Editorial: From pause to reset—the next step for Bill 10 is clear

January 13, 2015
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

Paused Bill 10 needs a complete reset

Province’s approach to gay-straight alliances would work only in an alternate universe.

Somewhere in the cosmos an alternate universe exists.

In this alternate universe, adolescence is the easiest time of a person’s life. Young people aren’t struggling to find their place in the world; they are not making significant life choices at a time when their hormone levels are undergoing rapid change. Most of all, in this alternate universe, young people aren’t driven by intense social pressures while hoping just to be accepted and to fit in.

Similarly, in this alternate universe, young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning aren’t judged for it. They find themselves readily accepted for who they are. They aren’t confused about their sexuality, and their community is not afflicted by higher rates of mental health issues and suicides compared to the straight community.

In this alternate universe, children are universally accepted and loved by their parents regardless of their orientation. LGBTQ children there don’t have to worry about whether their parents will accept them for who they are or whether they’ll be thrown out of their homes (or worse) when they come out.

The history of this alternate universe is also different. It is a history of acceptance towards the LGBTQ community rather than one of violence, hiding and segregation. LGBTQ students didn’t have to wait until they left their rural or religious schools to feel safe and comfortable with who they are.

In this alternate universe it is quite easy for young people to stand up for themselves and to advocate for their needs with adults. Young people wouldn’t feel reservation or intimidation when talking with authority figures like school board superintendents, trustees, ministers of education or lawyers and judges.

In this alternative universe, legislation like Alberta’s Bill 10, An Act to Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights to Protect Our Children, would be useful, albeit completely unnecessary.

We don’t live in that alternate universe. Instead, we live in a world where young people are struggling to find their place; where adolescence is a crazy and confusing time full of self-doubt and social pressure. We live in a world where those young people who are struggling with their own sexual and gender identities are vulnerable to exclusion, bullying, violence, mental illness and suicide. We live in a world where LGBTQ kids in rural and religious schools often get confusing and conflicting messages about their acceptance.

These students need an education system that supports and protects them, and that is why they need access to gay-straight alliances in their schools. GSAs have been proven to positively impact school culture and safety for all students.

GSAs must be available to all students who need them. They send a clear message that gay students are accepted. The mere act of saying a GSA is not allowed in a school sends a clear message too: that gay students are not completely accepted.

Bill 10, introduced, debated and abandoned — all within a four-day stretch from Dec. 1 to Dec. 4 last year — would have required some of our most vulnerable students to take on a public and intimidating public fight in order to obtain the in-school support they need. It would have required kids, some already rejected by their own parents, to take that fight past the principal’s office, through the superintendent’s office, through the school board chambers and into a court of law or into the office of the minister of education in order to get that support. This is not how we should protect our children.

The government was right to push the pause button on Bill 10. Now it needs to push the reset button and pass legislation that ensures that all kids have access to GSAs. ❚

I welcome your comments — contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.