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PHOTOS: Anti-SOGI rally, counter-protest square off in downtown Penticton

It was a case of dueling protests.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> An anti-SOGI protestor (foreground) against a backdrop of counter-protestors

Approximately 100 people gathered Wednesday morning between 9 am and noon at Penticton's Gyro Park to protest a sexual orientation and gender identity program in BC schools known as SOGI 123.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> The anti-SOGI protest

The rally was one of many similar Wednesday events planned nationally by an organization called 1 Million March 4 Children that, according to its website, "advocates for the elimination of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, pronouns, gender ideology and mixed bathrooms in schools" and also encouraged a Wednesday student walkout.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

It was mostly a quiet, well-behaved affair, with attendees eventually forming a circle in the middle of the park around the current speaker, of which there were many. Canadian flags were prominent in the crowd, as were homemade placards.

As the rally unfolded, another similarly sized group made up of counter-protestors formed on the service road that separates Gyro from the City Hall property. Canadian flags and homemade placards were also prominent here, as was music, singing and chanting.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> The SOS Pride-organized counter-protest

The two rallies were no more than 50 or 60 meters from one another, and seemed considerably closer when members of one wandered toward the other.

At one point several participants from the anti-SOGI rally made their way streetside to wave their signs at passing motorists. But in so doing so they were just a few meters from the counter-protest.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Likewise, members of the counter-protest staged a short but noisy walk up and down Main Street in the direction of the original protestors.

One, and later two RCMP cruisers waited nearby for much of the morning, presumably as a deterrent.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

We first spoke with anti-SOGI spokesperson Mary Lou Gutscher, who summed up her stance by saying, "We're here because of the sexualization of children at school."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"Here we have parents, grandparents and concerned citizens who have their own stories of what's happening to children and their families in their neighbourhood who are being guided in the schools by certain teachers and certain programs to prepare them for transitioning from whatever they were born as into something else.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Local anti-SOGI organizer Mary Lou Gutscher

"But it's more than that. It is that parents are no longer allowed to take their children out of certain classes they are opposed to. Even though you can take them out of Christian classes, you can't take them out of these classes. Our concern is that they are sexualizing children too early and setting them up to be pedophiles."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

We suggested their stance would make then appear to be anti-2SLGBTQIA+. But Gutscher argued that's not the case.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"We did a poll right here," she said, "and almost every hand went up that they are not against gays or trans. They are against children who are unable to make decisions for themselves about their adult lives being led down the path of changing their sex, of taking drugs, of surgeries, of talking in private with these people and not being able to tell their parents what's going on."

We also spoke with Heather Adamson of the South Okanagan Similkameen Pride Society, the organizing body behind the counter-protest. We asked why they were there.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Local counter-protest organizer Heather Adamson

"Today, we're countering their protest against Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity education in school," she said.

"They're against the SOGI 123 curriculum, which essentially confirms the existence of 2SLGBTQ people. Things like having more presence in books. Basically the same thing that racial injustice human rights fighters were fighting for for decades. It's been in the curriculum for seven years."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Anti-SOGI protestor speaks with counter-protestors in background

According to Adamson, the Pride coalition didn’t have long to put the counter together. But they felt it was necessary.

"The (anti-SOGI) protests in our region really only started to take root two or three weeks ago," she said. "So we connected with other Pride organizations across Canada to make sure there was a counter public stance against this.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"But we're so grateful for all the support. The human rights commissioner came out yesterday against the (anti-SOGI) protestors, the BC Teachers' Federation and the premier have come out against it. So we feel supported, but we also felt it was super important that we have a presence."

Eventually we were able to find two people on opposing sides of the spectrum engaged in seemingly polite conversation, explaining their positions and maybe even finding some common ground.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who> Derrick Lester (left) and "Alberto" chat

They even knew one another's names.

"We're just having a healthy discussion as to why we're here," said Derrick Lester of Penticton about his talking partner, "Alberto" of Penticton.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"He's obviously done a lot of research about various things. We talked a little about DNA and what that's all about. It's just a healthy conversation about who's who and what's what and why we're here."

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