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Gay-straight alliances given thumbs-up by Calgary students

CALGARY- As the Alberta legislature remains embroiled in a heated political debate over how to mandate gay-straight alliances in schools across the province, students at a Calgary high school are speaking out about the benefits of the associations.

Forest Lawn High School has had a gay-straight alliance for three years and students are developing a video to raise awareness about the benefits of the clubs.

“I think that every school should have them,” says Forest Lawn student Brett Plant. “Because there needs to be an outlet for the gay community to be themselves and not get bullied.”

The video and social media campaign supporting gay-straight alliances is called #Safe AB.

The alliances are also getting support from one of this year’s Grey Cup champions, Calgary Stampeders’ star running back Jon Cornish.

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“I want my kids growing up in a world where it doesn’t matter who you love,” says Cornish. “I want my kids to understand that none of that matters and I think a lot of people still think it matters.”

Earlier this year, Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman introduced Bill 202, a private member’s bill which would make gay-straight alliances mandatory in any Alberta school where students ask for them. Then on Monday, the Progressive Conservative government presented its own plan for the alliances with Bill 10.

The PC bill allows schools to reject calls for the alliances, but also allows students to file an appeal through the Court of Queen’s bench.

On Wednesday, the Wildrose party proposed amending the PC bill to streamline the legal appeal process and to provide an alternative support strategy if a gay-straight alliance is rejected. Late Wednesday, the PC party signaled it will amend its bill to remove any reference to the courts. The PC party now says if denied a request for such a group, the government itself will facilitate its creation but hasn’t provided any further details.

Some legal experts say they believe if Bill 10 passed in its original form, it would have been just a matter of time before a student made a court challenge and the charter would likely be on their side.

“Equality based on sexual orientation is already guaranteed by the charter and already in the human rights act,” says Sarah Burton of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre. “So it seems like an awful lot of hoops to jump through to create something that arguably you have the right to create anyway.”

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Bill 10 is widely expected to pass before the end of the current legislative session.

-with files from Gary Bobrovitz