WATCH ABOVE: Alberta’s education minister attended an Edmonton school’s Gay-Straight Alliance meeting, but Gordon Dirks’ questions are getting mixed reactions online. Trish Kozicka explains.
EDMONTON — A visit by Alberta education minister Gordon Dirks to a Queer-Straight Alliance meeting at an Edmonton high school Tuesday generated mixed reaction.
GSAs such as the one at Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts are student-led support groups for LGBTQ students and their peers.
Grade 12 student Tobyn Walker, who attended the roughly 45-minute meeting, said it started off fairly standard with the minister wanting to know things like how the GSA has affected the school community. Then came this question: “why aren’t there any boys in the club?”
“Personally I think that question is pretty uncalled for,” the 17-year-old said.
“See, it being a QSA, it is an open space for people of all sorts of different gender identities. And just because the people appear female doesn’t mean that’s what they identify as. So I think it was a fairly ignorant question for him to ask.”
Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, who has been an ardent advocate of students’ rights to GSAs, was among those who lashed out at Education Minister Gordon Dirks on Twitter.
According to the Edmonton Public Schools Superintendent Darrel Robertson, Dirks was invited and students were informed about the visit beforehand.
Blakeman, however, said she received reports that not everyone in the club was notified.
“Got a call from a concerned parent whose kid was uncomfortable,” she wrote on Twitter.
Edmonton Public Schools spokesperson Jane Sterling explained that students who regularly attend the meetings were notified in the morning. But since the GSA is open to anyone, three new students showed up not knowing Dirks would be there. Those students were allowed to leave at any time.
Walker believes there should have been more warning given to students. Despite that, and what she felt should have been “better-worded questions,” the Grade 12 student is glad the minister came.
“I think it’s a good idea that he came if he was genuinely curious and he wanted to know more about what the youth of Edmonton and Alberta think of this issue — because this is a very important issue.”
Dirks’ press secretary, David Heyman, was at the meeting and felt it was a very “open and positive” experience.
“He was there to listen to students. The minister is a big advocate for safe, and caring student environments in schools and the minister was happy to just sit and listen to what the students had to say.”
Sterling added that a teacher who was present for the duration of the meeting described it as “really positive” as well.
Dirks later tweeted about the meeting, but did not address the criticism.
He also came under fire for tweeting the handles of some students. Robertson defended him, though.
GSAs were the subject of the Alberta PC party’s contentious Bill 10 that was put on hold Dec. 4 after it triggered widespread scorn and outrage. The bill replaced Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s private member’s Bill 202, which would have mandated GSAs in any school where a student requested one.
On Tuesday, Heyman said there is still no timeline on Bill 10. For now, the minister reportedly wants more from students, teachers, school trustees, parents and religious leaders. As for whether there will be more GSA visits, Heyman said he doesn’t know whether that’s on the minister’s schedule.
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