ATHABASCA – Protesters who say they’re advocating for parental rights set up shop at Athabasca’s riverfront Wednesday morning, before moving to Aspen View School Division’s head office in the afternoon.
The group, part of the nation-wide “1MillionMarch4Children” movement that took to the streets to protest, among other things, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) teachings in schools Sept. 20, included people from as far away as central B.C.
“We thought that our freedom was set in stone, but as we speak, there are those that are working diligently to undermine our morals and value systems that created the framework for the land of the free,” said Dane Pacholok, who organized the Athabasca protest.
Pacholok was followed by three other speakers, before he led a mini convoy of vehicles to the Aspen View offices, where the protest continued in the parking lot.
In a Sept. 21 statement, Aspen View School Division said that they acknowledge the right of individuals to stage “peaceful demonstrations regarding issues that are important to them,” and that the school division has an obligation to ensure that students and staff members are provided with a welcoming and safe environment.
“Teachers follow curriculum detailed in the Alberta Education Program of Studies. Within the program, human sexuality outcomes are included in physical education & wellness in Grades 4-6, health and life skills in Grades 7-9, and in the mandatory Career and Life Management (CALM) program at the high school level,” read the release.
Supporters of the protest, including Tyler Winters from Boyle, said they were concerned with the lack of God in schools, and the forced teachings of diversity and inclusion.
“I’ve got my boy in school, we’re Christian, they don’t teach that in schools so if they aren’t going to teach my ideology why should they teach ideologies which go against it?” said Winters during the protest.
Unlike other parts of the country, where counter-protesters outnumbered the anti-SOGI groups, the opposition in Athabasca took a quieter approach; Athabasca United Church Reverend Monica Rosborough, oversaw a “drawing party” where pro-LGBTQ rights citizens wrote messages of support in chalk on a sidewalk the evening of Sept. 19.
“We realize that there are folks who are really entrenched in their assumptions that paedophiles are attacking their children in the schools systems,” said Rosborough in a Sept. 20 interview. “We aren’t going to change their minds, but all the others who are sitting on the fence or the sidelines who don’t know what to believe. The chalking was a non-violent way to spread that message.”
In addition to the sidewalk quotes, which included sayings like ‘Stop Hate” and ‘Love is Love” a few young adults worked on an unofficial pride/rainbow sidewalk, colouring in the non-painted asphalt. By morning, the crosswalk had been covered in tire marks.
“First of all, it’s chalk, how threatening is chalk? It washes away. If you’re going to damage your own vehicle to try and destroy a peaceful chalk message, that’s pretty sad,” said Rosborough. “I’m not at all surprised; we like to pretend that Athabasca is a warm and loving place, but incidents like this highlight the fact that sexism and homophobia exist in our town and need to be addressed seriously.”