Alberta introduces a new Gay-Straight Alliance Bill
2017 was a momentous year for Canadian LGBTQ+ rights and some of country’s most conservative provinces were no exception. On November 15, 2017, after much debate, Alberta lawmakers passed a bill to protect the confidentiality of students who are a part of gay-straight-alliances or GSAs in schools.
Bill 24 made it illegal for school officials to tell parents if their children are participating in GSAs unless under special circumstances, such as if the student is at risk of harm. This bill is meant to protect students privacy and keep youth from experiencing potentially negative reactions from family members.
Gay-straight-alliances have become very popular in Canadian schools and act as peer-support clubs set up by students to promote understanding and help LGBTQ+ students feel safe and free from bullying. The clubs are safe spaces for students to openly discuss issues that are important to them and come to an understanding and acceptance of their own identity and the identities of those around them.
The bill was not passed without a struggle however, as members of the Alberta United Conservatives continuously argued that while they support the existence of GSAs they believe that teachers should be allowed to tell parents of their child’s participation if they feel it is necessary. The group argues that they believe it necessary to include parents in helping “at risk” kids. United Conservatives also accused the NDP of allowing spaces for sexual education conversations to be had through GSAs in schools without parental consent, which otherwise normally would require such. Other groups and individuals such as John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms contentiously apposed the bill arguing that “it attacks and undermines religious character of schools." He goes on to say that GSAs are not peer support groups but political clubs that promote an ideology that is hostile to many religions, however, supporters of the bill shot back at resistance; Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark states “in 2017, in Alberta, there should absolutely be no question that it should be up to students and students alone to disclose to whom they wish, when they wish, their own sexual identity. Period.”
Alliance advocates and the NDP also point out that outing students to their parents could put them at risk of ostracism from their families and potential physical or emotional abuse. Bill 24, they argue, will protect both teachers and students, as teachers will not be in charge of disclosing this information to parents and potentially putting students more at risk.
The passing of this bill, despite criticism, shows that progressive strides are being made towards taking the rights of LGBTQ+ people and youth seriously. Educators and lawmakers are beginning to understand that keeping kids safe is no longer about disclosing information to parents, as parents can at times, be the source of intimidation, fear and abuse. Allowing youth to have spaces where they know that they are free to be themselves and speak openly and honestly with other students without fear that their parents will find out is tremendously beneficial for said youth.
Regardless of religious affiliation schools will be continuing to adopt these spaces to support students and allow them to come out to their parents, if, and when, they are comfortable. In a province that has the reputation of being socially conservative, it is monumental to see how Alberta lawmakers are breaking the mold and working to put the rights of youth at the forefront, despite religious and political resistance from other parties. Many are hoping that other provinces will recognize this important and paramount change that advocates for the safety and privacy of LGBTQ+ youth and follow in Alberta’s footsteps.