To protect trans kids is to demand a better future

Protests last week show need for solidarity with queer community

It seemed like the fascists wanted to hurt us.

The anti-queer 1 Million March 4 Children (1MM4C) protest in Winnipeg last Wednesday drew far larger numbers than those of us who showed up to oppose it were prepared for. Despite this, hundreds of counter-protesters stood their ground.

A coalition of U of M student advocacy groups shared a “no space for hate” graphic on social media calling for the counter-protest last week. These students showed tremendous courage in speaking out. However, a lack of co-ordination between them and other Winnipeg activists and organizations and miscommunication about the protest they were opposing resulted in a scattered response.

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. that day, counter-protesters gathered in droves and then partially dispersed before the bulk of the 1MM4C had arrived. We didn’t yet know that a second march from the Forks was still headed our way.

This left a much smaller group at the front of the legislature to stand its ground as protesters shouted slurs and carried hateful anti-queer and anti-trans imagery. We are lucky that there weren’t more major incidents of violence given the lack of legal observers or community safety groups at the event. Elsewhere in the city, queer-owned business Willow Press had its windows smashed.

It was left to individuals and small groups to figure out how to respond to protestors and provocateurs.

The following Sunday, Rally for Trans Youth was held to bring the community together in response to the Wednesday debacle. This well-attended and organized rally met at the legislature and marched down Broadway to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It was incredibly encouraging to see so many people show up, and to be around so many other queer people after such a difficult week.

Speakers at the beginning of the march rightly criticized the Manitoba Progressive Conservative (PC) government for implicitly encouraging Wednesday’s show of hatred with its current campaign around “parental rights.” The PCs have ramped up their use of anti-queer dog whistles and are in clear alliance with the protestors on Wednesday.

Wednesday should be a wake-up call both for organizers across the city and for the general public. Far-right politics are on the rise and are being mobilized in the streets. The current attack on trans people is a sign of a continuing and growing fascist presence in Canada, one that we have seen gain momentum in recent years with movements like the Freedom Convoy.

In Manitoba, none of the mainstream provincial political parties make any promises in their platforms to protect or extend support for queer people, including the Manitoba Liberal Party and the Manitoba New Democratic Party (NDP). Only the Green Party of Manitoba and the Communist Party of Canada platforms contain action items that would explicitly benefit the queer and trans community.

In particular, the lack of support within the NDP platform feels like a betrayal of the movement, given that party members gave speeches encouraging protestors to get out and vote during the Sunday rally. It feels insulting to be expected to vote for parties merely because they aren’t openly hostile toward queer and trans people.

We need a bold anti-fascist response that goes beyond the lacklustre platforms on offer this provincial election to protect queer and trans people from this current rise of hate, and to put forward a vision for a better future.

As we saw on Wednesday, the present rights-based framework of legal protections for trans people in Canada is not enough to counter hatred. Right now, bills in Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are stripping trans children of their rights to privacy and safety, which could happen in any Canadian province. Even the rights-based framework we currently have in place is remarkably vulnerable to attacks from the right.

Our marches should be led by those on the frontlines of issues that are impacting trans people the most, and right now, that isn’t happening. We need better research into how the right is organized so that we can more effectively respond in the future. We need an unapologetic and uncompromising response to the right, one that doesn’t cede any ground to them.

Instead of demanding rights under the current framework, we need to clearly articulate a vision of the future in which queer and trans people can enact self-determination. This future requires free and accessible health care on demand and an end to carceral and police violence that disproportionately affect Black and Indigenous people and other people of colour, queer and trans folks, the working class and disabled communities — communities that overlap and intersect.

The events of this last week show a clear need for better organization in defence of queer communities and for an emancipatory politics, one that goes beyond protecting rights and demands material changes to our everyday conditions.