thumb-2023-06-05-benita-pedersen-westlock-alberta-rainbow-crosswalk
thumb-2023-06-05-benita-pedersen-westlock-alberta-rainbow-crosswalk This article is more than 10 months old
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‘Take Back Alberta’ Organizer Leading Campaign Against Rainbow Crosswalk in Small Town Alberta

Westlock, Alberta is becoming a far-right culture war battleground after local youths win unanimous vote in support of rainbow crosswalk

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The vote by the local town council was unanimous: A rainbow Pride crosswalk in the rural Alberta town of Westlock proposed by local youths would go ahead.

The unanimous decision came in spite of a weeks long anti-Pride campaign led by a top Take Back Alberta organizer to stop it from going ahead. The escalating protest has now drawn safety concerns from the Westlock mayor and council.

The campaign continues however, led by TBA organizer Benita Pedersen, who recently ran the right wing anti-mandate group’s efforts in Edmonton and the surrounding area during the provincial election. Protests are expected this Sunday as the sidewalk gets painted.

Outside Pedersen assembled protesters after the vote to proceed with the project.

“Our fight is not finished,” Pedersen told a crowd of about a dozen people.

“The Pride branding represents you,” Pedersen told students and other supporters of the crosswalk. “In this area you are a minority.”

“In this town you are a minority, though they claim that branding is inclusive – it’s not. That branding does not include the sexual preference of heterosexuality.”

In response to Pedersen’s anti-2SLGBTIQIA+ campaign, Westlock’s mayor and town council released a statement Wednesday about safety concerns ahead of the event.

“We recognize there is a division within our community regarding the rainbow crosswalk,” the statement said “That difference in beliefs has been inflamed by a few who have been spreading hateful messages intended to widen the space between us all. Their actions have caused division and heightened fears among people.”

“On the day of painting, whatever belief you hold close, we ask that you are mindful that these are our children.”

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The ongoing campaign by Pedersen’s anti-2SLGBTIQIA+ group culminated Monday at the council meeting about the crosswalk where dozens showed up on either side of the issue.

At the public meeting, David Thomas, an organizer with Pedersen’s group, compared the Pride flag to pedophilia,necrophilia and bestiality in front of town council and a room filled with young students.

“Painting the progressive flag on our street implies that the LGBT movement wants yet more progress, more categories, more intrusions into society, so what more is to be asserted?” Thomas asked. “Bestiality? Pedophilia? Necrophilia?”

“Perhaps drag queens in public libraries showing their genitalia to pre-schoolers.”

Advocates of the crosswalk and Westlock residents say hatred has been targeted at youth in the local 2SLGBTIQIA+ community.

A number of conspiracy theories have been cited by Pedersen and her group. The campaign against the crosswalk began weeks ago with a flyering campaign in the city.

Benita Pedersen (Facebook)

 

The flyer, which reads like a manifesto, promotes a conspiracy theory that the “transgender agenda is part of a larger agenda called Agenda 2030” and describes a deliberate conspiracy to “confuse children about gender and sexuality” so that they are less likely to have children.

The flyer directs readers to the website of a group called Action4Canada, which distributed flyers in Chilliwack BC falsely claiming a school library carried child pornography.

Pedersen told PressProgress she believes the unanimous decision to proceed by town council was undemocratic and orchestrated by a federal Liberal plot.

“I have reason to believe that mayor Ralph Lerege is running a dictatorship not a democracy,” Pedersen said. “I think he keeps a tight rein on council. They’re not voting with their conscience.”

“We are not living in a democracy in Westlock, we’re living in a dictatorship.”

The Take Back Alberta organizer said she believes the rainbow crosswalk is “part of a larger plan,” and says people are simply supporting it for money, including Westlock’s town council as part of the Federal government’s 2SLGBTQI+ action plan, along with the broader Agenda 2030 conspiracy theory.

“The people who support the rainbow crosswalk are people who are persuaded to support it, the people who are doing the persuading, and the people who are paid to support it,” Pedersen said. “The town of Westlock gets extra money from the federal government if they push Pride.”

Pedersen’s claim is false, according to the mayor.

Westlock Mayor Ralph Leriger says no money from the federal government is changing hands as a result of the crosswalk.

“Money from the feds? I hope it’s lots because we could use it,” Leriger said. “We’re non partisan. I don’t fly any banners.”

The crosswalk project was fundraised by Westlock Secondary School’s Gay Straight Alliance.

Leriger says council released the statement due to the “vitriol and all of the accusations that get thrown around,” adding they’ve received “horrible emails” over the crosswalk.

“They certainly inflamed a lot of people,” Leriger told PressProgress. “I’m sure there will be protesters when we paint, but quite frankly I think there’ll be overwhelming support. I want to make it very clear we will not tolerate bullying of our citizens, and especially our youth.”

Leriger adds that Westlock has received an outpouring of support since Monday and believes things will proceed safely on the weekend.

Pedersen, who says she was denied entry to the council hearing, denies her group is aggressive or hateful.

Since Alberta’s provincial election, Take Back Alberta, a key ally of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith, has shown signs it is to pivoting to anti-2SLGBTIQIA+ activism.

On Thursday, TBA lead organizer David Parker promoted a protest at Calgary City Hall in opposition to “LGBTQ indoctrination in public schools” in the group’s Telegram channel.

Take Back Alberta (Telegram)

Recent months have seen an increase on the far right in anti-2SLGBTIQIA+ organizing across Canada, which has included protesting drag storytime events, escalating disruptions at school board meetings, and street protests led by anti-trans activists.

This past week, a man in Kelowna, BC made international news when he was banned from a school track meet event after he interrupted the event to wrongly accuse a 9-year-old athlete of lying about her gender, bringing her to tears.

 

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Stephen Magusiak
Reporter
Stephen Magusiak is PressProgress’ Alberta reporter. His reporting has a focus on public accountability, public services and privatization, and the right-wing war on environmentalists.

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