April 8, 2014 3:43 pm
Updated: April 8, 2014 9:14 pm

Alberta legislature votes down Gay-Straight Alliance bill

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Watch above: Members of Alberta’s LGBT community say the government’s dismissal of the private members bill is a major setback for equality. Francis Silvaggio reports.

EDMONTON – A private member’s bill that would make it mandatory for Alberta schools to allow for the creation of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) was voted down in the Legislature Monday night.

There are currently 40 GSAs in Alberta, all of which are in public schools.

Calgary-area Liberal MLA Kent Hehr said on Twitter that he was disappointed his bill didn’t pass.

The final vote was 31 to 19 with the Liberals and the NDP supporting the motion, along with some members of the PC government.

However, the majority of Tories and the Wildrose voted against the bill. Several MLAs did not vote.

View which MLAs voted for and against the motion below:

Alberta Hansard

Alberta Hansard

The full transcription from the Alberta Hansard from Monday is posted below. Discussion on Bill 503 begins on page 33 of the document, or page 361 on the Hansard.

Advocates said there’s still a lot of work to be done educating politicians on how helpful Gay-Straight Alliances can be for kids.

According to MyGSA.ca, Canada’s website for Gay-Straight Alliances in schools, a GSA is described as “an official student club with lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) and heterosexual student membership and one or two teachers who serve as faculty advisors.”

The purpose of these clubs, explains the site, “is to provide a much-needed safer space in which LGBTQ students and allies can work together on making their schools more welcoming for all members of school communities, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“What we need to do here, like Ontario has done and like Manitoba has done, is recognize that unless a Legislature acts, unless we say that we make mandatory the establishment of GSAs in schools where kids want them, you will have some groups, whether they be principals, whether they be school boards or the like, who may get in the way of the establishment of the GSA,” said Hehr in the Legislture on Monday.

READ MORE: Manitoba anti-bullying law endorses gay-straight alliances 

However, other MLAs thought a bill wasn’t the way to go.

“I do believe that the member’s approach to this issue in the motion in question is not the most appropriate way to go about combating bullying,” said Education Minister Jeff Johnson.

“Singling out a specific group of students in legislation, potentially at the expense of other students being forgotten, is troublesome.”

“There are, like I said, many other highly effective groups like GSAs that promote acceptance, build bridges, and help fight bullying, but we can’t possibly legislate for each and every one of these groups, Mr. Speaker, so instead we endeavour to create schools and learning environments that are accepting of all students and empowering for all students regardless of what their differences are,” said Johnston.

Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson agrees.

“In a public school, a Gay-Straight Alliance might be the perfect way to deal with this, and we support that.  In a faith-based school, there might be a better way where they can bring in the proper counselling and context into the discussion and discuss it in a way that parents and students are comfortable with,” he said.

The Calgary Catholic School Board said it approaches the issue of inclusion with a big-picture view.

“Rather than form kind of reductionist view groups, we look at the holistic picture and educate people through awareness weeks and things like that,” said Tania Younker.

“We have what’s called a Catholic Community of Caring and that’s build unity through community. And, what that looks like in our schools is we are supportive, we are welcoming, inclusive, there’s building a culture of respect and everybody has a place at our schools.”

Calgary’s Springbank High School has a GSA.

“There is no downside to this,” said Vice Principal Tracy Lyons.

“This is not coming from the top down, this is coming from within,” she explained.

“And, as soon as students have that opportunity, that is what makes a difference because it’s generated from them, from their heart.”

“If a student comes to you and says ‘I would like to form a club that will help dissolve the presence of bullying within our school, administration should be completely 100 per cent on board with that,” said Springbank GSA member and Grade 11 student Natasha Kornak.

“You can’t be afraid, you can’t restrict your students from having that safe space – it could be life-saving,” said Kiana Chouinard, the former president of the GSA at Strathcona High School in Edmonton.

“Edmonton Public has a stand-alone rule that requires schools to be supportive of GSAs so I definitely thought that Alberta would be the same way and be open. Unfortunately it didn’t pass.”

“There are Christian-based student groups in our public schools, but there are no Gay-Straight Alliances in any Catholic school in Alberta, so why the difference?” asked Dr. Kristopher Wells, of the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. 

“The issue is moot because students have a legal right to create these groups in any publicly-funded school in this province or in this country,” he said.

“That’s why Manitoba and Ontario have legislated that students have the right to create GSAs – because they’re being blocked and prevented from doing so – and that’s no different from here in Alberta.”

Wildrose MLA Bruce McAllister called Motion 503 “noble,” but added that it “represents an overreach of the Legislature.

“While the motion’s purpose is noble and while I personally believe the student-led efforts to oppose bullying of all kinds should be encouraged across the province, it represents an overreach of the Legislature,” he noted.

“I believe the local school boards are best suited to deal with the bullying issue, and many of them are and should be applauded for the great work that they are doing on the GSAs that have started in this province.”

His view was not shared by NDP MLA David Eggen.

“Gay-straight alliances have demonstrated a history of success as advocates for the LGBTQ youth as well as proponents of school safety,” said Eggen.

“Support from above eases resistance from students, teachers, and the community and provides validation for those engaged in this important work.”

Alberta’s Associate Minister of Family and Community Safety supported the Motion.

“There is an inherent disconnect between embracing the value and success of student-led GSAs and then saying: by the way, if a school board is uncomfortable with it, then it’s not student-led at all,” said PC MLA Sandra Jansen. “This is my problem with the arguments I’m hearing.”

“So, yes, I wholeheartedly support Motion 503 and the efforts of the Hon. Member for Calgary-Buffalo. Gay-straight alliances are extremely important,” she added.

Premier Hancock was not in the House at the time, but told Global News on Tuesday that he would have voted in favour of the motion.

The Alberta Hansard for Monday, April 7, 2014

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