Bill to shield LGBTQ students from early outing passes in legislature

Bill 24, which prevents teachers from outing students who join a gay straight alliance in school, passed in the Alberta legislature Wednesday.

Bill 24 stirs emotion and personal attacks in legislature

Students join Education Minister David Eggen, after Bill 24 passes in the legislature. (CBC)

Bill 24, which prevents teachers from outing students who join a gay straight alliance in school, passed in the Alberta legislature Wednesday. 

The bill, an Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, passed easily with 42 MLAs voting in favor. The only MLAs who voted against the bill were the 23 United Conservative Party members in the house at the time. 

The vote capped two weeks of emotional debate over the rights of students, the role of teachers and the authority of parents.

Former Wildrose leader, UCP MLA Brian Jean was absent from the vote, as was Chestermere-Rocky View UCP MLA Leela Aheer.

During the final reading of the bill Wednesday morning, Aheer told the house she would not vote for or against the bill.

"I'm abstaining, I will physically not be here, " Aheer told the legislature in front of UCP caucus members. "You can suggest I don't have my own voice, then you don't know me very well." 

Aheer raised concerns with some sections of the bill she felt should be debated separately as part of the school act.

Wrong side of history

The NDP caucus frequently portrayed all UCP members opposed to the bill as being on the wrong side of history. 

"We have a whole caucus who think that homophobia has a place in this house," said Calgary-Hawkwood MLA  Michael Connolly.

Aheer took exception to the portrayal.

"You don't think anybody on this side of the house hasn't had people who have come to them, asking why they intended to vote against the bill?" Aheer asked. "You think they're just not aware?"

In a blistering attack on the UCP, Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan said leader Jason Kenney's "misdirection" of the characterization of the bill was particularly disconcerting. 

Biblical arguments

Feehan said using biblical arguments to oppose Bill 24 was absurd.

Quoting extensively from the Bible, Feehan taunted opposition MLAs to "follow along," in their own Bibles.

"There are many things that are different between me and the honourable Jason Kenney," Feehan said.

"One of the things that's different is I actually finished my theology degree," said Feehan, lobbing an insult at Kenney who attended university, but did not complete a degree.

After the vote, Education Minister David Eggen gathered in the legislature with students from the LGBT community. 

Eggen said passage of the bill means all students will have a safe sanctuary.

Calling some of the UCP's arguments against the bill poisonous, Eggen said, it's precisely why he included sections in the bill to ensure parents are not notified just because their child joins a GSA.

"That's the heart of the bill," he said.

Eggen said the law will be in place in time for the next school year.