Jason Kenney, who was voted in as leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party less than two weeks ago, is being criticized for comments about gay-straight alliances.
Speaking with a Postmedia editorial board in Calgary on Tuesday, Kenney was asked about Bill 10 and whether parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA at school.
“I have said that I would not repeal Bill 10, if that’s what you’re asking me. And I do, however, think that 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.”
When asked outright if he thinks parents should be told if a student wants to join a GSA, he offered an example.
“A mother approached me in January after a public town hall. She was quite distraught, and she told me that her 12-year-old autistic daughter had been put into counselling and referred to as a boy, given a boy’s name in school. But none of this information had been shared with the parents. So, for months, the child was being treated as a boy in school and as a girl at home, creating even more problems, confusion and tension.”
“I think generally speaking, parents have a right to know what their kids are doing in school,” Kenney continued. “If there’s evidence that the parents are abusive, then they shouldn’t’ be involved.”
Alberta’s education minister said he was “disturbed” by Kenney’s remarks, which he described as “a big step back.”
David Eggen said Kenney’s comments “effectively would destroy the good work that has been done.”
“We’ve been working hard the last two years at least to build safe and caring schools for kids and Jason Kenney’s comments are a setback,” Eggen told reporters Wednesday.
“We work very closely with parents but let’s not forget that gay-straight alliances are support groups for students who are in a very vulnerable position. So if you are the government compelling people to out those students in a very compromised situation, then they are only serving to make the situation even worse.”
Watch below: Alberta Education Minister David Eggen is “disturbed” by PC Leader Jason Kenney’s comments on gay-straight alliances and whether parents should be notified.
Eggen also addressed the issue in a post on Facebook.
“Students have the right to form a GSA. They do not need permission from a principal or superintendent. An entire school community isn’t notified when students set up a chess club or a sports team and students wishing to have a GSA don’t need to be outed in this way.
“With the comments Jason Kenney has made, he is effectively outing himself… as an extremist,” Eggen wrote.
“Our government will never waver in our support of students… We want to work closely with parents in the education of their children, but we know that some students cannot talk to their parents about establishing a gay-straight alliance or about being gay, for that matter. We are here for you.”
However, the education minister said there was nothing in Bill 10 that would prevent a school from notifying a parent their child was in a GSA.
In November 2014, Alberta Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman introduced the legislation as a private member’s bill then called Bill 202: the Safe and Inclusive School Act. She wanted to make all Alberta schools safe and inclusive, with supportive learning environments for students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Canadian songwriter and gay activist k.d. lang garnered hundreds of responses on Twitter with a post that tagged Kenney.
A spokesperson told Global News Kenney will not be responding to Lang’s Tweet.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Kenney responded to the criticism.
“Some are falsely claiming that I want to force schools to ‘out’ children to their parents. This is simply not true. I have never said this, nor do I believe it. I have stated repeatedly that I do not support repealing Bill 10 regarding Gay-Straight Alliances in schools.
“I have also said that the best interests and safety of children must be paramount in all matters.
“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. In some cases, informing parents would clearly be inappropriate. Longstanding laws and protocols exist to protect children from potentially abusive parents. I trust teachers, principals and school counsellors to exercise their judgement in 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.”
In a news release, the Alberta Party denounced Kenney’s stance.
“Jason Kenney can talk about being inclusive and supportive of LGBTQ people, but this ideological stance has the potential to cause harm, homelessness and the death of marginalized youth who do not have a supportive family environment,” said Robbie Kreger-Smith, who is an Alberta Party board member and a member of the LGBTQ community.
The Alberta Party shared statistics showing 33 per cent of LGB youth have attempted suicide (compared to seven per cent of youth in general) and that LGBTQ youth account for 40 per cent of all young people experiencing homelessness.
“The law is on the side of students who feel that they may be at risk from having their sexual orientation disclosed without their consent to their parents,” Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said. “Most parents are supportive and caring and have a relationship built on respect and open communication with their children. The concern here isn’t those parents.”
“One child being forced into an abusive situation, made homeless, or taking their life because of a family situation that isn’t supportive is one too many,” Kreger-Smith said. “Children need to have the autonomy to decide when they are ready to come out and who to.”
Clark said Alberta needs leaders who respect human rights while looking after the fiscal state of the province.