More than 100 people turned out to a rally at city hall in Lethbridge on Tuesday to support gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and LGBTQ kids.
GSAs — clubs meant to provide a safe space at school for gay students — are a contentious Alberta election issue, particularly between the NDP and the UCP.
Currently, the law says teachers cannot tell parents if their child has joined a GSA. UCP Leader Jason Kenney said if his party is elected, he would let teachers decide if parents need to be informed about their child being in a GSA if they believe the child’s health or safety is at risk.
The rally was organized in response to the UCP’s proposed education plan, something that LGBTQ advocates call harmful to queer children.
Shandi Bleiken, one of many organizers, said she wanted to show LGBTQ kids they matter.
Bill 24 lets kids start or join a GSA in school and feel comforted knowing that their parents won’t be alerted, she said. Taking away protections from an already vulnerable group could out youths struggling with their sexual identities.
“If you come from a home that’s not supportive, that small flag can make your life very dangerous and miserable,” she said.
Bleiken didn’t come out until her 20s and said had GSAs been around in her formative years, it would have changed her life and given her a sense of belonging.
Five years ago, Wednesday Culley was involved with a GSA in high school and appreciated how it offered a sense of unity.
If teachers were required to notify parents, it would change things, she said.
“It’s all of a sudden creating an unsafer environment at home and also removing a safe environment from school, so it’s kind of like this double whammy where we’re removing two essential components.”
Chazley Kesler identifies as bisexual and is involved in a GSA, what she describes as an accepting circle of people.
“It definitely creates a huge community and I love being a part of it because I get to meet so many awesome people,” she said.
“There’s lots of sad stories within it, but while we’re in the GSA, it’s just all happy and we’re all queer together.”
Similar rallies were planned for Red Deer and Medicine Hat on Tuesday.
Last month, hundreds of people showed up at rallies in Edmonton and Calgary, where people called for the rules on GSAs to remain unchanged.