Counter-protesters defend trans rights amid outcry of opposing protest

Trans rights groups and anti-trans groups debate what is best for children’s education about gender identity

Five hundred counter-protesters took to the streets of Downtown Montreal on Sept. 20, fighting for trans people’s rights against the opposing protest “1 Million March 4 Children,” that seeks to advocate the “elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools.”

Both protests took place nationwide, accompanied by 61 counter-protests. 

Anti-trans protesters chanted “Leave our children alone” and “Parents know best” in the direction of counter-protesters, who they believe are trying to “indoctrinate their children with sexualization” according to their website. 

Celeste Trianon is a trans jurist, organizer of the “No Space for Hate” protest and one of the two national coordinators of the same campaign. She has dedicated her life to standing up for trans rights and creating an environment where they feel safe and accepted.

“There is no space for hate across Canada, and we’ve historically been one of the safest countries for 2SLGBTQ+ people across the world and we want to make sure that continues,” Trianon said. 

“Remember, our Canadian Charter has protected us [the 2SLGBTQ+ community] since the 80s. Where have all those values gone? Let’s not dismantle our Charter and the very things that make us Canadian.”

Corey Kutner, a trans person studying at Concordia, attended the counter-protest. They do not agree with the way the trans community is being presented to children. 

“A lot of people are falsely equating being trans and educating children about what it means to be trans with really awful things like being a pedophile, a groomer. I just want to do my part of combating that misinformation and standing up for trans people everywhere,” Kutner said. 

Caroline Raraujo moved from Brazil to protect her and her sons rights to be a part of the LGBTQIA+, she shares that she thinks it’s ridiculous she still has to do this in Canada as well. Kaitlynn Rodney/ The Concordian

Trans rights protesters walked down Sainte-Catherine holding signs such as “Protect Trans Kids,” “We Were Always Proud,” and “Trans people have always existed,” while chanting “Trans Rights are Human Rights.” While there were 750 anti-trans protesters, they were drowned out by the trans rights protesters, who made sure their message of solidarity was clear. 

“I’m hoping that everyone will just be able to get a better idea of just how many people there are out here who want to fight for transliteration and that it is a loud minority that is in opposition,” Kutner said.

Caroline Raraujo, a mother from Brazil, came to support the fight on behalf of her son, who came out as trans at the age of 16. She was actively involved in the 2SLGBTQ+ fight in Brazil and moved to Canada for a better life for the two of them. 

“Since he came out as a trans boy, I’m acting like a shield and I’m going to protect him. I’m going to protect him wherever they try to remove his rights or attack him. And not just him, but all the trans community,” Raraujo said.

Trianon ended her interview by addressing the public:

“To our queer and trans teens, kids, adults, and elders: you are seen, you are welcome. You are welcome here in Canada, and for us, as long as we can continue making sure that you are safe here, we’re going to do everything we can in our power to make sure you are not just welcomed, but loved.”

Student Life

Panti Bliss strips down homophobia, performance, and gender identity

Emer O’Toole and Miss Panti Bliss to host talk at Concordia

“Your name is knickers?!”

This is the reaction “accidental activist” Rory O’Neill usually receives from people when introduced to his notorious drag queen alter ego, Miss Panti Bliss.

Though, there aren’t many people left in Ireland who aren’t already familiar with O’Neill and Panti. He skyrocketed to fame last year after he appeared on Ireland’s Saturday Night Show and publicly called out certain right-wing Irish newspaper columnists for being homophobic. The ensuing fallout prompted one of the largest national public debates about homophobia and a call for action within the gay community, which led directly into the upcoming marriage equality referendum taking place in May.

Yet, according to O’Neill, the whole hullabaloo, now cheekily referred to as Pantigate, was just a case of putting his foot in his mouth.

“I say I’m an ‘accidental activist’ because I seem to get myself into a lot of trouble, and in order to get myself out of trouble I have to defend myself,” he said. “[Pantigate] became a big story, with the columnists suing me and the broadcaster, until eventually the lawyers for the broadcaster decided to cut their losses and pay out, and that turned what had been a relatively small story into a whole discussion that involved everything from homophobia and how Ireland treats gay people, to censorship, to freedom of speech issues.”

