Canadian Anti-Hate Network
On a clear day, a long residential street in Ottawa, Ontario is flooded with people. Outside one of three schools along the road, a raucous wall of sound fills the air.
Still hours before the lunch bell, this is not the droves of adolescents and teens common to the area, but rather a duelling protest and counter protest. One side objects to what they view as the ideological creep of “cultural Marxism” and a pernicious “gender cult” indoctrinating children into a system they believe will result in the rejection of the family, unnecessary surgery, or “grooming” children for pedophiles.
The other side is there to be a barrier between anti-2SLGBTQ+ activists and the school, 2SLGBTQ+ children, as well as educators and staff, who have become a target in an ongoing culture war. Many are dressed in bright colours, wave rainbow flags, and play music, all the while attempting to hinder their opponents' message.
There has been no shortage of these events in Canada. These types of protests – targeting libraries, family reading events, sex education, and of course, Pride – have been occurring across the country for months. In some areas, they at times comprise around half of all far-right protests.
In Canada, the most successful and well-attended protests have primarily been led by individuals who identify or espouse various forms of Christian Nationalism – the belief that Canada was founded on authoritarian, conservative Christian values, that these Christian values are superior, and that our laws and government should operate on the basis of their values. The same movement has been gripping not just the United States, but Europe too.
Similarly contentious protests and counter-protests have taken place in Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and several other countries.
In this space, several Canadians have used the tension to rise in prominence, casting themselves as defenders of the truth, standing up to a woke ideology, while repeatedly voicing anti-transgender bigotry.
“[Gender ideology is] pseudo-scientific, quasi-religious nonsense and we need to eliminate it in its entirety,” activist Chris Elston told a cheering crowd on July 1 in Philadelphia at a conference held by the American-based group Moms For Liberty (MFL).
The Southern Poverty Law Center states that Moms for Liberty is a “far-right organization that engages in anti-student inclusion activities and self-identifies as part of the modern parental rights movement” opposed to public health regulations regarding COVID-19, gender and racially inclusive school curriculum, and advocates for book bans.
A growing and powerful group in the anti-transgender, anti-LGBTQ+ ecosystem, MFL hosted its annual symposium featuring not only Elston, who travelled from his home in British Columbia to attend, but also Ron DeSantis. The current Florida governor is aiming to secure the presidential bid for the Republican party.
“Billboard Chris,” as Elston is better known, rose to prominence after purchasing a billboard in BC with Amy Hamm reading “I [Love] JK Rowling.” The Harry Potter author has become an icon amongst the “gender critical” crowd for her statements targeting transgender persons.
Elston, a former insurance broker, built a social media following after his public exit from the Church of Scientology. He used the news coverage surrounding his JK Rowling billboard to create a new audience, one vehemently opposed to gender-affirming care for transgender children, despite having no qualifications or education related to gender or sex.
In lieu of any professional experience, Elston touts his roles as a father of two girls and a beleaguered activist. The eponymous billboard from which he took his name, and its removal, led to a variety of independent “I [Love] JKs” placed across North America.
Elston’s constant antagonism draws attention and serves as a marketing tool for a growing anti-trans audience at home and abroad. Between two sandwich board signs draped over his body, he took to protesting Vancouver, BC street corners with slogans like “stop gender ideology” or “stop giving puberty blockers to children.”
Taking his tour on the road, Elston began to garner attention and has led to appearances on conservative live streams and major network television including Tucker Carlson Tonight.
While arguably the most popular Canadian figure on the anti-transgender talking circuit, he is one piece of a global network of influencers and content creators carving out a niche in the space. Many share the same rhetoric and rejections, but more than any one individual personality, they collectively feed a protest movement by taking to the streets against improving care and inclusion.
In March, UK anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen, AKA Posie Parker, headed to Australia to give a series of talks. She was met by both supporters and pro-2SLGBTQ+ protesters.
Part of a multi-country tour titled “Let Women Speak,” the focus was on how “sex-based rights” for women are being threatened by gender-affirming care and what Keen-Minshull calls gender ideology.
(Similar arguments have been advanced in Canada, and refuted by the Canadian Bar Association.)
When she held an event outside the Parliament in Victoria, a group of neo-Nazis from Thomas Sewell’s National Socialist Network arrived in support and clashed with police, resulting in arrests. Since then, neo-Nazis from that organization and associated networks have appeared outside drag story events in Melbourne and Victoria.
Days after her appearance in Victoria, protesters against Keen would prevent a planned talk from going ahead. She left Australia shortly after, citing safety concerns.
A tentative event scheduled for Canada was also quietly removed from Keen’s website.
In a scene becoming tragically commonplace, protesters and counter-protesters have squared up outside of libraries in Perth during other inclusive drag events geared toward children.
"Let's call a spade a spade. It's never been about protecting children. It's always been an attack on the LGBTQ+ community," performer Cougar Morrison, who has been hosting drag story-reading events for five years, told ABC News.
Far from the only incident, multiple events have been cancelled as a result of threats against the public, library staff, council staff, and performers.
