‘Tyranny of the rainbow guard:’ Inside the anti-2SLGBTQ+ movement’s efforts to take over Alberta school boards

Leaked audio provides details on how Take Back Alberta (TBA), in concert with a loose coalition of far right groups, are meeting monthly and working on building a slate of candidates to take over school boards in the 2025 municipal elections. After they win, TBA founder David Parker and his allies plan to purge the education system of workers and administrators who believe in basic rights, protections and dignity for 2SLGBTQ+ students and workers. 

“School boards hire and fire superintendents, superintendents hire and fire principals, principals hire and fire administration, teachers and teachers assistants at schools, so if we can begin firing the people that are pushing this ideology and hiring the people who aren't, we will have a huge impact on our children’s education,” explains Parker, who says he is “focused 100 per cent from now until the municipal elections on school boards.”

Parker, TBA and its allies aren’t simply some fringe agitators. They have significant institutional power in Alberta politics. TBA has effectively taken over the majority of elected positions on the ruling United Conservative Party’s (UCP) board, and Premier Danielle Smith, who has her own troubling history with public education, is close enough with Parker to have attended his wedding in March 2023. 

The audio comes from a November 27, 2023 online session, dubbed “Conservatizing Municipal Councils and School Boards,” which was hosted by “All Fired Up for Freedom,” the latest project of Benita Pedersen, a Westlock-based karaoke DJ. Pedersen first rose to prominence for organizing an anti-vax protest outside of an Edmonton hospital at the height of the COVID pandemic and was TBA’s regional captain for Edmonton before Parker fired her for lacking “message discipline.

Parker’s strategic disagreements with Pedersen, however, didn’t stop him from addressing Pedersen’s Nov. 27 meeting, which was attended by nearly 90 people. One attendee provided the Progress Report with a recording of the event.

Benita Pedersen (left) with David Parker at the United Conservative Party AGM on November 4, 2023 at the BMO Centre in Calgary (image via Facebook). 

Joining Parker and Pedersen as speakers were Kurt Hutchings of Civis4Reform, a group founded out of the February 2022 “Freedom Convoy,” as well as Jeff Park of the Alberta Parents’ Union and John Hilton-O’Brien of Parents for Choice in Education — two organizations that advocate for education privatization as a means of weakening protections for 2SLGBTQ+ students under the guise of “parental rights.”

Hilton-O’Brien, in an August column for the Western Standard, went so far as to muse about teachers contracting directly with parents, with schools functioning as a law firm or doctor’s office. 

Disgraced former Red Deer and Regional Catholic School District trustee Monique LaGrange, who claimed “the Holy Spirit” compelled her to post a meme comparing the Pride flag to the Nazi swastika , was in attendance, but didn’t speak. Parker referred to her firing repeatedly throughout his remarks as an example of conservative victimhood.

Anything normal must be queered’

“The whole purpose of having a meeting like this is to inform you that we are on the edge of the abyss,” Parker said, citing “all kinds of violence appearing around the world.”

But, he added, people are “waking up” to the collective threat we face, which he identified as the purported ascendance of amorphous Communists to the highest echelons of power.

“They’re constantly changing what they believe, because what they actually believe in is a continuous revolution,” said Parker. “Anything normal must be queered. That’s really the philosophy behind this new form of communism. It’s called queer theory.”

The TBA leader lumped together World Economic Forum chair Klaus Schwab, Karl Marx and community organizer Saul Alinsky, whose 1971 book Rules for Radicals, Parker claimed provides a blueprint for Marxists “to infiltrate every single one of your institutions.”

“I don't think I have to prove it,” Parker added, asserting that the medical, judicial and education systems have been “captured by an ideology.”

Image advertising the Nov. 27, 2023 seminar on "Conservativizing municipal councils and school boards." 

How to take over a school board

Outlining his vision for a far-right takeover of school boards Parker predicted that there won’t be many firings, “because most people are just interested in keeping their jobs and doing what they're told.”

“We have literally a tyranny of the rainbow guard and the green guard,” he said in apparent reference to students learning about 2SLGBTQ+ and climate issues. 

“You're not even allowed to disagree with them. Look what happened to Monique. She disagreed, and they waged a public relations war and a private war on her whole life.” 

Prior to Parker’s remarks, Hutchings outlined his step-by-step strategy for getting supporters of the far-right agenda elected in municipal politics, which Parker called a “breeding ground of the left.”

Hutchings encouraged supporters to attend local council meetings to express concerns with local government policies and meet like-minded people, whom they can then recruit alongside people in existing “liberty-based groups.” Supporters should then host events to drum up local interest in the cause. 

