Young people who fought for gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools are happy the government changed its mind on the issue, but say they shouldn’t have had to fight in the first place.
Speaking to the CBC’s Mark Connolly on Edmonton AM, the president of the Edmonton Youth Council said she wanted Albertans to remember something the next time they vote.
“GSAs save lives, but so do seatbelts. And it just should have been a given,” said Clare Edwards.
“We should be excited about it. But it’s a right that we should have had from the very beginning.”
Education Minister Gordon Dirks and his government faced loud opposition when they killed a Liberal bill allowing students in any Alberta school to create a gay-straight alliance. The Tories introduced their own bill, which would have required some students to go to court to start a GSA.
The controversy ended in an abrupt reversal this week. Dirks credited young people themselves for changing his mind on the issue.
“They had talked about how they had felt bullied and discriminated against,” Dirks said of meetings he had with students and their families.
He said he was moved by the personal stories children told him. Some described suicidal thoughts and talked about how much the GSA helped them through that.
“It goes from your head to your heart when you hear those kinds of conversations,” he said.
Dirks said there is a provision in the new amendment that would allow a member of the public to be the designated adult leading a GSA, in a school where a staff member may not be able to participate for religious reasons.
Student says GSAs are 'best thing ever'
Leo Manning is a 15-year-old transgender student at Victoria School of the Arts, where they call their group a QSA in an effort to be more inclusive.
Manning left junior high school because he was being bullied, and was home schooled for a time. He said he feels safe at Victoria school.
“You can go there any time,” he said of the school’s QSA. “It’s just the best thing ever. Because you feel loved, regardless of anything.”
He credited Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman with helping to push the government on this issue.
“Alberta is kind of a redneck place,” he said. “And not everyone is tolerant ... So, I think knowing that there’s a little bit of movement going on is really nice.”
He called the government announcement on Bill 10 a “big step,” but said he doesn’t expect every school will follow through and allow a GSA.
“Every step isn’t going to be big. But every step is a step.”
Catholic schools accept new law
Alberta's Catholic schools said in a news release they "will be able to work with the legislation" passed in the legislature.
"We anticipated the amendments in Bill 10, and accordingly, our Catholic superintendents proactively began to develop the more comprehensive LIFE Framework – a guideline for student advocacy, peer support, or counselling groups," said the statement, sent out by the Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association.
"The amendments (to Bill 10) allow local schools and school boards the flexibility needed to respond to students needs at a local level."