The United Conservative Party (UCP) will oppose Bill 24 but the party says it doesn’t want to out children who join gay-straight alliances.
On Tuesday morning, UCP Leader Jason Kenney said the party supports gay-straight alliances (GSAs) but wants teachers to determine if a parent should be informed of their child’s decision.
“We do not support, I repeat, we do not support mandatory notification of parents regarding the involvement of students in GSAs,” Kenney said. “Neither I nor anyone in our caucus has proposed outing gay kids.'”
The UCP leader added it’s “offensive and dishonest” to claim any party member wants to out a child.
“Well then he should support the bill,” Premier Rachel Notley said in response to Kenney’s statements. “There would be no reason not to support the bill.
“Frankly, I’m quite disappointed although I’m not entirely surprised,” Notley said of the UCP leader’s position.
“I think Jason Kenney had an opportunity to show Albertans that he had changed and that he would not be trying to drag the province backwards, but he’s not taking that opportunity.”
Education Minister David Eggen tabled Bill 24 which ensures students who join GSAs in school aren’t outed without their permission.
Eggen said the new law would also mandate all schools that get public dollars take more specific steps to embrace and create GSAs if students ask for them.
GSAs are social clubs set up by students to help LGBTQ children feel welcome and to lessen any chance of bullying.
“Bill 24 applies to five-year-olds in kindergarten, treating them the same way as it treats 17-year-olds in Grade 12,” Kenney said in a statement. “That makes no sense. Bill 24 would make it illegal to engage parents about certain school activities for children beginning in kindergarten, regardless of their individual circumstances.”
GSAs have long been a controversial issue in Alberta, given their location at the intersection of education, religion, students’ rights, parents’ rights and human rights.
Students already have the right to set up an alliance in their school if they want one, but the government said updated rules are needed to clarify language, mandate action and close loopholes.
“Our suggestion to the minister would be to ensure the compliance of Bill 10 so that these clubs/peer support groups are available to young people, particularly those facing bullying, including at independent schools,” Kenney said.
“The education minister should stop going around picking fights. He should pursue the approach of persuasion rather than confrontation.”
Kenney said the vast majority of parents have unconditional love for their children and research shows parental involvement and support is critical in support youth at risk.
“We also support the longstanding principles enshrined in law that parents are the primary educators of children and that schools operate under delegated legal authority by parents,” Kenney said.
Watch below: On Tuesday, United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney said his party would not support Bill 24, which ensures students who join gay-straight alliances aren’t outed to their parents. Kenney said despite opposing the bill, he also doesn’t believe in outing kids.
In a statement, Kenney also said Bill 24 would go against Section 50 of the School Act, which requires parents to be informed of subject matter being taught when it explicitly involves religion or sexuality.
“According to the Alberta Teachers Association Guide on GSAs, GSAs are not merely peer support groups, but also include ‘curriculum, schoolwide educational activities, political activities,’ etc., the statement reads. “In other words, the NDP is trying to do indirectly what it cannot do directly: that is teaching sensitive subjects that would normally require parental notification.”
“Well, I think he’s making things up,” Notley said in response to Kenney’s charge. “What this bill does is it ensures better enforcement of GSAs for kids who need them, it ensures that kids are protected with respect to their privacy in terms of participating in GSAs, and it ensures overall, that we have inclusive schools that respect the basic human rights of kids who are part of any minority. This is basic stuff.
“Jason Kenney and the new version of the (progressive) Conservative Party is quite out of touch with where Albertans are on this issue.”
Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said he plans to support the bill and said it reflects “modern Alberta.”
Liberal MLA David Swann said it should be up to kids to decide to whom they reveal their sexual identity but also called on people for and against Bill 24 to work together to find a “win-win” solution.
Advocates of gay-straight alliances say the final decision must always rest with the child because there is no way to be sure whether outing a child to their parents will lead to family ostracism or physical harm.
“I think it’s really important that young people who participate in GSAs feel safe that they can do so without any push-back from anyone, really,” said Pam Krause, president and CEO of the Calgary Sexual Health Centre.
LISTEN: Gord Gillies talks to Danielle Smith about Jason Kenney’s stance on Bill 24
– With files from The Canadian Press