Braid: Fury at Smith's new transgender rules sparks giant city hall protest

This was starting to look more like the birth of a social uprising than just another demonstration at city hall

Get the latest from Don Braid, Calgary Herald straight to your inbox

Article content

At Saturday’s huge Calgary city hall rally, I saw gay and transgender kids, their parents and friends, several cute dogs, forests of makeshift signs, and some tough dudes who looked like they’d just loped out of a Longview bar, but carried rainbow flags.

The vast crowd packed the vast concrete space outside the entry to city hall, along the whole south-north length of the building.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Article content

These are the folks Premier Danielle Smith says she’s lovingly helping with her new rules on gender transition, sex education and transgender athletes in sport.

Universally, they don’t think she’s helping. They believe she is their enemy. They find her new rules both insulting and menacing.

Parents I spoke to, who have seen their children’s pain while coming out or going through gender transition, are furious at how the provincial government has put their offspring in the spotlight yet again.

“Parents don’t need protection, kids do,” said one sign, summing up the feeling that Smith is catering to a minority of parents who think teachers and schools are actively corrupting their children.

One teacher carried a sign saying kids are welcome to talk to her about anything in complete privacy and safety.

But under Smith’s new rules, this teacher won’t be able to mention sex, or conduct any class with the remotest connection to sex or gender, without full permission from parents.

Recommended from Editorial

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

The energy from the growing crowd kept escalating, with roaring cheers for speakers, delight at friendly honking from many passing motorists, and hearty jeers for the tiny counter-protest across Macleod Trail.

This was starting to look more like the birth of a social uprising than just another demonstration at city hall.

The Alberta NDP leadership campaign starts Monday. Smith has loaded up candidates with ammunition to use against her.

Former Mayor Naheed Nenshi, looking more and more like he’ll join that race, told the rally crowd that UCP votes “aren’t worth a few dead kids.”

Nationally, Smith has given Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a stake to drive into the federal Conservatives.

She created her own deflection from the issues she cares about most — federal climate change policy and regional unfairness.

Smith may even help reverse the flow of disillusioned progressives from the Liberals to the federal Conservatives.

Danielle Smith
Premier Danielle Smith speaks to media at the McDougall Centre in Calgary on Thursday, February 1, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

Past episodes show that it’s very dangerous to send any struggling, sympathetic minority group into the streets.

A classic case came in 2013, in the period just before the great southern Alberta flood, when the PC government tried to cut funding for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD).

Advertisement 4

Article content

Many of these people, often very poor, were terrified at having their contracts changed. The government went through several shifts and stalls, but eventually the top blew right off.

PDD clients in great numbers took to the streets to demonstrate, often with caregivers beside them.

In Calgary and Edmonton, they waved from their wheelchairs or proudly raised their crutches as motorists blared support.

On one occasion an Edmonton police tactical team armed with automatic weapons stormed into an information meeting and took down a disabled man in full view of TV cameras. There had been a vague, unconfirmed report about a knife.

In Calgary, the government set up a crucial session with PDD clients. One problem: the second-floor meeting room had no wheelchair access.

Faced with political disaster, the PCs bolted. The optics of the revolt were just too devastating. Cuts were shelved.

The cases are not parallel, obviously, but those PDD clients and the LGBTQ community do have something in common. After surviving terrible pain and hardship in their lives, they tend to be tough and determined.

That can mean big trouble both for a government’s plans and its image. Smith needs to withdraw these measures.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

Transgender rights rally
Protesters fill the plaza in front of Calgary City Hall to rally against the Alberta government’s proposed transgender policies, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Gavin Young/Postmedia
Transgender rights rally
Protesters fill the plaza in front of Calgary City Hall to rally against the Alberta government’s proposed transgender policies, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Gavin Young/Postmedia
Transgender rights rally
Protesters fill the plaza in front of Calgary City Hall to rally against the Alberta government’s proposed transgender policies, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024. Gavin Young/Postmedia

Article content