Locals support new law to protect GSA kids

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A St. Albert LGBTQ advocate says a new law that bans teachers from outing students to their parents should make students feel safer at school.

Alberta Education Minister David Eggen tabled Bill 24 Thursday. If passed, the bill would require all schools to keep confidential when a student joins a gay-straight or queer-straight alliance (GSA or QSA). Schools could tell parents that such a group had formed, but could not disclose the group’s members unless they were in physical danger or in trouble with the police.

The bill comes in the wake of comments made by now United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney earlier this year that were widely seen as calling for teachers to tell a student’s parents if they join a GSA, potentially outing them as gay, lesbian, or trans.

“This legislation makes it clear that no student will be outed for joining a GSA or a QSA here in this province,” Eggen said at a press conference. Kenney’s remarks were “dangerous” and undermined perceptions of GSAs as safe spaces.

While parents have a critical role in their children’s education, kids sometimes feel safer talking about gender and sexual identity with their peers, Eggen said.

Ace Peace, a trans student from Calgary speaking alongside Eggen, said GSAs are sometimes the only safe place kids have.

“I don’t want to imagine what it would mean for them if they could be outed for attending.”

Kristopher Wells, director of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, said this bill would give Alberta one of the most comprehensive GSA laws in Canada if passed, and commended the government for putting kids first.

“It’s not about hiding anything from parents,” he said – if parents want to find out about their kid’s gender identity or sexual orientation, they can ask their kids.

“This is a conversation that parents need to have. It’s not one schools should force.”

Outloud St. Albert co-founder Mia Soetaert said many students in GSAs fear their parents finding out about their attendance, with some telling them they’re going to the library or a movie when they’re attending Outloud (a citywide LGBTQ group).

“They say they can’t tell their parents or they’ll be kicked out.”

Having this law would help students be more comfortable in school, she continued.

“It’ll give kids a sense of security.”

No more run-around

The bill, if passed, would require all publicly funded schools to create safe school policies and a code of conduct (private schools are currently exempt) by April 1, 2018. It also lets the education minister impose or amend such a policy if the school’s version doesn’t follow the law. The bill clarifies that a school’s requirement to notify parents in advance about sex-ed or religion lessons doesn’t extend to school clubs.

The bill requires principals to immediately approve the creation of a GSA or similar group on request, to appoint a staff liaison to it in a reasonable time period, and to let students call their groups a GSA or QSA.

“Principals can no longer try to give students the run-around,” Wells said, noting that some schools had tried to stall the creation of such groups until students graduated.

Greater St. Albert Catholic superintendent David Keohane said his board appears to be in compliance with the new bill.

“Job number one is ensuring the safety and well-being of a child while they’re at school,” he said, and outing a child before he or she is ready can harm them.

St. Albert Public board superintendent Barry Wowk said he had no problem with this bill at first glance, and said schools don’t normally inform parents when their kids join clubs – GSAs or otherwise.

Peace said that being a kid was tough, and being a queer kid tougher.

“I can’t understand why anyone would want to make it more difficult for us.”

The text of the bill is available at www.assembly.ab.ca.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.