ATA president applauds further protection for LGBTQ youth

October 10, 2017 Cory Hare, ATA News Managing Editor

Alberta Teachers’ Association president Greg Jeffery is applauding a government plan to make it illegal for educators at publicly funded schools to notify parents that their children have joined a gay–straight alliance (GSA) without the students' consent.

The School Act currently ensures that students have the right to establish GSAs but does not guarantee the privacy of individual members. Education Minister David Eggen is planning to introduce such protection with an amendment during the upcoming fall session of the legislature, a plan that Jeffery called “a really good move,” noting that the Association called for this exact clarification when Bill 10 was passed in 2015.

"Students have a right to feel and to be safe in their own schools and this will certainly work towards that,” he said.

The amendments would apply to all schools that receive public dollars, even private and charter schools. The changes will also require all schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy that protects LGBTQ students against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Schools that fail to comply could risk funding cuts or lose accreditation, Eggen told CBC Radio.

Eggen also said that the planned measures are a result of “dangerous rhetoric” from conservative politicians.

“We’ve had some dangerous rhetoric from Jason Kenney and other UCP MLAs, suggesting that they would out students who did participate in a GSA, so we would make that illegal,” he said.

“We’re talking about kids that require protection, that are often vulnerable, and we just don’t want this kind of dangerous rhetoric around outing students that join GSAs. ... I think the time has come for us to back that up with some legislation.”

As reported by Postmedia, Kenney has said it should be up to school staff to decide whether or not to notify parents or guardians that their children have joined a gay–straight alliance.

“There are circumstances where it’s totally inappropriate for parents to be informed and circumstances where it’s entirely appropriate for them to help their kids when they’re going through a challenging time,” Kenney said in August.

Jeffery said that discussing gender and sexual issues is a very personal decision that should be left up to individual students. He said that students should be encouraged to talk with their parents if and when they feel ready to do so, but stressed that teachers shouldn’t be informing parents about students’ GSA involvement.

“We don’t always have a complete picture of what a student’s home life looks like, so there’s a possibility that conveying this information could put the student at risk at home,” Jeffery said, “and that’s certainly not the position we want any of our teachers to be in.” ❚

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