“As they say in most government offices, ‘never let a good emergency go to waste.’ So when your council makes a disastrous decision that affects a lot of people in your community, this provides a golden opportunity to get people on your side,” Hutchings said, citing property tax increases and police underfunding as two issues to mobilize around.

Organizers should recruit at least four candidates who focus on a “maximum of three issues.” 

Once candidates are elected, Hutchings emphasized, supporters must be proactive in defending them from attacks while ensuring they don’t succumb to pressure to abandon their agenda.

“You're basically playing the long game,” Hutchings explained. “You need to be looking towards the next election. The dragon may have been injured, but it's not slain at this point. As I say, an injured beast is also the most dangerous.”

‘Normal people’ vs. organized labour

Park, who said the Alberta Parents’ Union monitors “school boards behaving badly,” said the social conservatives must provide a coordinated response to the support the labour movement offers to progressive school board trustees. 

“Parents, grandparents, taxpayers, normal people—who aren't voting off of a union list, so to speak—don't know much about school boards and what they do, and who's running, whereas, unfortunately, in most cities, the traditional labor unions organize,” said Park. 

One way to identify local supporters is to circulate petitions decrying specific pro-2SLGBTQ+ policies.

“If that incumbent school board trustee either voted for the current safe and caring policy, or failed to remove it, or did nothing on the issue, then you’re gathering a list of people who are reliable votes against that incumbent and for someone who would hold the opposite position,” Park noted. 

A business opportunity for some

After ranting about the purported unfairness of unions, including the Alberta Teachers Association, spending money on municipal election advertising, Hilton-O’Brien, a past Wildrose Party president, hawked his “campaign-in-a-box” kit for new candidates.

“We have time, it's almost two years until the next election. The next campaign period starts on the first of January 2025, and it's a good idea to hit the ground running,” he said, suggesting prospective candidates begin to start saving money and invest in campaign signs and literature. 

“Because the sooner you start, the cheaper the prices are. And by starting now, you're able to put together a campaign team, train up together, and be ready to go in 2025.”

His product, which he said was put together “with the help of some other political friends of ours,” contains “everything you could ask for, from data to databases to signs to literature and training.” 

Hilton-O’Brien promised that if there were around 40 candidates who pitched in to purchase the campaign kits, “we can make sure that the cost for campaign materials pretty much drops through the floor” to around $2,500 per campaign.

Organizing against a rainbow crosswalk

To show the variety of tactics available to organizers, Pedersen recounted her recent experience mobilizing against Westlock town council’s unanimous decision to paint a rainbow crosswalk outside the local town office to show support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, which she described as a “progressive pride symbol with the intersex circle and everything.”

She described the full frontal assault she attempted to wage on the crosswalk, which included printing out handouts in June, organizing rallies outside council chambers and the town office, and delegating speakers to address council with “some of the concerns of the people.”

One of these concerns, expressed by Pedersen’s ally David Thomas at the anti-Pride crosswalk rally in Westlock, was that the support for 2SLGBTQ+ rights will lead to normalizing necrophilia, bestiality and pedophilia, warning that “drag queens in public libraries showing their genitalia to pre-schoolers” could become the norm. 

“Never marry yourself to one tool,” said Pedersen. “There are just so many things we can do, and we can do them simultaneously. But what needs to happen is we need to be coordinated, we need to better coordinate our resources. Our adversaries are so organized, we need to be better organized.”

Coordinated efforts by conservative operatives to take over public school boards and impose their agenda on students is nothing new. While previous efforts have usually faltered, TBA has a proven track record of organizational prowess combined with openly stoking anti-2SLGBTQ+ animus, a noxious combination that makes its foray into municipal politics particularly troubling. 

“I’m concerned. I also know that a lot of organizers and organizations are thinking about school boards and conversations are starting to happen. The time to start organizing is today,” says Brad Lafortune of Public Interest Alberta, a province-wide advocacy organization that organizes around public interest issues.

“If you’re concerned about your kid being safe in a public school consider getting involved, up to and including running for school board. If you’re worried about class sizes or curriculum, reach out to Public Interest Alberta, talk to us about our education task force, talk to your fellow parents on school councils, talk to local activists in unions and in your neighborhood who are worried about these issues. There are so many natural allies and I’m hopeful that we are going to start finding each other.” 

“[Take Back Alberta] are not inventing the wheel. They’re just looking at what’s worked in other places and trying to replicate it here and I think we have the tools to beat them,” says Lafortune. 

“We have no choice, we have to stop Take Back Alberta, these folks are taking advantage of the real material concerns out there and twisting it into a very deranged vision of Alberta that most of us don’t want to live in.”

David Parker and Benita Pedersen did not reply when asked for comment. 

With files from Duncan Kinney