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A protester in support of Pride celebrations and LGBTQ rights sings through a megaphone during a protest between Pride supporters and counterprotesters in the Ottawa's west end on June 9.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Hundreds of people gathered near two schools in Ottawa’s west end on Friday to oppose a protest organized by an activist who claims educators are teaching “gender ideology” to children.

A day earlier, in New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs faced a caucus revolt over an announcement that educators would no be longer obligated to use the preferred pronouns or names of transgender or non-binary students under the age of 16. The province also removed a reference to “gender identity” in its policy on student participation in extracurricular activities.

And in York Region, north of Toronto, students at the Catholic school board staged a walkout on Thursday to protest a decision by trustees not to raise the Pride flag. The school board’s chair had previously said the flag does not reflect the Catholic faith.

These are just a few examples of similar battles now taking place in communities across the country. As Pride Month enters its second weekend, advocates for LGBTQ students say they are finding nothing to celebrate in the fact that schools are increasingly becoming the front lines in the struggle over gay and transgender rights.

Former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne, who was the province’s first openly gay leader, said Friday that she is concerned that what is happening in and around schools is a product of “not just homophobia and transphobia, but misogyny and racism.”

“What worries me is it seems to be getting worse. That puts kids at risk,” she added.

Protesters have increasingly been targeting school boards to register opposition to provincially mandated health curriculums that teach children about topics such as gender identity and same-sex marriage. They have also protested the adoption of gender-neutral washrooms in schools.

In Ottawa, police said they had arrested at least five people at the demonstrations on Friday, but did not say whether those detained were protesters or counterprotesters.

Ariel Troster, an Ottawa city councillor, was part of the group that gathered to oppose the demonstrations. She and others tried to block the protesters – who were carrying signs she characterized as transphobic – from getting near the schools. She has a child who attends a public school in the city.

Ms. Troster said demonstrators were shouting at the counterprotesters and holding up Bible verses.

“I’m really worried about the backlash that we’re seeing toward queer and trans rights, and particularly the attacks on children,” Ms. Troster said. “It’s very upsetting to see an attempt to roll back all of the rights that we fought for … here in Canada.”

The Ottawa Carleton District School Board said in a statement that students at the two schools stayed inside throughout the day and were kept away from the protesters.

The board said misinformation was circulating on social media about its approach to inclusivity, and that schools should be places to learn, not sites of political protest.

“Hate is not welcome here,” the board added. “To 2SLGBTQ+ students, staff, and community members, please know you belong and deserve to feel welcome and accepted to be who you are.”

Ms. Wynne said Pride was a protest when it first began. She said the fight is just as important now, “because of this resurgence of bigotry.”

Her Liberal government faced backlash from a vocal minority in 2015 when it released an updated health and physical education curriculum that included discussions of gender identity.

She said that while she worries about the emboldening of protesters opposed to gay and transgender rights, she believes this has driven others to stand up against them. Young people, in particular, have “grown in a world where inclusion is the norm,” she said, which makes them less tolerant of attempts to roll that inclusion back.

“I hope that the homophobia and transphobia doesn’t move faster than good information can be provided,” Ms. Wynne said. “I do despair a bit, I have to say, because we, collectively, have worked very, very hard.”

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