Protests organized by ‘Hands Off Our Kids,’ as well as counter-protests, took place across the country today, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. In Kingston, they happened on both sides of Ontario Street.
After beginning with a “slow roll” protest that started at the commuter parking lot on Highway 38 at Highway 401 and slowly made its way on a 30-kilometre loop within the city to City Hall, about 200 members of the group called ‘Hands off our Kids’ (HOOK) gathered on the steps and in front of City Hall to oppose what they perceive as the forceful promotion of sexual orientation and gender ideology (SOGI) in schools.
Across the street, in Confederation Basin, rainbow flags flew and music pumped as about 300 counter-protesters chanted “Trans rights are human rights,” against the shouts of “Hands off our kids.”
According to their website, HOOK is “dedicated to safeguarding parental rights and advocating for the removal of intrusive elements of sexual orientation and gender ideology from the educational system.”
“This movement is mainly focused on protection of children against LGBTQIA+ ideology in the school system and not to fight back against the LGBTQ community,” the website states.
The group says they “firmly believe in the rights of adults to make their own choices regarding their lifestyles.”
“Our movement is rooted in love and care to all children and their freedom of thought control,” the website states. “Our primary concern is the indoctrination of children in public schools and the forceful introduction of ideologies to children and the erosion of parental rights in children’s education.”
In front of City Hall, HOOK protester Joyce Taylor said she considered the counter-protesters political pawns.
“I just feel that our veterans that have given their lives… would be totally ashamed of Trudeau and the government,” Taylor said. “And I’m very ashamed of them… Trudeau influences them [the counterprotesters]: they’re brainwashed as puppets. As soon as he’s done with them, he will drop them, too… I actually feel bad for them, as well… I’ve never had anything against them, but I feel bad for them because the government’s using them just as much as they’re using us.”
Taylor’s friend, who refused to give her name and indicated that she would only speak to independent media outlets, said she has no children, but was there to support her friends who have children. Having worked at an AIDS hospice in Toronto as a volunteer in the 1980s, she said, “I’m straight, and I had gay friends. I have no problem with it, but I do agree with [sic] the grooming of children in school. School is for reading, writing, and arithmetic. It’s not for showing young children that they’re the wrong sex… teaching them how to masturbate or any of that.”
Asked where she had heard that teachers were showing children how to masturbate, the protestor said, “It’s in the news in the [United] States, and it’s coming here.”
Perhaps ironically, most of the parents on the HOOK side of the street indicated that they homeschooled their children.
This included one woman who said she was “protesting the woke ideology that has infiltrated the school system…They’ve forgotten the fundamentals like biology, what is a girl, what is a boy… I think they have misplaced compassion, and think they are helping — but instead, they are allowing them to wallow in their confusion… Cutting off parts… telling them they are furries or the opposite sex.” At her feet, sitting on the steps of City Hall, were two very sullen-looking teenagers who she said were her homeschooled daughters, aged 13 and 16.
It should be noted that Kingstonist has found no evidence or indication that school staff in any school board locally have discussed gender-affirming surgeries with students, nor that students are being “told” they are “furries” or any gender at all by school staff.
On the other side of the street, counter-protest organizer BeeWitched said she and Flora Fawning organized the counter-protest “to protect the rights of trans people, of trans youth, of the 2SLGTBQ+ community. They deserve to be heard, they deserve to be safe, and we’re not going to stop here. We will keep going.”
Educator and youth counsellor Alyssa Vernon said she was counter-protesting because she works with youth. She took the microphone and addressed the HOOK protestors.
“I am an educator in Kingston, and it is very disappointing to see children out of school on the other side. When parents have kids stick up the middle finger towards queer people, when your sign says that you are here and you’re not a hater, but your actions are saying something else — that is truly disappointing,” Vernon said.
“As parents, you’re taking them out to teach them how to hate, and that is disappointing [to me] as a teacher.”
