GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

Another Move Forward

Gay-Straight Alliances To Be Allowed After All

Political by Stephen Lock (From GayCalgary® Magazine, April 2015, page 16)

So the Progressive Conservatives, under Jim Prentice, finally saw the light when it came to Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools?

This whole controversy was about as manufactured a controversy as one could contrive. When Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman first introduced her private members bill (Bill 202) mandating the establishment of GSAs in schools, if students requested them, the PCs immediately threw a hissy fit over how ‘divisive’ the bill was, how it contravened school board autonomy and infringed on parental rights regarding what their children could be taught in Alberta schools. They immediately tabled their own GSA bill (Bill 10) as a way of running a tight end around Blakeman’s Bill 202, thereby setting off a major brouhaha over supposedly conflicting rights.

Of course, the Separate School Board, and Catholic Bishop Fred Henry, waded into the fray, adding even more fuel to the fire. Bishop Henry has opposed every single advancement of LGBTQ rights that have come along in recent years, citing how such new laws go against Catholic teachings, and insisting that the government should not be engaging in social engineering. The term ‘social engineering’ is code for covering up homophobic reactions, and is almost always only applied to progressive, liberal and, I believe, reasonable accommodation of diversity, be it political, social or sexual orientation related.

Now that the provincial government, after a series of consultations with Albertans, apparently, has come to the conclusion that having GSAs will not herald the Reign of Satan on Earth, everyone seems to be falling in line.

Back in December, Calgary Catholic School District board chair, Linda Wellman, was quoted as saying they were happy with provincial legislation (i.e. the government’s Bill 10) giving them the ability to reject GSAs. She was quoted as saying the clubs were exclusionary and would not find advocates within the Calgary Catholic School District.

"We don’t have the clubs because we have felt they can be very divisive and lead to segregation," she said at the time. She went on to say Bill 10, which would have given boards the right to block such groups being formed, but allow students to make an appeal through the courts, conformed well with the board’s practices.

Before, the President of the Alberta Catholic School Trustee’s Association and chairperson of Elk Island Catholic Schools, Tony Sykora, viewed GSAs as "invok[ing] something that is exclusive rather than inclusive" (a total misunderstanding of the whole dynamic behind them), stating Catholic school board policies did not "segregate different traits", and was on record as being directly opposed to GSAs. We now hear him saying Catholic schools will be able to work with the new law, that they anticipated this would happen, and the various superintendents are developing their own guidelines for forming student groups. However, from the wording of the statement, it does rather appear they are hedging their bets.

"We will be able to help all students who are struggling," it states, going on to say all groups will "support the mission, vision, and core values of the school" with the name of any group having to be approved by the superintendent of schools and the principal of the particular school in which the group is being set up. Any such group, by whatever name the principal and superintendent allow, "will incorporate language in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Now, to me, that suggests that having the word ‘gay’ in the name just might not fly. After all, gay/homosexual/bisexual or even trans are not in keeping with Catholic teachings.

When this all started, and what Bill 202 sought to accomplish, was that if students – be they LGBTQ or not – indicated a desire to establish a GSA in their school, the school was to comply and offer the support of faculty and other resources towards that end. Seems pretty reasonable.

Now, however, we have folks such as Sykora saying such a request would "trigger a discussion" and that "the discussion [would] determine what the support group [would] look like." Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall during that discussion? Frightened and already stigmatized teenagers ‘having a discussion’ with the authority figures of their school over what a simple support group would be called and what it would look like? It makes my chest tighten up. Especially when those same authority figures were already opposed to the whole idea to begin with and, at the very least, have little to no understanding of what it means to be a queer kid in school.

If these adults are of the mindset that A) such groups are divisive anyway and B) if the student didn’t make such an issue of being gay/bi/trans there wouldn’t be a problem, how does a naïve teenager even begin to deal with that? I suspect their concerns will be dismissed and overridden and the poor kids browbeaten into accepting something less than what they need.

Bishop Henry issued a letter to the faithful last year stating how the mandating of GSAs was "problematic". He was of the view such a mandate infringed on the authority of parents over their children, infringed on the freedom of parents to teach their children in keeping with their faith, and infringed on the freedom of individuals to practice their faith free of government coercion, interference, or constraints.

This from a bishop who, a few years ago, during the debates around equal marriage, wrote in a pastoral letter, "Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good." (Emphasis added). He then wrote in a follow-up letter that "[t]he time has come for the government of Canada to use its coercive powers to legislate that a couple being married must be one man and one woman." (Emphasis added).

Apparently, it was fine to demand State coercion on those seeking equality rights, or to "proscribe/curtail" homosexuality in the name of ‘the common good’, (let alone again lumping it in with adultery, prostitution and pornography), but it is not okay when it’s his church that is at odds with the State and undermining inclusivity.

In contrast, the Calgary Public Board of Education already supported the establishment of GSAs in 20 of the 218 Calgary public schools, along with 208 anti-bullying and/or diversity clubs.

I’m not sure what Prentice, his cabinet, or his party were thinking back in November and December. Prentice is not anti-gay. I remember him speaking out in favour of equal marriage as an MLA, for instance. He struck me then as a reasonable, informed and, dare I say, liberal-minded individual. I think he probably still is, but he got caught up in power politics and trying to show Albertans just how strong a leader he was after the whole Alison Redford debacle.

Bill 10 was an ill thought out piece of legislation which, if implemented, would have allowed school administration to outright reject an application for a GSA. The students could then appeal to the school board. If that failed, the students – teenagers, remember – could take it to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench. Ridiculous.

First off, what 14 to17-year old do you know who has the wherewithal to launch a civil action suit? I know adults who are intimidated by the court system. If the students lost at Queen’s Bench level, what then? The next level is to appeal the decision to the Court of Appeals. Teenaged students don’t have the resources, financial or otherwise, to do that. And if the decision at Queen’s Bench was in their favour, do you for one minute think a school board would not move to appeal?

Such litigations can drag on for years. This is the same process a quiet, unassuming lab tech from the evangelical King’s College in Edmonton, named Delwin Vriend, went through in the 1980s to get fair treatment under provincial human rights legislation after being fired for being gay (which was legal to do back then). That case dragged on for a decade, all the way to the Supreme Court. Can you, even remotely, see a young high school student, perhaps one who is not yet out to his/her family, embarking on that process?

This was, and is, such a clear-cut case of ‘just-get-on-with-it-already’. I am amazed that it has taken this long to do exactly that. Never has the phrase ‘it’s about bloody time’ been more appropriate.


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