Alberta's Bill 24 Keeps Kids Safe: Jason Kenney, What Are You Thinking?
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney ran an election campaign where he said he would work towards repealing Alberta's Bill 24, An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances. Such a move has disturbed me greatly, as I am a staff advisor for my school's Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).
I help supervise and, if need be, organize students for various events that we might plan in order to help raise awareness or just to hang out with other like-minded students. We welcome all students; our job is to simply provide a safe space for students to hang out and feel comfortable, which some students don't always feel in their daily lives. They might have family members who are not comfortable with their sexuality, or they might be dealing with other individuals who have, for one reason or another, made them feel unsafe, harassed or otherwise uncomfortable with being who they are.
During the run-up to our Pride Prom three years ago, I had a student ask me to amend the permission form to remove all references to anything that might be remotely construed as having an LGBTQ+ angle. When I asked her why, she explained that she was not fully out with her parents, although she was out and proud at school. She was not particularly concerned for her safety if her parents saw that the form said something to do with the LGBTQ+ community; she knew, however, that bringing the form home as it was would cause a great deal of discomfort and probably more than a few arguments, and she would not be permitted to go to Pride Prom and hang out with her friends.
I've spoken with students who have been frustrated, if not disappointed, that their parents weren't really prepared to support them during their transgender journey. I've supported students who were nervous about coming out to their parents, and either celebrated with them when their parents assured them of their love and support or connected them with mental health supports when their parents did not want to—or simply couldn't—be there for their children who were revealing something so integral about themselves.
Why Do Parents Need to Know If Their Child Is Part of a GSA?
GSAs are one of the few places where kids feel unequivocally, unquestionably safe. While as a parent, I do want to know if my kids are engaged in activities that are unsafe or have done something that's really awesome, if my kids are choosing to join a GSA and don't want me to know, that's their choice. However, I'm a parent who has repeatedly told my kids that they could identify as teddy bears and I wouldn't care at all. I've told my kids if they love someone who is trans, or someone of the same sex, or anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, I don't care, so long as they are happy and they are good people.
There are parents who don't feel the same way, however. I was teaching an adult student once and he told me that he was holding hands with another boy when he was in high school and he was outed by a staff member to his father, as the two were friends. When he arrived home that evening, his father had put all his belongings on the front lawn of their house and set them ablaze.
There are countless kids who identify as LGBTQ+, or even just as allies, who will potentially get into trouble with their parents for simply being who they are. According to a Global News report, up to 40 percent of homeless youth currently identify as LGBTQ+.
Premier Kenney, Keep Kids Safe
If Bill 24 is repealed, that opens so many kids to potentially being outed to their parents and potentially opening up a world of heartbreak for these kids who identify as LGBTQ+. It could open kids up to unsafe homes as a result of being outed for their membership in a GSA. Of course, this is counterintuitive; a GSA is designed to keep kids safe, not to expose them as being a part of the LGBTQ+ spectrum to family members who might view them with intolerance, indifference or even blatant hatred for who they are.
Jason Kenney and like-minded Albertans need to remember that for many kids, schools and GSAs are one of the few places where they feel safe and accepted. Repealing Bill 24 can really put countless Alberta students at risk, and Kenney needs to reconsider his approach to this vulnerable sector of school populations.