By Andrew Kemle, January 22 2015 —
There are two sides to the provincial fight on Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) — those who believe GSAs infringe on parental rights and those who maintain that GSAs create a safe environment for LGBTQ students.
Alberta Premier Jim Prentice proposed Bill 10 in an attempt to broker a compromise between both sides and avoid dividing his political base. The bill gives individual school boards the authority to either accept or deny the creation of GSAs in their own schools.
Bill 10 attempts to balance the rights of parents and the safety of students. The problem is that these issues don’t deserve equal weighting. LGBTQ students feeling safe at school is far more important than the right of a parent to control what their child learns.
Student-led GSAs have successfully encouraged the safety and acceptance of LGBTQ students within schools. They’re also an outreach program for victims of abuse and bullying. The support they provide to LGBTQ students prevents bullying by educating students on the issues faced by their peers.
Most importantly, they ensure that LGBTQ students no longer feel isolated from their peers. They provide a safe space where students don’t have to hide parts of their identity.
Being a teenager is difficult. Being part of a marginalized group makes it even harder. Sacrificing the safety and well-being of these students to appease the idea of “parental rights” means that some of the most vulnerable people in Alberta won’t get the support they need.
In Alberta, parents have the right to be informed of all religious or sexual education. In reality, this means that parents are allowed to pull their children out of class whenever they disagree with the subject matter.
When it comes to GSAs, supporters of Prentice’s Bill 10 argue that parents have the right to make decisions about their children’s sexual education. But it’s hard to imagine a situation where banning a teenager from a GSA wouldn’t be harmful.
Being part of a GSA is not inherently sexual. GSAs encompass many of the issues faced by LGBTQ students. There’s nothing intrinsically sexual about an after-school club that caters to the LGBTQ community.
Bill 10 errs in providing equal weighting to both sides of a debate. The safety and fundamental rights of LGBTQ teenagers supersedes the right of adults to feel comfortable in their own beliefs. If the government is concerned with the safety of children, they won’t sacrifice an important service to pander to the bigotry of their supporters.