Crowds gathered outside the Alberta legislature Wednesday evening for a rally and march in support of gay-straight alliances and the current legislation around them.
It was organized in response to part of the United Conservative Party‘s education plan revealed during the election campaign this week.
If elected, UCP Leader Jason Kenney says he would replace the NDP’s School Act with the former Progressive Conservative government’s unproclaimed Education Act update, impacting some of the protections for students who join GSAs in schools.
Right now, schools by law must allow kids to set up the peer support groups and cannot tell parents if a child has joined.
Kenney said a UCP government would allow teachers to use their judgement and if they felt a student’s health or safety was at risk, they’d be able to tell parents their child had joined.
READ MORE: Twitter users voice opposition of UCP plan to revert to old GSA rules
The rally began at 6 p.m. at the Alberta legislature and participants were expected to march to the UCP’s Edmonton headquarters, according to a Facebook page for the event.
“Usually, the people that use GSAs or other similar support spaces, safe spaces for them, are the people that need these spaces the most,” said David Campbell, who attended the rally.
“They’re the people who don’t have that support at home or in their communities and they just need a space to feel valid and normal. And, if a teacher or any other staff member at a school was able to out students for using a space that may be potentially life-saving for them, it completely destroys the safety of that group.”
WATCH BELOW: Hundreds gathered at the Alberta Legislature Wednesday, protesting against the United Conservative Party’s policy announcement on gay-straight alliances. Quinn Ohler explains what the UCP wants to change, and why it has so many people up in arms.
Just before 6 p.m. Wednesday, more than 630 Facebook users said they were attending. The Facebook event was created by Leah Ward, the co-chair of the NDP’s gender and sexual diversity caucus.
LGBTQ community member Adam Fortier was one of those students who joined a GSA in high school without his parents knowing.
“I think more people were comfortable coming out in their teens because of it,” Fortier said. “Knowing ‘it’s ok, you got these people around you,’ and even if your family isn’t ok with it, you have these teachers and your friends saying, ‘We’ll protect you.'”
LGBTQ Advocate Mike Morrison said he was shocked to hear Kenney wanted to roll back GSA rules.
“It’s exhausting. Quite frankly, I honestly thought this was done. I’m shocked that he brought it up again. The vast majority of Albertans, I believe, support LGBTQ rights.”
Morrison said rallies like the one on Wednesday show the willingness of Albertans to fight against that.
“There’s a lot of fighting left to do. There’s a lot of young people here, there’s a lot of old people here and it’s super encouraging to see people come from all across Alberta in such short notice to say, ‘queer kids matter,'” he said at the event.
The Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery said the priorities of the UCP platform are “misplaced and misguided,” adding teachers do not want the responsibility of telling parents if children join a GSA.
READ MORE: Alberta teachers clash with UCP leader on proposed education reforms
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney’s GSA plan would put students at risk of cruel and hurtful consequences.
Kenney’s education plan would also focus more on math, reading and writing, and would make diploma exams be worth half a student’s final grade again — up from the current 30 per cent that it was switched to a few years ago. If elected, the UCP would also review the NDP’s curriculum overhaul
READ MORE: Social issues could play big role in Alberta election outcome
WATCH BELOW: Political watcher Dave Cournoyer joined Jennifer Crosby to talk about how social issues could impact the provincial election.