Closely watched Alberta gay-straight alliance challenge fills courtroom

A big crowd showed up Wednesday morning for the first court challenge to an Alberta law barring schools from telling parents if their children join a gay-straight alliance.

Faith-based schools disagree with ban on telling parents if their children join GSA club

Dozens of parents and independent faith-based schools are in court Wednesday to try to get legislation about gay-straight alliances put on hold. (Eduardo Lima/Canadian Press)

A big crowd showed up Wednesday morning for the first court challenge to an Alberta law barring schools from telling parents if their children join a gay-straight alliance.

A Court of Queen's Bench justice in Medicine Hat is hearing an application from faith-based schools and parents to halt the legislation until there's a ruling on its constitutionality.

The 50-seat courtroom filled up almost immediately, leaving more than 100 people waiting outside.

Many of those attending were wearing buttons that said "include parents."

Parents out of the loop, advocate says

Leading the challenge is the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which argues that keeping parents out of the loop violates charter rights including freedom of religion and expression.

The group calls gay-straight alliances "ideological sexual clubs" that make graphic information on gay sex available.

The Alberta government and others have argued that schools shouldn't inform parents if their children join the peer groups because there is the potential to "out" them to guardians who may not be accepting.

I'm more worried about the rhetoric and the damage it does to LGBTQ youth when they have to hear these kinds of ridiculous, outdated stereotypes.- Kristopher Wells, University of Alberta

The hearing began with the Calgary Sexual Health Centre being granted intervener status after it argued members of the LGBTQ community are often excluded from such cases and the centre's goal is to "give voice to this often voiceless group of students."

The hearing is being closely watched by LGBTQ advocates.

Kristopher Wells, an assistant professor in the University of Alberta's faculty of education, said he's troubled that some of the same arguments being made Wednesday are the same as those that were heard when same-sex marriage was legalized.

Wells said the possibility of the challenge being successful is not his primary concern.

"I'm more worried about the rhetoric and the damage it does to LGBTQ youth when they have to hear these kinds of ridiculous, outdated stereotypes."

Education Minister David Eggen speaks with youth after the passing of Alberta's controversial gay-straight alliance bill in November 2017. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The legal challenge was filed in April in response to the ban passed by Premier Rachel Notley's government late last year.

Gay-straight alliances are peer support networks organized by students meant to help gay kids feel welcome and to prevent bullying or abuse.

'Climate of secrecy'

The challenge says parents are alarmed at the "climate of secrecy" the legislation has created.

"The impugned sections of the School Act have stripped parents of the ability to know fully where their children are, who they are involved with and what they may be encouraged to think or do," it says.

Two of the parents who signed the complaint say their autistic teenage daughter joined a gay-straight alliance and was convinced to dress and act like a boy at school. The challenge says the girl became suicidal before her parents learned of "confusing influences" at school.

Justice Centre president John Carpay said teachers and principals should be able to decide whether it's appropriate to contact parents.

"There are a handful of parents who will beat their kids for coming home with a bad report card," he said.

"Do you respond by withholding all report cards from all parents and keeping all parents in the dark about their child's progress in math and reading and science?"


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