In a March 28 interview, Alberta Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney stated that he would not repeal the province’s Bill 10, which mandates that school boards in Alberta allow Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools if students request them. However, he went on to say that “I do however believe parents have a right to know what’s going on with their kids in the schools unless the parents are abusive … I don’t think it’s right to keep secrets from parents about challenges their kids are going through” (Kenney). LGBTory believes that this policy has the potential to “out” LGBT students to their parents against their will, and could possibly place some students in dangerous or abusive situations. We urge Mr. Kenney to reconsider this policy.
GSAs are school/student-led or community based organizations that are intended to provide a safe, supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth (or those who are perceived as such) and their straight allies. The purpose of GSAs is to make the school community safe for LGBTQ students, to facilitate activism, and to create a welcoming environment for LGBTQ students (Wikipedia). They can provide important support to these students at an often confusing and vulnerable time in their lives.
Alberta’s Bill 10 mandates that school boards in the province allow GSAs in all schools when students request them, and Mr. Kenney is to be commended for promising not to repeal this bill. However, his suggestion that parents need to be informed when their children join a GSA “unless the parents are abusive” is ill-considered. As writer Emma Teitel points out:
The truth is that informing parents would be inappropriate not in some cases, but in all cases. Kenney’s logic doesn’t account for the fact that many parents aren’t abusive until they are: it is thus grossly irresponsible and dangerous to suggest that schools inform a student’s guardians that they belong to a GSA, an act that amounts to outing and can have devastating consequences for the student (Toronto Star).
Mr. Kenney later clarified his position on Facebook:
When dealing with complex issues like gender and sexual identity, I believe our education system should recognize that every child, and every circumstance, is unique. Longstanding laws and protocols exist to protect children from potentially abusive parents. I trust teachers, principals and school counsellors to exercise their judgement about such matters, and that there should be a presumption that most parents are loving and caring, seeking only what is best for their children. The law should neither force schools to release information to parents, nor should it create an adversarial relationship between parents and their children.
Schools do not routinely inform parents when their children voluntarily participate in many other extra-curricular activities, and we believe that singling out GSAs for mandatory reporting unfairly targets LGBTQ students. Placing the onus on the school’s staff to determine if a student’s parents are potentially abusive can be risky – as many LGBTQ people can attest, some parents are not abusive until after they learn about a situation involving their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It should be up to the students, and the students alone, to determine how and when to inform their parents about something so deeply personal and potentially dangerous.
Brian Jean, leader of Alberta’s Wild Rose Party, disagrees with Kenney on this issue. He stated that “parents are already notified if sexuality issues are taught in the curriculum, but a gay-straight alliance should be left as a peer group for students” (Metro News).
We believe that Mr. Kenney’s position is misguided, and we urge him to adopt Mr. Jean’s stance on this issue. Alberta’s LGBTQ students deserve no less.