Rainbow pride flags head above crowd of heads. One black flag with "born this way" printed in rainbow pride colours.
"The protestors believe they are protecting children, but they are excluding the most marginalized – trans and gender-nonconforming kids," writes Jenna Tenn-Yuk. (Photo by Bruno Aguirre)

Topics: Ethical Living | LGBTQ2S+

Why anti-LGBTQ2S+ protests are hurting racialized trans and queer people in faith communities

Religious rallies against gender identity and sexual orientation are driving young people away from faith, Jenna Tenn-Yuk writes


The visible hatred and violence towards queer communities – especially trans people – has been increasingly disheartening to experience since anti-2SLGBTQ+ protesters fought against including gender identity and sexual orientation in school curriculums across Canada on Sept. 20.

I attended the counter-protests in Barrie, Ont., where protestors proudly held their Bibles and hateful verses in the air. They wove Canadian flags in a sea of red and white, reminiscent of last year’s “Freedom Convoy.”

But white, Christian nationalism isn’t new in Canada. It has been here since the colonization of Indigenous communities, including abusive “residential schools” and assimilation policies upheld by the government and church. Unsurprisingly, these perspectives and policies hurt 2SLGBTQ+ people who are part of racialized faith communities.

Caro Ibrahim, a trans Christian who attended the protests in Winnipeg, Man., says he has faced homophobia and transphobia since coming to Canada from Egypt 20 years ago. 

“What’s really upsetting and new to witness is it’s targeting kids, not adults,” he says. “I never thought any adult in their right mind, whatever they believe in, would actually be okay targeting kids. That could cost a kid their life.”

Trans youth are  five times more likely to experience suicidal ideation than cisgender, straight youth. Trans and queer youth are more at risk for higher rates of depression, anxiety, houselessness and suicidality. Many 2SLGBTQ+ people do not feel safe to be their authentic selves at home. Many end up leaving their faith communities. 

The religious right is preying on people’s fears, spreading misinformation and advocating to “protect children.” They are intentionally misleading communities into believing that 2SLGBTQ+ education will make their children trans and queer.

These fears have resulted in policy changes across the country. Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have implemented rules for students under 16 that require schools to have parental consent before using students’ preferred names and pronouns

“It’s all about fear. And parents are standing there thinking that their fear will protect their kids or keep them safe,” Ibrahim says. “Their fear will be the first thing that will push their kids away. They will despise the faith and stop going to religious institutions, unless they are embraced with open arms and unconditional love.”

The protestors believe they are protecting children, but they are excluding the most marginalized – trans and gender-nonconforming kids. 

“They’re making it an us versus them situation,” says Sumair*, a trans Muslim, who attended the counter-protests in Mississauga, Ont. and Scarborough, Ont. “All children deserve to exist, be accepted and safe as they are.”

Sumair, who didn’t want to use his last name to protect the privacy and safety of his family, witnessed protestors using their children to hold signs and yell verbal abuse at counter-protestors. 

“The most disheartening was seeing teenagers in Scarborough and young kids in Mississauga used as pawns,” he says. “One child was holding a sign that said, ‘Hands off me.’ Who’s touching you? It’s people in your own community doing this, not queer and trans people.”

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Learning about 2SLGBTQ+ communities doesn’t make people trans and queer, just like cisheteronormative education doesn’t make 2SLGBTQ+ people cisgender and straight. Many of us grew up in schools, religious communities and families with harmful messages that we shouldn’t exist.

I wonder how different our lives would be if we knew our existence was possible and even beautiful. I wonder how many of us would have stayed in our faith communities if we knew God loved us and our communities affirmed us. 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in school curriculums can save lives and reduce religious trauma.

“Teaching people that queer and trans people exist is not to hurt your children,” Sumair says. “It’s to protect those trans children.”

It was alarming to see racialized communities of faith march with white supremacists during the protests, despite how entrenched Islamophobia and racism are in Canada.

“I felt so angry because those people are my community,” says Sumair. “All the people protesting in Mississauga are my parents’ friends and colleagues. It’s been hard getting my parents to accept me – they still don’t – and it felt like this was setting my personal relationship with my family back.”

Sumair notes the irony of racialized people of faith joining the protests.

“These same people you have partnered with will turn around and protest you tomorrow,” he says. “They’re all Islamophobic, they’re the same people who will yell and tell you to go back to your country.”

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Ibrahim says seeing BIPOC Christians on the same side as white nationalists made him realize faith was irrelevant at the protests.

“I felt like faith didn’t matter to those folks as much as they claimed it,” he says. “If faith mattered, they wouldn’t bring their kids holding these signs of hate. If faith mattered, they wouldn’t show up yelling and slurring at kids. If faith mattered, they wouldn’t gang up on us and claim to be in peace with each other when we all know that radical Christians don’t stand with radical Muslims.” 

Despite the trauma they experienced in their religious communities, faith has been important cornerstones for Sumair and Ibrahim.

“Allah doesn’t make mistakes. I truly believe trans people are divine,” Sumair says. “I believe I was created to teach other people something about themselves and challenge their rigidity and beliefs. I’ve already seen it – the way they live their lives has changed because I exist.” 

Similarly, Ibrahim’s faith has been crucial to his survival.

“The good news for me is I’m here. I’m 48 years old, I’ve surpassed the average lifetime of a trans person,” Ibrahim says. “I’m Christian, I’m Arab, I’m African, I’m a trans man and I’m still here. I’m here because of that faith that you’re using against me. If it wasn’t for my God, I wouldn’t be here.”

With accessible and inclusive education, young queer and trans people of faith can see what’s possible. They can realize at a younger age that they don’t have to choose between their multiple identities – including being 2SLGBTQ+ and a person of faith.

*Name has been omitted for privacy and safety


Jenna Tenn-Yuk is a writer and speaker in Toronto.

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