By Jason Herring, March 26 2015 —
Alberta’s government did the right thing when they passed Bill 10, but they shouldn’t be applauded for doing so after dragging their heels for so long.
The revised version of the bill guarantees the right of LGBTQ students to form and participate in gay-straight alliances (GSAs) on school property. The government, dominated by the Progressive Conservatives, was attempting to pander to progressive ideas on the subject without actually helping students.
Bill 10’s original draft didn’t stop school boards from denying the creation of GSAs. Critics rightly argued that this infringed on the basic rights of the LGBTQ community.
So when a revised version of Bill 10 — one that guaranteed the right of assembly to LGBTQ youth — passed in the legislature on March 10, many commended the Alberta government for their forward thinking and progressive stance. But the PCs don’t deserve the positive recognition they’ve received.
The issue was only brought up because opposition parties proposed Bill 202 to mandate the creation of GSAs in schools once students had asked for them. Bill 10 is merely how the PCs reacted to the issue of GSAs once they were publicly discussed.
This bill was only amended after public backlash. If outraged students, parents and community leaders hadn’t been so adamant in their protest against Bill 10, the old PC version would have passed into law with little contest.
And even though the amendments are a victory, the fight for LGBTQ rights in schools isn’t over.
The Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association (ACSTA) vocally opposed holding GSAs on school property from the beginning. Shortly after the bill passed, they released a document with a statement claiming “parents shall be informed when their child wishes to join a student group in which one of the stated purposes focuses on issues related to sexuality or sexual orientation.”
Since the version of Bill 10 that passed didn’t contain any details about whether parents need to be informed of their children’s involvement in GSAs, the ACSTA is able to carry out this frustrating policy.
Bill 10 should have more explicitly protected LGBTQ youth. Informing parents when their child joins a GSA defeats the purpose of the bill.
The point of forming GSAs in schools is that it gives vulnerable students a safe place to explore their identity. If a child comes from a home where their sexual identity isn’t accepted, informing their parents of their decision to join a GSA takes this safe space away from students.
LGBTQ youth are a vulnerable group. They are four times more likely to commit suicide than their non-LGBTQ peers, according to a 2013 study by the Egale Canada Human Rights Trust. GSAs can’t completely solve this issue. But having spaces were young people can safely discuss their identities is important.
The fight for LGBTQ rights in Albertan schools isn’t over. Having a government that does the right thing only after enormous public pressure isn’t the same as having a government that actively looks out for best interests of marginalized youth.
Bill 10 is good, but it’s not good enough. Unless we keep fighting, LGBTQ youth will continue to be at risk.