Edmonton

'Quite monstrous': GSA advocate condemns UCP plan to allow teachers to notify parents

An advocate for gay-straight alliances is worried the UCP plan to allow teachers to notify some parents of children who join GSAs at school would put LGBTQ children at risk.

Telling parents about kids in GSAs would be rare, says UCP Leader Jason Kenney

Dylan Chevalier, former president of a GSA at Ross Sheppard High School, says he worries about the safety of LGBTQ youth under a proposed UCP plan. (Supplied)

The United Conservative Party's stance on gay-straight alliances could lead to "very unsafe situations" for LGBTQ youth in Alberta, an advocate warns.

On Tuesday, UCP Leader Jason Kenney defended his party's pledge to replace the NDP's amended school act, passed in November 2017, with the Education Act (2014), a move that would remove the current prohibition on parental notification when children join GSAs.

"I find it quite monstrous actually, because he's going to be hurting vulnerable children and youth," said Dylan Chevalier, executive director of Sexual and Gender Acceptance Edmonton Ltd. (SAGA).

Chevalier, 20, was president of a GSA at Ross Sheppard High School two years ago. He said he's concerned the UCP plan to allow parental notification will alert parents who do not approve of their children's sexuality and could lead to suicides or dangerous situations at home.

On Wednesday night hundreds of supporters marched from the Alberta Legislature to Jason Kenney's campaign headquarters in support of GSAs.

Hundreds of supporters gathered at the legislature ahead of a march to Jason Kenney's campaign headquarters. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Kenney said a UCP government would leave it up to teachers to decide whether it was in the best interest of a child to tell parents about the child's involvement in a GSA.

But Chevalier, who is openly gay, said some LGBTQ students who are open about their sexuality during GSA meetings may identify differently outside the group where they are less comfortable.

"That's what really worries me, that there are going to be a lot of LGBTQ youth who could be put into very unsafe situations," he said.

In November 2017, the NDP government passed Bill 24, which amended the School Act and prohibited schools from telling parents if their children join a GSA.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney has been criticized by teachers, parents and advocates over his proposal to end a prohibition on parental notification when children join gay-straight alliances. (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

The UCP plan would allow teachers to notify parents at their own discretion.

"I think it would be very rare," Kenney said at a news conference Tuesday. "Probably only dealing with very young kids, or kids with unique emotional and mental health challenges."

Edmonton Public School Trustee Bridget Stirling said she is disappointed that parental notifications have been brought up as an election issue.

"It's really disappointing to hear that we will be losing those protections potentially for our students," Stirling said.

"We want to make sure that we're protecting students' privacy and confidentiality, and supporting them in making the decision on when they want to come out. And I don't think it's a great idea for schools to be doing that on the child's behalf."

Supporters rally in Edmonton

Hundreds of people gathered at a rally at the Alberta Legislature Wednesday evening to show their support for LGBTQ youth and GSAs.

The event was organized by Leah Ward who said she is part of the NDP's Gender and Sexual Diversity Caucus but that she started the march as a private citizen after a number of people reached out urging her to take action.

Well known LGBTQ advocate Kristopher Wells, who is an associate professor in the faculty of health and community studies at MacEwan University, attended the rally. He said there's a lot of people who are feeling uneasy about the election.

"I've heard of people saying that if the UCP get elected they are considering leaving the province." Wells said. "So, there's a lot at stake for a lot of people who fought for a long time to have equality and who don't want to see LGBTQ rights take a back seat or move backwards under a change in government."

Jessica Scalzo attended the rally with her family, including her young daughter Josephine.

Jessica Scalzo showed her support for LGBTQ youth at a rally in support of GSAs on Wednesday. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Scalzo works in education and said she's deeply invested and committed to ensuring safe spaces for kids.

"I think that there's an imperative on us Albertans to protect the good work that's happened that looks after our most vulnerable youth and our students." Scalzo said. "We need to stand in solidarity to show that GSAs are important and if we really want welcoming, caring, respectful and safe schools that we have to demand those conditions for our staff and our students."

The rally also included speeches from some members of the LGBTQ community who are all actively working to ensure the rights of all individuals are protected.

David Campbell was acting as the emcee. He is now in his fourth year of university but belonged to a GSA in high school. He joined in his Grade 10 year at Jasper Place High School and was the president in Grade 12.

David Campbell was the emcee at the March for GSAs Wednesday at the Alberta Legislature. The former GSA president believes the clubs keep LGBTQ students safe. (John Shypitka/CBC)

Campbell said he is saddened to see some of the misinformation and fears directed at the clubs, particularly online.

"GSAs are just support spaces where students can go and chat with like-minded peers, or peers that have other opinions or whatever. But it's a space where everyone is welcome."

The announcement of the UCP's education platform Monday was frustrating, he said.

Two rallies are scheduled for Thursday in the Calgary area. One is being billed as an anti-hate rally while the other is specifically in support of GSAs.

with files from Tricia Kindleman

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc

now