Thousands of protesters and counter-protesters in cities across Canada have clashed over the rights of trans children and youth. The “1 Million March 4 Children” on Sept. 20 is part of a widespread and growing “parental rights” movement targeting inclusive public education.
This movement has already influenced provincial politics in Canada, including via Policy 713 in New Brunswick, where youth under 16 years of age are now required to obtain parental consent before they can change their name and pronouns at school.
In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe plans to introduce anti-trans legislation this fall. Faced with legal challenges, Moe has stated he will use the notwithstanding clause to override the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
What is the so-called parental rights movement? Some mainstream analyses suggest it’s simply a group of united parents who are invested in their children’s education.
But we debunk this misinformation by offering a brief history of the origins of the parental rights movement and some of its key organizers.
Old idea made new
The parental rights movement is not new.
In the 1970s, conservative activists, including American musician Anita Bryant, used the rhetoric of parental rights and “protecting children” to oppose protections for lesbians and gay men against discrimination in housing, public accommodations and employment.
Bryant went on to establish the Save Our Children organization, one of the groups behind the 1978 Briggs Initiative that targeted hundreds of gay teachers in California schools.
Around the same time, parental rights rhetoric was also used to stoke fear around feminist and civil rights gains, including abortion access and racial integration of schools.
Who’s behind the movement now?
Today, the parental rights movement is fuelled in the United States by Moms for Liberty.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Centre, Moms for Liberty is an anti-government and right-wing extremist organization with ties to white nationalists, including the Proud Boys.
1 Million March 4 Children
One of the organization’s strategies is to see their members elected to school boards, where they subsequently oppose inclusive curriculum and advocate for book bans. As of July 2023, the group had more than 258 chapters in 45 states.
Groups like Action4Canada have taken up the parental rights torch in Canada. They’re calling for the end of inclusive curriculum and restricting the use of chosen names and pronouns in schools.
Far from a group of concerned parents, Action4Canada functions as a highly organized and strategic lobby group — they claim that changes to Policy 713 were a direct response to their lobbying efforts.
According to research by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, parental rights mobilizations have coincided with the rise in anti-2SLGBTQIA+ policies and platforms of major political parties in Canada, most recently the Conservative Party of Canada and provincial Conservatives in Manitoba and Ontario.