Manitoba PC Leader Heather Stefanson’s ‘Willful Engagement’ with Anti-2SLGBTQ+ Movement Concerning, Advocates Say
“I have no doubt that the Premier is aware of what she's doing here”
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is being called out by 2SLGBTQ+ advocates for “willful engagement” with far-right movements trying to ban books about LGBTQ and sexual health content in schools.
Stefanson has drawn criticism from the 2SLGBTQ+ community over the PC’s election campaign promise to increase “parental rights” in schools. Manitoba PC MLA Obby Khan even used the “parental rights” slogan on Winnipeg bench advertisements.
While ‘parental rights’ sounds innocuous, anti-LGBTQ advocates have used the term for decades to promote anti-LGBTQ laws in the US and Canada. This week, far-right organizers have planned protests across Canada, including in Manitoba, to oppose LGBTQ and sexual health content in schools.
Earlier this year, some Manitoba parents tried to ban books with LGBTQ and sexual health content at the Brandon and Prairie Rose School Divisions. The book bans were rejected after community members held heated debates including a vote in a packed Brandon school gymnasium.
At the time, Stefanson said that while she supported the 2SLGBTQ+ community, she would leave the decision to ban books in the hands of school divisions.
While the PCs’ “parental rights” policy does not explicitly mention 2SLGBTQ+ or sexual health content in schools, 2SLGBTQ+ advocates say the policy will only fan the flames of the far-right movement seeking to censor the school curriculum.
Manitoba PC Leader Heather Stefanson didn’t budge when asked at a debate Monday whether her party’s promise to enhance parental rights in schools would include rules around students using different names or pronouns in the classroom https://t.co/DoOSjUZ3uy #mbpoli #mbelxn #mb23
— Ian Froese (@ianfroese) September 18, 2023
Fae Johnstone, President of Momentum Canada, an organization whose mission is to “accelerate social and gender justice for 2SLGBTQIA+ people,” says Stefanson’s ‘parental rights’ policy is willfully engaging with the far-right anti-2SLGBTQ+ movement.
“I have no doubt that the Premier is aware of what she’s doing here,” Johnstone told PressProgress. “That’s actually what scares me the most about it is the willful engagement with these far-right conspiracy-driven forces.”
“The ‘parental rights’ slogan goes back decades and has been time and again used as code for preventing students from learning about diverse families and communities.”
Anti-trans and anti-2SLGBTQ+ rhetoric is also linked into a “big tent of conspiracy and extremism,” Johnstone added.
“It is appalling to see premiers and political parties that should know better, that have purported to be allies to our communities and said that they support our rights, cannot be playing with fire and that fire is one that is going to put so much of the progress we’ve made at risk.”
Manitoba Teachers’ Society President Nathan Martindale released a letter calling for all three political parties to issue statements opposing the far-right, anti-2SLGBTQ+ marches planned in Winnipeg on September 20th.
Manitoba Teachers’ Society President @Nathanmwinnipeg calls on all three major political parties to stand together against hate and in support of educational resources that promote safe and inclusive schools. Read his letter here. https://t.co/5d12iWqXoX #antihate pic.twitter.com/0CNTgJYKjK
— MB Teachers’ Society (@mbteachers) September 19, 2023
“We need to see you, we need to hear you. Statements from each of the major parties in advance of September 20 would contribute meaningfully to a coherent, collective message that transcends partisanship in support of every child’s right to be protected and safe,” the MTS letter reads.
The MTS letter also condemns the “alarming rise in volatility and violence against the 2SLGBTQIA+ community” in Manitoba.
“Attempts to ban books along with bigoted tirades in school board meetings and on social media platforms have become commonplace, aiming to galvanize support for the erosion of personal safety among those least able to defend themselves.”
“We cannot stand by. We cannot remain silent while fearmongering and rhetoric replace compassion and community. We must all—every one of us—make it abundantly clear that no matter what our politics, no matter what our faith or background, Manitoba has no place for hate.”
So far, only the Manitoba NDP has responded to MTS’ call to condem the September 20th anti-2SLGBTQ+ protests.
The administrator for a popular Instagram account tracking Manitoba politics, MBPoliDragRace, says many queer and trans individuals have reached out to the account to share their concerns about the anti-2SLGBTQ+ protests and the Manitoba PC’s ‘parental rights’ promise.
“It feels scary to see this really clear targeting of queer and trans communities being used as a central pillar in an election campaign,” MBPoliDragRace told PressProgress. “And even though this [anti-2SLGBTQ+] rally isn’t directly connected to the election, it is scary to see a government recognizing what is clearly a harmful movement and deciding to hitch their wagon to that horse instead of coming out strongly against that kind of hate.”
“Every single queer person in Manitoba deserves to feel like they’re supported and welcomed in Manitoba. And when protesters show up to make them feel otherwise, it’s incumbent on our community and our allies to also show up and show them that just because a few people are yelling pretty loudly, just because a few organizers have pulled folks together, it’s not the majority in Manitoba.”
Celeste Trianon is an organizer coordinating the national No Space for Hate Campaign which has compiled a master list of counter protests to support LGBTQ youth across Canada. The campaign is also encouraging people to change their profile pictures this week to the No Space for Hate Graphic.
— Sarah 🫐 (@booksandtea123) September 13, 2023
“We’re trying to send a message that queer and trans students are welcome in school,” Trianon told PressProgress. ”They deserve to be able to receive a complete education without being bullied and without being harassed or discriminated against to the point where they’re able to get the comprehensive education that they need.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article indicated none of the parties had responded to MTS’ call to condemn the protest. In fact, the Manitoba NDP responded in a letter dated September 19.
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