Canadian supporters flocked to Concordia University last year to hear O’Neill, as Panti, in discussion with Concordia Canadian-Irish Studies professor Dr. Emer O’Toole, who specializes in culture and performance arts with an interest in gender issues.

“We were really bouncing off of the Pantigate scenario, and how troubling it is how straight people could sue gay people for using the word homophobic,” said O’Toole. “I know that Panti/Rory was overwhelmed with the Canadian interest in Irish queer stuff.”

On Feb. 16, Panti will be back at Concordia to once again sit down with O’Toole as part of The Globe and Mail “Thinking Out Loud” series across Canada.

“We’ll be discussing gender identity, how it’s constructed, how we experience it, whether or not there’s something essential about gender identity,” said O’Toole about what’s on tap for this year’s discussion.

For O’Neill, gender and performance are inextricably linked. As Panti, O’Neill operates under many labels: spectacle, nonconformist, activist, performer, other. This makes him privy to all sorts of judgments and confidences, for better or for worse.

“When I’m dressed as a giant cartoon woman in public, people feel very free to say things to me that they would never say to me dressed as a guy,” he said.

This includes having total strangers coming up to Panti at a bar, and spilling their deepest, darkest secrets. Secrets like admitting to having had sex with their cousins.

O’Neill says that strangers’ openness with him is all to do with the deep roots of misogyny in our society. People see a man dressed as a woman and think that the man is demeaning himself in some way. In the case of dressing in exaggerated drag gear, this seems to invite people to see O’Neill and other drag queens as less-than-real caricatures or spectacles of people.

“They feel I’m someone they can just tell this secret to and it’s safe. I’ve demeaned myself so I can’t be judgmental or horrified,” he said. “That also plays into how people allow drag queens to say things to them that they would never allow a guy in a suit to say. The way they let puppets or cartoons say things that people can’t get away with.”

The same theory is more controversial on the flip side of the coin, when women dress as men, or adopt non-conforming gender traits.

“When a woman dresses masculinely, people give her a bit more respect, in an odd way because it makes them uncomfortable, but they see it as her elevating herself somehow,” mused O’Neill.

O’Toole, however, had a personal experience in this realm when she decided to forgo removing body hair to challenge society’s notions of femininity, and wound up enjoying her 15 minutes of fame because of it.

“All you’re really doing is saying ‘this convention is arbitrary and it doesn’t have to be this way’ but the amount of shock and irrational anger that people display to your transgression can be really quite overwhelming,” she said. “When this constructed social norm becomes such a part of what we understand as feminine that we actually see women as disgusting and abhorrent if we don’t conform to it.”

In any case, the upcoming discussion between Bliss and O’Toole is sure to tackle the broad implications and tiniest nuances of all that makes up gender identity and performance.

So, the final question remains, why did O’Neill name himself after an undergarment? Again, it was all a bit of an accident.

“When I was in Japan I was in a double act with an American drag queen named Lurlene, and I was using the name Leticia. Japanese people have great difficulty with the ‘L’ and ‘R’ sounds, so being called Lurlene and Leticia was just really awful, nobody could ever remember our names, nobody could ever pronounce them,” he said. “So we decided we would pick a group name, and we wanted to use English words because that was sort of our schtick in Japan, but they should be words that people could remember. So the name we chose was ‘Candy Panty’ because candy and panty are both words that had been adopted into the Japanese language. But what happened was that people just started calling her Candy and me Panty. I used to wear very short skirts at the time, I was very young. So eventually we were called Candy and Panty, and the name stuck. I guess it’s a bit embarrassing, but it’s hard to forget!”

Unforgettable—that is one thing that O’Neill, as Panti or as himself, certainly is.

Join Emer O’Toole and Miss Panti Bliss on Feb.16 at 7 p.m in the D.B Clarke Theatre (Hall Building). A signing of O’Neill’s bestselling autobiographical book, Woman in the Making will take place after the talk.

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