Dozens of people showed up at the McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary on Sunday to support gay straight alliances (GSA) and Bill 24.
GSAs are student-led clubs that gay and straight kids can join to talk about issues affecting them. They are seen as a way for students who are struggling with their sexuality to get peer support.
READ MORE: So, what exactly is a Gay Straight Alliance?
Many students say the clubs are important for those who are not ready to come out or don’t feel safe talking to their parents. Grade 12 student Ace Peace was one of several students who belong to a GSA who attended the rally. A few years ago, Peace said he thought he was the only transgender student at Crescent Heights High School.
“I was the only openly trans student at my school when I came out, but then others came out after we had a GSA,” Peace said.
“I think it’s important to have that space so people realize they are safe and they are being heard.”
This is his third year of belonging to a GSA, and said the school club has had a big impact on the lives of other students as well.
The NDP introduced Bill 24 earlier this month. If passed, it would give privacy protection for kids who join GSAs. The bill would make it illegal for teachers to tell parents if their child has joined a GSA.
WATCH: United Party Conservative Leaders Jason Kenney tells Vassy Kapelos he does not support bill 24 making it illegal for teachers to notify parents if their child is a member of gay straight alliance because he thinks this is best left to discretion of the educators themselves.
“It’s the child who is going to know when is best for them to communicate that,” Calgary Pride executive director Laurissa Chapple said.
“That’s the reality and we as adults want to be able to empower our children to be able to do so confidently and in a way that is comfortable for them. They know their living situation better than anybody else.”
This past week UCP leader Jason Kenney announced that the party would oppose Bill 24.
On The West Block on Sunday, Kenney said it’s ridiculous to say the UCP wants to “out” vulnerable kids.
“We think that educators are in a better position to exercise their professional discretion and judgement to know when it’s in the best interest of the child to engage parents, rather than politicians making that decision for them,” said Kenney.
But some see that as potentially outing kids to their parents.
“I think that most GSAs would fall apart,” Peace said.
“I think you’d be really scared because if you’re not ready to be outed you would not take that risk on yourself because that’s a very big deal. It could create a dangerous situation at home, possibly abusive and even if you’re just not ready, it’s very scary.”
Bill 24 is being backed by the Alberta Teachers’ Association and by SOS Alberta, a public education advocacy group which says it’s unfortunate the debate over Bill 24 is being framed as as parental rights issue.
“You cannot be the only route for your child’s expression,” said Barbara Silva.
“They need to have a network, a spider’s web of support and a GSA is just one of those things. They’re much more benign than what people think they truly are.”
The Alberta government has said there would be exceptions to the act in circumstances where the child’s safety is at risk.
As for parents who have concerns about Bill 24, members of Calgary Pride said it’s up to parents to cultivate a relationship with with their child.
“I’m a parent. I have three teenage daughters and it’s not always easy to have communication with your teenager but it is there and as a parent, it’s your responsibility to cultivate that relationship. Create a safe environment and if you were unsure then educate yourself,” said Chapple.
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