Alberta’s Government Presents a Clear Danger to LGBTQ+ Youth
Just days after being sworn-in, Alberta’s new conservative government makes the repeal of legal protections for LBGTQ+ youth a top priority.
On Friday, May 3, 2019, thousands of high school students across Alberta walked out of classes to protest the United Conservative Government’s plan to repeal Bill 24.
Bill 24 forbids educators and school staff from informing a student’s parent(s) or guardian(s) if they’ve attended gay-straight alliance club meetings. The goal of this Bill is to protect the anonymity of LGBTQ+ students, and to avoid their inadvertently being outed.
This is particularly important in situations where a student faces rejection or other negative outcomes within their family unit. Bill 24 aims to provide a safe space for all vulnerable students.
The introduction of this Bill in 2017, created an uproar among social conservatives and some religious organizations, resulting in an ongoing court challenge.
The group behind the lawsuit claims the Bill violates their religious freedoms. The current conservative government also opposed the Bill in the legislature during their time in opposition.
The court challenge and the UCP’s reaction to Bill 24, highlights why it was needed in the first place. It was designed to give LGBTQ+ youth the right to process and come to terms with their identity. It provides them with the freedom and choice to engage in the coming out process on their own terms.
During the debate of the bill in 2017, UCP leader Jason Kenney stated,
“We believe that highly trained educators are in a much better position than politicians to exercise their discretion on whether it is in the best interests of children to engage parents”
No disrespect to educators, but the only person who should be making decisions about the coming out process is an LGBTQ+ person.
Kenney’s desire to give educators the discretion to “engage with parents” is nothing more than a euphemism for forcing LBGTQ+ children out of the closet, putting them at risk of familial rejection or even self-harm.
Educators have a lot on their plates in this era of constant government cutbacks. Adding that they should step into a family dynamic they likely don’t understand is harmful to both educator and student.
I believe that many teachers recognize this and would prefer not to interfere in these types of situations. Bill 24 alleviates the burden of having to make these types of serious decisions.
Indeed, rather than feeling oppressed by the law, The Alberta Teachers’ Association has stated that the vast majority of its 46,000 members have expressed support for it.
The Associations’ president Greg Jeffery has stated,
“We are quite pleased with Bill 24. It makes life a little easier on a teacher because certainly there are situations where outside pressures to disclose could be applied to a particular sponsoring teacher.”
The law frees teachers from parental or other pressures and harassment to out a student. With Bill 24, they can cite that the law prevents them from getting involved.
The fuss surrounding Bill 24 is not about what is in the best interest of a parent or their child, it is about homophobia and discomfort around Gay-Straight Alliance clubs being present in schools.
Ted Byfield, a conservative commentator who is also a close personal friend of Premier Kenney, calls Gay-Straight Alliances “sex clubs” which foster homosexuality in young adults.
Byfield’s argument highlights what the conservative’s actual objection to Bill 24 is. It is not about the rights of parents or educators, it’s that they are uncomfortable and upset that schools must provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ youth.
Some believe providing a positive environment for LGBTQ+ youth will somehow affect their child by ‘infecting’ them — as if sexual orientation or gender identity is contagious like a cold or flu.
Indeed, Byfield attributes the troubling rise in sexually transmitted infections among teens directly to the previous NDP government’s support for safe spaces — or sex clubs as he ludicrously refers to them.
Byfield uses statistics provided by a 2015 study conducted by the Centre for Disease Control. Unsurprisingly, he fails to mention that the CDC largely attributes this rise in STIs to a lack of proper sex education across America, and not to Gay-Straight Alliances or any other LGBTQ+ safe space projects.
Gay-Straight Alliances save lives and build bridges of support and tolerance.
They educate and create an environment where youth can just be themselves and not be ashamed of who they are. They are designed to build a positive self- image.
Despite what Byfield believes, GSAs do not provide a hedonistic environment where students are ‘hooking up’ or engaging in high risk activities. All school groups must have adult supervision, usually a teacher or parent volunteer, in order to be allowed to operate.
GSAs provide a space where LGBTQ+ youth and their allies can talk, process their feelings, find community resources that can be of help, and construct a network of people who have gone through similar experiences. Many groups provide counselling and access to crisis intervention to help LBGTQ+ youths who are contemplating suicide or other devastating actions.
Most importantly, GSAs decreases isolation, help to build self-confidence and provide safety during one of the most emotionally trying times in an LBGTQ+ person’s life.
Bill 24 is not anti-parent, anti-educator, or anti-religious, it is a law designed to protect a minority group’s most vulnerable members.
It is not attempting to force anyone to accept homosexual, bisexual or transgender rights, it is simply acknowledging the reality the LGBTQ+ folk exist and should have access to safe spaces.
Thankfully many Albertan teenagers see through the conservative’s deception. They are protesting not just for safe spaces, but also the right for LGBTQ+ youths the dignity of coming out at a time and place of their choosing.
Premier Kenney said of the protests,
“[Students] should be learning in class instead of doing politics outside of school during school hours.”
I wonder if Kenney would have the same reaction if those very same students were protesting Ottawa’s carbon tax? I think he would call them heroes if that were the case.
Alberta’s UCP government’s decision to repeal Bill 24 is a clear danger to the province’s LGBTQ+ youth. They are using youth, educators, and parents as a cover to rid legal protection for a vulnerable minority group.