More than 1,000 people attended a march and rally in Windsor's downtown Wednesday morning in protest of LGBTQ rights in schools and sexual education programs.
The "1 Million March 4 Kids" was part of demonstrations happening across the country this week that are also being met with counter protests.
Some parents and socially conservative groups are protesting LGBTQ-inclusive education policies in the classroom and in extracurricular settings.
Policies emerging across the country, including in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan, that require young people to get parental consent before teachers can use chosen first names and pronouns are at the heart of these protests. Those opposed to parental consent rules say the policies are a violation of children's rights and that transgender youth should not be outed to their parents by teachers.
At the public and Catholic school boards in Windsor, youth are able to use a different name and pronoun at school without informing parents.
Speakers during the protest spoke about what they describe as parental rights.
"Children need adult protection of their innocence," said Jeremy Palko, a co-organizer of the march and member of Harvest Bible Church.
"They don't need adult pollution of their sexuality and not so-called inclusive affirming curriculum changes that schools don't get a pass on warping the minds of our little ones."
Several different groups of people, with varying perspectives on the protest and its purpose, were in attendance at the march in Windsor, which started at Dieppe Gardens along the riverfront. Some attendees made anti-LGBTQ remarks. Other attendees, when asked, were unsure if they agreed with parts of the remarks made by speakers at the rally, while another attendee said they agreed with "most" of what was said.
There were also counter-protesters there to support LGBTQ kids and rights. Police were present for portions of the protest.
Taunia Piknjic was one of the attendees at the "1 Million March 4 Kids" protest in Windsor on Wednesday. She says she attended in support of parental rights. (Dalson Chen/CBC)
Attendees said they disagreed with school board policies and sexual education curriculums and what they see as schools' interference in parenting.
"We will want our voice to reach the government, to know that we have the right to raise our children the way that we want," said Jamal Al Jibouri.
"That parents are the first educators and that the relationship between a parent and a child is primary," said Taunia Piknjac. "The idea that parents are unsafe because they disagree with the teachers' ideas is actually more harmful. It's counterproductive to the child's good."
Windsor police were present at a march and protest on Windsor's waterfront on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 (Dalson Chen/CBC)
Protesters in support of LGBTQ rights in schools gathered nearby throughout the protest and march.
"I think there was a lot of love from our community, from our side of it. It was very much a stance on, kids deserve human rights, kids deserve basic rights," said Christian Pacheco. "From the other side of it …I think it's very dangerous in ideology and I believe that we shouldn't think that way about our kids.
Christian Pacheco attended a counter-protest in support of LGBTQ kids and rights in downtown Windsor on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 (Dalson Chen/CBC)
"I felt the need to come here today because I needed to show support for my community, for my people, and I need to show that other queer kids, trans kids, they don't need to feel alone … because there are people out there who love you and who are fighting for your rights."
The issue has ignited protests around Windsor and Essex County in recent months. In June, parents protested outside a public Greater Essex County District School Board meeting, after people were barred from attending the meeting in person. Some parents there were in opposition to school board policies about gender expression for kids.
School board encourages parents to look at curriculum
In statements to CBC News, both English boards said that there are established channels for parents to share any concerns with educators.
The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board encouraged parents to educate themselves on "what their children are actually being taught" by calling administrators or reading the Ministry of Education website.
"Our basic message to our students and their parents is simple: we are committed to providing safe, inclusive environments for our staff and students where everyone feels welcome," the statement read. "We teach our students to accept everyone in our schools regardless of their differences, which is consistent with one of the fundamental concepts of our Catholic faith: God loves all of His creations."
Scott Scantlebury, a spokesperson for the Greater Essex County District School Board, declined to comment on the protests but said students are "always welcome, respected and celebrated for who they are" at school and in the classroom.
"Everyone has a right to be themselves and feel safe and accepted at school. Discrimination, bullying and hate of any kind have no place in our schools."