More than 1,500 protesters and counter-protesters gathered outside of the Thames Valley District School Board office in east London on Wednesday.
One side was there to rally against gender ideology in schools, while the other was standing in solidarity with 2SLGBTQIA+ community. Dundas Street served as the divide to keep the two opposing groups separated. Roughly 80 London police officers were also deployed to the area as a safety precaution, even though both sides promised a peaceful demonstration.
Those against identity-affirming practices in the classroom held signs reading "teach biology, not ideology" and "leave our kids alone." Counter-protesters held signs reading "trans rights are human rights" and "no space for hate." At one point, an anti-trans protester crossed to the opposing side where he began arguing with the counter-protesters.
No violent clashes were reported.
"The labour movement has a strong and proud history of standing up on all equity issues," said London and District Labour Council President Patti Dalton, who helped organize the counter protest.
"It is our history and it is our obligation to stand up against this," she added. "As a teacher who taught for over 30 years, I can assure the public we have fantastic public education system."
The Thames Valley District School Board's offices were closed for the protest.
"We recognize that today is a challenging and painful day for many, especially the 2SLGBTQIA+ community in Thames Valley and across the nation. We do not support the harmful rhetoric and threats of violence used by some demonstrators in today’s protests," said a statement from education director Mark Fisher and board chair Lori Ann Pizzolato. "We stand in unwavering solidarity with the 2SLGBTQIA+ community today and every day."
St. Patrick's Catholic Church - located across Dundas from the board's offices - provided parking for protesters.
The protesters speakers and microphones were also set up on church property. However, according to the Diocese of London that was not a permission granted by the church.
"Neither St. Patrick’s nor the Diocese of London played any role in organizing and/or supporting the event. Once parish staff realized the size and scale of the event, they asked organizers to disperse the crowd based on safety concerns as well as the impact on the church and surrounding community," the statement said.
Ahead of the protests, police had warned drivers of potential traffic disruptions on Dundas Street near Highbury Ave. Later in the morning, they warned a march by protesters to a nearby Catholic high school would likely cause slowdowns on Dundas Street, Highbury Avenue North, and Oxford Street. Drivers were urged to avoid the area.
"The goal of us being here is just to make sure it's safe for both sides of the protest, as well as the community overall," said London Police Constable Matt Dawson. "Our goal is to keep the community safe."
The so-called "1MillionMarch4Children” is being held in cities across the country. The Ontario Federation of Labour, affiliated unions, labour councils, and community organisations were quick to organize the counter-protesters in response.