Alberta MLAs showing bipartisan support for gay-straight school alliances

A new bill supporting gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools is gaining traction on all sides of the legislature, says Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman.

On Thursday, Blakeman introduced Bill 202, the Safe and Inclusive Schools Statutes Amendment Act, in the legislature which will mandate school boards develop policies to allow student-led GSAs in schools in order to combat bullying. The private members bill passed first reading and is expected to be debated by all parties on Monday.

Blakeman’s bill has received the support of the Alberta NDP caucus with mixed reception amongst Wildrose and Progressive Conservative MLAs. Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and health critic Heather Forsyth both said they would likely support the bill.

“I get more and more support every day. It’s a strange feeling for me because as an opposition member, that doesn’t usually happen but bottom line this is about helping vulnerable, at-risk youth,” said Blakeman. “Bullying can have terrible effects and the group with the highest suicide rate is sexual minority youth.”

The bill also repeals section 11.1 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, which requires a parent or guardian be notified if sexual orientation will be discussed in the classroom, while expanding the parental opt-out clause in section 58 of the Education Act to allow parents to notify schools if they don’t want their children to learn about sexual health education.

“It sounds like big changes but really, it’s just opening up to include some kids who weren’t included before,” said Blakeman.

Alberta Education recently asked principals in the district to fill out a survey on the number of GSAs, diversity groups and anti-bullying clubs at their school so that information could be shared with Education Minister Gordon Dirks.

Both Dirks and Premier Jim Prentice refused to comment on the bill Thursday before it was tabled in the legislature, but Dirks said GSAs “are a tool that works very effectively for school boards and for people in the LGBTQ community.”

“There’s a growing number of Gay-Straight alliances in our schools, from my understanding. As a government we’re most committed to ensuring we have safe, respectful environments for all of our children,” he said.

In a news conference, Premier Jim Prentice said he has yet to decide how the PCs will vote on the bill as “these are complex issues that involve charter rights, the position of school boards as well as parental rights in certain legislation.”

The EPSB says there are currently 25 GSAs in Edmonton schools.

matthew.dykstra@sunmedia.ca

@SunMattDykstra

 

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