It's one of the most chilling demos I have ever witnessed. The Toronto District Muslim Education Assembly and 500 of its supporters, many in traditional dress, are marching in a circle in front of the legislature.
Their rallying call? Not stereotyping, discrimination or social service cuts. No, they're protesting sexual tolerance. They don't like the board of ed's gay-positive equity guidelines. And they charge that educators are set to "promote" a queer lifestyle in the classroom -- a message they will bring, along with their energetic chants, to the board meeting later in the evening.
Many carry makeshift placards reading "Education not homosexual indoctrination."
"If we destroy the family, we destroy the world. We feel sorry for those people who have Satan playing in their minds and in their hearts," booms a voice over the loudspeakers.
"We don't want to turn into gays and lezzies," explains 11-year-old Abdul, who came to the demo with his father.
The Muslim Education Assembly posts a Web memo advising parents that they have an "obligatory duty to protect (their) children from corruption, destruction and the Fire." Their page (www.tdmea.com) offers a letter for kids to bring to their teachers. It states: "We/I understood the so-called human sexuality agenda as a convenient... institutional tool for the deliberate and conscious promotion of homosexual, bisexual and morally corrupt lifestyles on our children in the public schools."
But the group isn't alone. On hand to lend support are the Ontarians for Traditional Family Values. Later, I try to find out who they are by phoning the info line advertised on the leaflets they distribute. The man who answers is less than informative. First he interrogates me as to my upbringing and personal life. "Catholic, straight and 23," I respond, naively thinking my cooperation will be rewarded. Then he refuses to give his name or further info and hangs up.
I trace the call to a J. Flury.
The assembly's shy, too. "Why should I help you people?" snarls the man at the end of the group's info line before hanging up. I trace that call to assembly co-coordinator Ibrahim El-Sayed.
Board officials say they've been besieged by this group since trustees passed the equity policy in December 1999. According to Stephanie Bolton, this group "does not speak on behalf of the Muslim community." And complaints won't influence the equity policy in any way. "It's a fait accompli," Bolton says. "We will not be making changes."