Ahead of a transphobic and homophobic demonstration and march happening at Queen’s Park on Wednesday, September 20, the Prevention, Empowerment, Advocacy, Response, for Survivors (PEARS) Project — a U of T grassroots organization supporting and advocating for survivors of gender-based violence — and the city-wide organization Students for Queer Liberation Toronto have organized a student-operated Safe Walk program and peer support services.

The far-right organizations planning the demonstration intend to gather at 9:00 am on Wednesday, and to start the march at 11:00 am. Although their exact route is unclear, demonstrators will pass through parts of Queen’s Park Crescent, which is adjacent to buildings on the south and west sides of campus. 

The Queen’s Park demonstration is connected to other rallies across Canada, all organized against 2SLGBTQ+-inclusive education. These rallies are supported by “a big tent of far-right and conspiratorial groups,” according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. An Instagram post from the PEARS project points out that demonstrators’ proximity to the St. George campus may put students at risk of harassment and expose them to transphobic rhetoric. The post suggests that students commuting through the Queen’s Park area do so with friends on Wednesday morning and afternoon. 

Student-led and community support

The PEARS project and Students for Queer Liberation are organizing a Safe Walk program for 2SLGBTQ+ or otherwise marginalized students who feel uncomfortable or unsafe on campus on September 20. According to a representative of the PEARS project, vetted volunteers will staff the program. Students interested in having someone from the Safe Walk program escort them across campus — regardless of whether they’re crossing near the planned protest location — can reach out to the PEARS Project on Instagram or through email. 

“We know that when it comes to protecting our communities, we keep us safe. [M]arginalized communities have been ignored by institutions for years, especially when it comes to our safety,” a spokesperson from the PEARS project wrote in a statement provided to The Varsity. “It isn’t surprising, but it is disappointing that we have not heard anything from UofT on how they plan to keep queer and trans students safe despite there being a highly publicized transphobic rally occurring right in the middle of their campus.”

The PEARS project offers support for students who have experienced gender-based violence, and will offer both online and in-person peer support for community members who are exposed to anti-trans rhetoric or harassment during the day of the demonstration. Interested students should also reach out directly via the organization’s Instagram.

Multiple community organizations are also organizing counterprotests on September 20. The 519, a 2SLGBTQ+ community centre and service organization based in Toronto, is hosting a protest countering the Queen’s Park demonstration, and the Ontario Federation of Labour is organizing counterprotest support across Ontario, including in Toronto. Both the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network list safety resources for counterprotestors on their websites, and Students for Queer Liberation offers additional safety advice on its linktree.

Further resources

For students looking for additional support, the student organization Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans People of the University of Toronto (LGBTOUT) runs a volunteer-run drop in centre at 73 St. George St, where students can access peer support from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekdays. LGBTOUT volunteers can also direct students to other resources. 

U of T’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Office (SGDO) offers free and confidential guidance over the phone or by email about harassment, and is accessible to students, staff, and faculty. The SGDO can also refer community members to other resources when necessary.  

Beyond the university, the LGBT YouthLine, led by trained 2SLGBTQ+ responders between the ages of 16 and 29, offers text and chat support for 2SLGBTQ+ youth navigating mental health, their identity, relationships, and other topics. It operates Sunday through Friday from 4:00–9:30 pm.

The university and other community organizations also offer a number of safety and mental health support services accessible to U of T community members.

The University of Toronto has not yet replied to The Varsity‘s request for comment.

With files by Jessie Schwalb and Sarah Artemia Kronenfeld.