Then, addressing the younger people in the crowd, she said, “There are signs that say ‘I belong to my parents.’ You do not belong to anyone but yourself. That is what being queer is about. So thank you to all the queer people who are here and who are standing up for themselves and others who can’t be here. Peace and love.”
In an interview, Vernon said, “A few of my youth are on the other side of this [street]. So it’s really interesting, and also disappointing, to see them out of school deciding to do this… I’m sure their parents had a big part in the decision in them being here, as apparently parents own children,’” she said, referring to one child’s sign that read, ‘I belong to my parents.’
“It is very hard to see hateful ideology being spread amongst our youth.”
In advance of the demonstrations, the Limestone District School Board’s Director of Education, Krishna Burra, released a statement: “We want to make it unequivocally clear that Limestone stands in support of all protected grounds of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The Ontario Human Rights Code is not a checklist where some grounds outweigh others, and the protected grounds include gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. We stand with all students, staff, and families, in protecting all grounds under the Code. It is important to remember that the Code is the law in Ontario, and we have a moral and legal obligation to ensure that it is upheld.”
“Harassment, discrimination, and hate have no place in Limestone,” Burra’s statement continued. “In our schools, we do not tell students who they should be, but welcome them as they are. We do this by focusing on their academic learning and fostering feelings of belonging as expected in the Ontario curriculum and the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
Meanwhile, Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston and the Islands Mark Gerretsen released a statement today saying that he stands with the 2SLGBTQ+ communities and allies to celebrate resilience and advocate for a safer and more inclusive Canada: “As protests and counter-protests unfold in Kingston, other parts of Ontario, and across Canada today, the federal government is unequivocally committed to advancing equality with respect to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression through the inclusion of people of all genders in Canada’s economic, social, and political life. Schools are no exception. It is important that schools are inclusive environments where all students, staff and families feel safe to be themselves. There is no space for hate in the classroom or in our communities.”
Ted Hsu, Kingston’s Member of the Provincial Parliament (MPP), also released a statement, indicating he was aware of the protests and stating, “With a widespread rise in hate incidents against 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, and against trans people in particular, I want to speak directly to members of the Kingston 2SLGBTQIA+ community. You deserve the same protections, respect, dignity, safety, and privacy that every resident should enjoy.”
“While everyone has a right to peaceful protest in our country, there will never be a place in our society for hate,” Hsu continued. “To be clear: a peaceful protest does not legitimize hate. No one should be protesting in a way that aims to vilify, stigmatize, take away human rights, or diminish Charter rights.”
Neither the City of Kingston nor Mayor Bryan Paterson issued any public statements on the matter.
By the time the slow roll protest made it to City Hall, it had diminished to just a small handful of vehicles. After they went by, HOOK protesters began a march around City Hall. Unfortunately for them, the counter-protesters seized this opportunity to take their place in front of City Hall with shouts of “Take back our city” and “Love trumps hate.”
When the HOOK marchers made their way back and discovered that they had been usurped, things got tense. Kingston Police formed a line between the two groups. One officer, observing a large number of children aged around four to 12 within the frontlines of the HOOK group, was heard saying, “I can’t believe they have kids here — that’s crazy.”
A woman on the HOOK side watched in shock as the counter-protesters’ moved into the space HOOK had vacated; she said to her partner, “I can’t believe this. That is so rude. They took our spot. What a bunch of pigs.”
The standoff between the two groups quickly dissipated when HOOK members started leaving.
One of their organizers, a mild-speaking woman who would not give her name, encouraged those protesting on her side to leave. One of the HOOK protestors told her, “No fucking way I’m leaving,” as he pushed his son ahead of him toward police. He said he was from Belleville, and his preteen son said he attended Central Hastings School. Asked if many of the protesters were from other regions, the older man indicated, “We are freedom fighters. We are in town from Niagara Falls to Ottawa. We are true freedom fighters, all the way.”