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Calgary NGO to consult public on gay-straight alliances in Alberta

By Alexander Kim, January 22 2015 —

The Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association (RMCLA) is holding a public consultation at the University of Calgary on Jan. 27 to discuss legislation of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Albertan schools.

GSAs are student-organized groups that provide safe space and resources for LGBTQ youth in school. According to Alberta Education, there are currently 94 GSAs in Alberta.

But not all Albertan schools are welcoming of LGBTQ student clubs.

There are no GSAs in Alberta’s Catholic or other faith-based schools.

RMCLA will seek input from the public about whether there should be legislation on GSAs and how it should be worded.

“We want to do a public consultation now, before the legislature gets going [in February] so we can recommend to the government what some parts of the bill should look like,” said RMCLA president Kelly Ernst.

Calgary high school student Kieran, who asked not to have his last name published, said the queer-straight alliance (QSA) at his high school helped him understand his gender and sexual identities.

“I’ve had issues with depression and anxiety and going to QSA really helped with that. I realized that the reason I had these problems is that I wasn’t who people had told me I was,” he said.

Kieran said he worries about legislation placing restrictions on how QSAs are formed. For example, if parents needed to be notified in order to form a QSA it could be unsafe for some queer students who may not be out to their parents.

“It’s so important for queer kids to have a space that’s safe for them. There are so many kids who end up suicidal because they don’t have anyone to talk to about these things. But if you give them that space you can save so many lives,” Kieran said.

Catholic leaders in Alberta have expressed concern over being unable to block the formation of GSAs in Catholic schools.

“The mandating of GSAs infringes on parental authority over their children, the freedom to instruct one’s children in a manner consistent with their faith and citizens’ right to manifest their religious beliefs,” said Calgary Bishop Frederick Henry in an open letter distributed on Dec. 14.

Two bills regarding GSAs were introduced in the fall session of the Alberta legislature: Bill 202 by Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman and Bill 10 by Premier Jim Prentice.

Bill 202 proposed mandatory GSAs if students request one. Bill 202 was replaced by Bill 10, which would have instead allowed students to appeal to the courts if denied support for a GSA. Bill 10 was later amended to mandate that the government set up GSAs off school property if schools refused.

Prentice put Bill 10 on hold in December following public backlash. Prentice said the government would seek feedback from Albertans before revisiting the issue.

Q Centre coordinator Leah Schmidt supports establishing LGBTQ student organizations in Albertan schools if students want them. The Q Centre and the Students’ Union are working on a statement in support of GSAs that they will submit to the RMCLA.

“I think [the resistance to GSAs] is a lot of homophobia. It comes down to politicians and school organizers saying, ‘I don’t think queer people deserve or need a space. Obviously we disagree with that,” Schmidt said.

The public consultation at the U of C will take place at 4:20 p.m. on Jan. 27 in Craigie Hall Block C 119. RMCLA will also host a second consultation in Edmonton on Jan. 29. They ask all attendees to register ahead of time by emailing register@rmcla.ca.

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