Josh Fergeus, a councillor in Victoria’s City of Monash, said in May that threats have been “escalating in frequency and intensity that they are being received.”
The Emerald Isle is another epicentre of anti-2SLGBTQ+ organizing.. The site of recent anti-immigration protests, many members of the far-right in and outside the country have glommed onto the Irish struggle, promoting it as dual parts of a similar political agenda to preserve traditional values while attacking attempts to hold inclusive events geared towards children.
Library staff in Cork were repeatedly the victims of threats and harassment, not for any particular event or planned appearance, but for daring to house LGBTQ+ books within its walls.
“We have seen staff being intimidated, videoed against their will, and being called horrible things,” City Councillor John Maher told the Irish Examiner — many of the staff had “pedophile slurs” hurled against them.
“It is important that we send out the message that libraries are safe, are centres of learning, are places of inclusion and diversity, and that we reinforce to our staff that we are standing with them," Maher added.
Cork’s library system has a “key role in combating anti-LGBT+ hate, in policy-making, enabling publications, providing collections relevant to the community, providing safe spaces and partaking in Pride and Awareness Week,” according to a report presented to the city council.
The library has indicated it has “no intention of removing books from its shelves.”
The events in Cork are just one of many repeats of this scene playing out on a stage outside of publications, libraries and legislatures, including the Dáil, the Irish parliamentary building.
“A global destruction of our civilization. Of our country, of our culture, of our faith and we must see it as much,” one speaker said through a loudspeaker outside the building. Identified as former general practitioner Anne McCloskey by anti-fascist researchers Ireland Against Fascism, McCloskey also self-identifies as a conspiracy theorist and opposed to vaccines.
Like Canada, many individuals involved in anti-LGBTQ+ activism have previous connections to other conspiratorial movements.
No one will accuse France of suffering from a lack of political activism, and the issue of transgender rights and LGBTQ+ acceptance is no exception.
In France, drag performers are commonly treated as an extension of the transgender community, often facing transphobic slurs and hate speech, including at an event in l'Oriflamme where groups categorized as “ultra-right” physically protested drag reading events.
One individual, Dany Bonnet, a delegate for Éric Zemmour’s far-right Reconquête party has attended these protests. Bonnet has categorized any drag performances as “inherently sexual and aimed at mature audiences.”
A report by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue said that French Telegram channels identified “reading of transgender stories by drag queens in front of children” as the focus of the problem, rather than any specific behaviour or content of the books or performances.
“In France, anti-drag actors often highlight the fact that events are taking place in public libraries, or that the organizations or festivals hosting the events are receiving public funding.
The United Kingdom has long had an active far-right protest scene targeting trans people. The heightened attacks on trans persons by both activists and media in the UK have led to some saying they are leaving the country for their own safety.
The targeting of LGBTQ+ events has seen a revitalization over the pandemic years, including targeting of drag story time events, particularly at libraries. According to antifascist watchdog Hope Not Hate, while many of the protests are small and “low-key” they have begun to include far-right organizations like Patriotic Alternative (PA)---the “UK’s largest and most active fascist group”—and its splinter group, the Independent Nationalist Network (INN).
Using the events as a call to action, they are targeting libraries with defamatory leaflets, letter-writing campaigns, disruptive protests and abuse. Narratives of children targeted for “grooming” by pedophilic drag performers are not substantiated by legal claims, convictions, or charges, yet continue to dominate the discourse against family-friendly events that include drag performers entertaining children.
Like in other parts of the world, the push protesting against LGBTQ+ events includes anti-vaccine activists deeply invested in a number of other conspiracy theories. UK anti-drag activists often call upon complaints that these children's events are “funded by public money,” along with criticizing the closure of libraries to the public during the events.
Some of these events have had protesters make their way inside, disrupting the readings and shouting their accusations in front of children and parents.
All roads may lead to Rome, but it does not mean they began there.
The inclusion of the United States at the end of this list does not come by happenstance. San Francisco, California is credited as the 2015 origin point for “Drag Queen Story Hour,” and cities across the union have received some of the most full-throated support and condemnation of the events.
Some of the largest, most powerful and incredibly well-funded organizations dedicated to combating the rights of transgender people come from the United States. These groups lobby government officials, launch experimental lawsuits intended to roll back rights, work together to develop messaging, and try to push through research to support their goals.
The United States is unique, not just in the size and scale of its protests, but in the influence it is able to export into the rest of the world through its media. Too often though, the adaptation of effective anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from the US by those living outside is used as proof positive of America’s lower sensibilities infiltrating foreign politics.
More alarming perhaps than protests themselves is that they are being powered by a constant stream of vitriolic fuel supplied by many sitting members of the government. In the United States, many individuals core to the Republican party—including hopeful presidential nominees like Donald Trump and Ron Desantis—have made opposition to teaching about gender identity a significant weapon in their runs for election.
The effectiveness of this issue in the polls remains to be determined. Regardless, a recent report by the Institute For Strategic Dialogue found that while political figures in France and Australia have supported anti-drag and anti-LGBTQ+ actions, only in the US are a “substantial number of elected representatives of a mainstream party engaging” in such rhetoric and action.