Board braces for student protest of ‘identity-affirming practices’

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The Thames Valley District school board is warning its schools about potential student walkouts next week to protest “inclusive and identity-affirming practices” adopted by the board and other boards across Ontario.

In a memo obtained by The London Free Press, sent to both its elementary and high schools, the Thames Valley board says the potential disruptions Wednesday “may negatively impact the mental health and wellbeing of students and staff.”

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The warning is linked to an event called One Million March for Children Canada being promoted by a group called Our Duty Canada that describes itself as “concerned Canadians standing together against gender ideology.”

Formed in 2018, Our Duty says its mission is “to bring our children to adulthood healthy in body and mind.” On its webpage, it describes a sex change as “an extreme solution for a problem which probably exists in the mind” and calls the transgender medical transition “harmful.” There “is no such thing as a transgender child,” the group maintains. 

“Schools and universities are teaching our children that people can have a gender that is different from, but somehow equivalent to, their sex,” the website says. “We need to stop that.”

In the memo, Thames Valley officials call on school administrators to support students by “ensuring student safety remains a priority during the peaceful demonstration and by communicating that support is available for any students that may need it.

“In the event of a walkout, staff are advised to focus on maintaining and restoring relationships within the school community,” the memo said.

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Though the school board, in its memo, said it supports student-led initiatives “that demonstrate engagement in positive change,” it also maintains “all identities and abilities are honoured at Thames Valley” and that the board has a legal responsibility to “to promote equity, inclusion and human rights.

“Hate has no place in Thames Valley schools or workplaces,” the memo said. “Every student deserves to feel safe at school.”

School administrators are asked not to speak to the media should a protest occur at their school, and students should not speak to reporters without parental consent, the memo said.

A board spokesperson said it’s not aware of any planned protest Wednesday, but the board has noted posters around the city and on social media.

Stephen D’Amelio, a former Pride London president and activist for the LGBTQ community, said there’s nothing wrong with people safely expressing their thoughts about gender-affirming practices in schools, but he believes the Our Duty protest is the result of “a lack of education.”

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“Some of the information on (Our Duty’s) website appears that they seem to be interested – at least on the face (of it) – in having further discussions around this, including (with) the LGBTQI-plus community, so that’s a positive.”

He said such conservations need to continue, “no matter how uncomfortable it is.”

“I will say, I do think it’s unfortunate, however, how we’ve gotten to the point of having a march, rather than having a conversation,” D’Amelio said.

Our Duty Canada did not respond to a Free Press request for more information.

The pushback comes days after Ontario Premier Doug Ford scolded school boards that have policies not to inform parents if a student changes their name or pronoun they go by at school. 

Last week, Ford accused teachers and school boards of “indoctrinating our kids.”

The president of the Thames Valley district of the Ontario public elementary teachers’ union has called Ford’s words ”a political dog whistle designed to change the channel, to shift attention from the Greenbelt situation to this.”

The Ford government has faced withering criticism over its decision to remove 15 sites from the protected Greenbelt in southern Ontario to build 50,000 homes and add land elsewhere in the protected area.

“Teachers do their job; we deliver what we are told to deliver,” Craig Smith, president of the local wing of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, said earlier this week. 

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