherbrooke Street West, where counter-protesters had arrived an hour earlier.
Quebec's mandatory sex education explores themes of gender identity, gender roles, sexual stereotypes and social norms, Education Ministry spokesperson Bryan St-Louis said in an email.
In the first year of elementary school, education on sexuality addresses how stereotypes can influence girls and boys, such as the idea that girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks, he said.
Counter-protesters in favour of LGBTQ-inclusive sex education arrived at McGill University's Roddick Gates early Wednesday morning. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)
As students advance, the curriculum encourages them to think of ways of behaving beyond stereotypes as well as the consequences of discrimination based on gender, St-Louis added.
Taylor Gilmore, who said they are part of the LGBTQ community, took a day off work to join counter-protesters advocating for more inclusion in schools.
"If people actually took the time to learn about the community and understand the community, they wouldn't have those opinions [against LGBTQ education]," they said.
School not the place for discussing identity, protesters say
Dozens of parents in Montreal participated in the protest with their children, ranging from toddlers to teenagers, with many shouting the slogan, "Leave our kids alone," and holding posters saying, "I belong to my parents."
Scheherazade Zaafrani, a protester who said she has a nine-year-old daughter, said she doesn't "have anything against the LGBT community" but thinks it inappropriate for teachers to discuss gender identity and sexuality with students.
Scheherazade Zaafrani said school is an inappropriate forum to discuss gender identity with kids. (Charles Contant/CBC)
"I really feel, personally, that the school is not a place for this," Zaafrani said. "We have normal courses about religion, about culture, and I think it should stop there."
Another parent, Hanan Masuod, argued against discussing sexuality and gender identity with kids in the classroom, saying it would confuse them about their own identity.
"We have a right as parents to decide what is right for the children," said Masuod. "They cannot decide for themselves. They need parents' consent."
Several parents at the protest said they worried schools' sexual education would confuse their children about gender identity. (Charles Contant/CBC)
At 8:30 a.m. Montreal police officers formed a human chain across the intersection of McGill College and Sherbrooke Street West, separating the two camps of demonstrators.
No arrests or injuries reported, according to the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal.
Counter-protesters say LGBTQ youth need to feel less alone
Counter-protester Gabriel Nadeau held a sign saying they were exorcised as a teenager for being gay. Standing at the corner of President Kennedy and McGill College avenues, Nadeau said schools should work to help LGBTQ kids feel less alone.
Gabriel Nadeau said as a 13-year-old, they were exorcised for being gay. (Holly Cabrera/CBC)
"My parents thought that it was a demon that was making me gay, so I believed them," Nadeau said. "If the schools I was in [had] taught that it was OK for me to be gay, it would have definitely helped me not to reject myself for so many years."
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante took to social media to denounce the protest, calling it a "demonstration of hate" and saying it was shocking and unacceptable.
"Trans and LGBTQ+ people deserve to live with dignity, respect and security," Plante said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. "We won't tolerate inappropriate, discriminatory or hateful behaviour toward them."