Renfrew students protest against gendered washroom use at Renfrew Catholic high school

By Bruce McIntyre

A protest organized by a student on Friday, Nov. 25 with the intent of stopping people from using the washroom of their choice at St. Joseph's Catholic High School in Renfrew was met with a group of anti-protesters that nearly tripled the number of protesters. 

Starting at noon, approximately 30 individuals were located along the median on Barnet Boulevard and carried large Canadian flags. Among the signs were  hand written posters with various Bible quotes or posters stating that washrooms are designated for male and female and entry to those facilities are based on their anatomy.

Other signs included the words “FAKE NEWS” and two individuals carried flags with the inscription “F**K Trudeau.”

Although designed as a student protest, there were at least 25 middle-aged men and women leading the chants of varying degrees in support of men and women using designated washrooms. With at least four Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) vehicles visible within 200 feet of the main staging area, an anti-protest made up of people of all ages began to take shape.  

With less than 40-feet separating them from the organizers, were about 100 anti-protesters who lined the north side of the roadway and most carried rainbow banners, Pride flags or hand-written posters with messages of universal love and tolerance for all individuals.

The protest/student walkout was organized by Josh Alexander, a grade 11 student who recently transferred to the Catholic high school in September, and his message was simple and direct.

“The idea for the protest started about two weeks ago when the principal refused to take any action in regard to allowing males to use the female washroom,” he said. “Males do not belong in female washrooms is our message. So I put a post out on social media and it all led up to today.”

“It is time to expose the perverted agenda in our educated system,” his post stated. “Males do not belong in female washrooms. Protect the girls from this evil narrative. Stop depriving our students of a healthy and natural environment. ‘God made them male and female: Mark 10:6.’”

When asked if there was any consideration given to rescheduling the protest in light of the murders of five people at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub, who were victims of a hate crime because they attended a drag show where transgendered people make up the majority of patrons, Alexander stated it was not considered.

“Considering this rally had nothing to do with transphobia, it really has nothing to do with our message,” he said. “This rally is about male students in the female washrooms at our high school. Female students at this high school don’t want that to happen and they are persecuted if they dare to speak out against it.”

He said he only was aware of two male students who use a female washroom, but was confident there were others doing the same. He said to his knowledge there has never been any physical altercations in the washroom, but there have been ‘disruptions.’

Counter-Protesters Come Out In Large Numbers

Sophie Smith-Dore, the Arnprior Pflag Chapter Lead (Pflag Canada is a national charitable organization, founded by parents who wished to help themselves and their family members understand and accept their LGBTQ2S children) and co-founder of Arnprior Pride, said she overwhelmed and proud of the number of people who showed up to voice support for gender-diverse students.

“My daughter attends this school and the support shown here today and for young people everywhere goes to show that ordinary people are willing to stand up to intolerance and those who would try to deny these young people of a basic human right that every Canadian is entitled to,” she said.

Smith-Dore withdrew her daughter from classes at St. Joe’s four days before the protest as she did not want her daughter sitting in a classroom with others who are vocally opposed to her daughter’s right to use a washroom where she feels most comfortable.

“My daughter sent me the poster that was circulating in the school and I met with school administration and decided afterwards to remove her,” she said. “I could not be assured that she, or any other gender-diverse children would not be forced to sit beside students who are openly advocating for their erasure.”

She said about 50 people were transported by bus from Ottawa and they were sponsored by groups in Ottawa that support gender-diverse students. They were joined by local residents, many of them waving banners in support of the high school students.

“Our message here today was to show support for trans kids because we didn’t want them just to see first-hand or through the media the messages of intolerance and hatred that these types of protests attract,” she said. “We wanted them to see a large number of people in support of them and waving signs of love and affirmation and that they are accepted and we love them no matter what they may hear or read.”

When asked the same question regarding the timing of the event in light of the mass shooting one week prior that was a hate crime aimed at the LGBTQ community, she said she was not surprised the event was held.

“I am not surprised it was not rescheduled because they preach intolerance and they don’t care about anyone else’s feelings except their own and they have no grasp of the sensitivity of the recent murders of transgender people so, no, we were not surprised at all.”

The protest ended peacefully shortly after 1 p.m. and Smith-Dore said the large turnout will force local schools to examine their policies and the conversation about human rights and gender-diversity has really only just begun.


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