Kelowna residents are speaking out after witnessing overt displays of hatred at last week’s 1 Million March For Children event.
On Sept. 20, approximately 500 people gathered in downtown Kelowna to march for the abolition of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) education and resources in public schools.
There was a comparatively small group of counter-protesters at the rally as Kelowna’s queer advocacy groups and leaders issued a statement prior to the event suggesting that people stay away due to the risk of violence.
Heather Lucier, a local pastor and organizer of the One Million March for Children event in Kelowna, explained that the rally was really just about the narrow issue of “parents maintaining and having a right to decide what their children are taught in school.”
However, people who attended the event as counter-protesters and observers said that the rally seemed to be a facade for other, more nefarious and hate-filled messages.
Counter-protesters were witnessed being yelled at and called “groomers,” and while speeches that called people offering gender-affirming care “child abusers,” interspersed with chants of “Canada has one flag,” were broadcast over megaphones.
Signs reading “If you truly understood the LGBTQ agenda you would march with us to protect God’s children,” were held alongside signs that said “SOGI is harming our children,” during the march.
Jenny Newell attended the event as a counter-protester, a 2SLGBTQIA+ ally and as a parent. She said that she witnessed aggression including physical shoving, hate speech, and what appeared to be a Nazi salute during the speeches. She said that she did not hear exactly what was said that prompted the gesture but saw approximately four adults in the crowd of protesters all raise their arms in unison.
“Under the guise of being anti-SOGI, there were many other narratives at play,” said Newell.
Multiple other counter-protesters, including Newell’s son Finn – who is a photographer– also witnessed, and captured a shot of the gesture.
Finn said he wanted to be at the event to document what was happening, as an ally to the queer community. He said that initially, he was momentarily shocked and unable to comprehend the gesture that he was witnessing until a friend confirmed that they were looking at what appeared to be a Nazi salute. Finn then snapped a few photos to ensure the moment was documented.
A photo and description of the incident were sent to the Kelowna RCMP but Capital News did not receive comment from the police by the time of publication. This article will be updated with more information as it becomes available.
Wilbur Turner, the founder and chair of Advocacy Canada, and Claire House, the co-chair of the Kelowna Pride Society both said that they witnessed and were subject to hate speech and aggression at the rally.
Turner said that the rally seemed to incite hate and said that he and other counter-protesters were yelled at and called names. He also said that multiple transgender people were publicly outed and harassed by protesters.
Newell said that while attending the event she was called a “pedophile” among other untrue and vulgar things.
“It was traumatic for people to be there,” said Turner. He said that many of the counter-protesters were left shaken and upset by what they witnessed and how they were treated in their own community.
In an effort to counter the hate and reclaim space the Kelowna Pride Society will hold a peaceful celebration at Stuart Park on Oct. 15.
The society said the event will be open to the public and all people are invited to attend to spread love and acceptance.
Finn said that even though you not be a minority or identify with a marginalized group, like the queer community, it is important to important to show up, speak out and support each other.
~ Editors note: As police are investigating this incident the photo has blurred until more information becomes available.