A sign held at a solidarity gathering for queer and trans youth outside the NWT legislature on September 20, 2023. Simona Rosenfield/Cabin Radio
Dozens of people gathered outside the NWT legislature in Yellowknife on Wednesday, carrying pride flags and signs.
The lunchtime solidarity gathering was organized by the Northern Mosaic Network in support of 2SLGBTQIPA+ youth.
The network, which offers programming and supports for queer people in the NWT, says the communities it serves face rising violence, oppression and hate.
Among signs held aloft on Wednesday were some reading “non-binary pronouns save lives,” “crash the cis-tem,” and “dignity, respect, justice 4 all.”
“We see you, we love you, we will always believe you, we’re always here for you,” Chelsea Thacker, executive director of the Northern Mosaic Network, said of their message to youth.
“It doesn’t matter what federal, territorial or municipal institution is trying to infringe on your rights. Not in our house. Like, it’s never going to happen. So we’ll always be here to stand up for the next generation.”
The Yellowknife demonstration was organized in response to rallies held in other cities across Canada on Wednesday. The Canadian Press reported thousands of people attended marches as well as counter-protests in the provinces.
Organizers of those rallies said they were “advocating for the elimination of the sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.”
A map of dozens of host locations indicated no such march had been organized in the NWT or Nunavut, but one had been planned for Whitehorse. Yukon News reported a counter-protest was also expected in the city.
Thacker said the rallies’ stated ambitions were “focused on protecting parents’ rights, not children’s rights.”
“We know that trans people are real, trans kids are kids, and they are very much valid in their identity and they deserve safe spaces at school,” Thacker said.
Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have passed policies requiring teachers to acquire parental consent for students under the age of 16 to use different pronouns or names at school.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has said he is prepared to use the notwithstanding clause – which allows federal, provincial and territorial governments to pass laws that override certain charter rights for up to five years – to protect the province’s new rule as it faces a court challenge.
Supporters of these policies say their concerns amount to a matter of parental rights. Advocates for youth and 2SLGBTQIPA+ people say such policies are discriminatory and could put children at risk.
“There’s no reason why we need to be forcing kids to out themselves or to make a determination on what their identity is,” Thacker said. “Every person deserves to share their story when they’re ready, not when they’re forced to.”
Andy Sieben, a Grade 10 student at Yellowknife’s Sir John Franklin High School who uses they/them pronouns, said they are concerned about the policies and marches.
“I’ve had friends who are already impacted, people who are scared to go to school already because of all this bigotry,” they said.
“It’s terrible, because schools are supposed to be a safe place and we’re making every public space for kids more and more unsafe.”
Sieben said while it may be difficult, they want 2SLGBTQIPA+ youth to not feel pressured to be anyone other than themselves.
“Be proud of who you are,” they said.
Hartte MacIntosh, who identifies as queer, said she attended the Yellowknife gathering as she was once a queer kid.
“You can’t erase the queer kids,” MacIntosh said. “Even if they do take away any education … it’s just putting people in danger. Education equals understanding equals acceptance.”
Amanda St Denis, attending the legislature gathering with her family, said the marches being held across Canada made her angry. She believes they are based on propaganda and misinformation.
“I want my kids to learn what true inclusion and diversity is, and I want them to know what it means to be part of a community,” she said.
St Denis said she wants 2SLGBTQIPA+ youth to know they are loved.
“I know it can feel isolating and you can feel alone, but there are lots of people out there that love and celebrate you. Sometimes it just takes a little time to find them,” she said.
Thacker said the Northern Mosaic Network is available to provide education and resources about the 2SLGBTQIPA+ community for those wanting to learn more.