Twitter campaign blasts education minister's LGBTQ guidelines

A group critical of new guidelines to support and protect LGBTQ students in Alberta schools launched a Twitter campaign on Tuesday, after they said education minister David Eggen dismissed their concerns about the new policy.

On Tuesday, opponents of the guidelines used #protectABkids to voice their concerns on Twitter

Education Minister David Eggen instructed school boards to have gender identity policies in place by the end of March. (CBC)

A group critical of new guidelines intended to support and protect LGBTQ students in Alberta schools launched a Twitter campaign against the provincial mandate on Tuesday.

"At the root of it is just a concern that the government seems to be imposing this ideology rather than really listening to Albertans," said Theresa Ng, one of the campaign organizers.

"And that includes this perspective that is obviously held by a great number of people." 

The campaign, called #protectABkids, asks supporters to "Twitter bomb" Eggen and Premier Rachel Notley with messages of concern with the guidelines, and a provincial directive which requires that all Alberta school boards implement a LGBTQ student policy before March 31st, 2016.

Around 1,000 supporters from the group's Facebook page, "Protect ALL Children - Speak up for Respect in Alberta Schools" were using the hashtag Tuesday, Ng said, adding they are asking for "clarity" on the guidelines after the education minister dismissed their calls, letters and emails.

Supporters, many who appeared to have created Twitter account just for the occasion, were given a list of scripted tweets to use.

"I think the underlying ideology of the guidelines is motivating a lot of people to speak out against them,"  Ng, who is a mother of three children, said.

"Sexuality and identity are extremely personal issues and they're rooted in very deeply held beliefs and values and I think that we need to respect the diversity in our province and bring all voices to the table and talk about these issues."

Announced in January, the Guidelines for Best Practices policy says students must be allowed to use the washroom they are most comfortable with and that all schools must have at least one single stall washroom, but students should not be forced to use it unless they want to.

The policies also must ensure that all school staff are protected from discrimination regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation and gender expression.

'We need to respect the diversity in our province and bring all voices to the table and talk about these issues."- Theresa Ng, Twitter campaign co-organizer

It also mandates allowing students to dress in clothing and participate on the sports team that reflects their gender identity and expression.

Ng, a former teacher, said classrooms have vulnerable and at-risk youth "from all different areas," and said teachers, principals and school boards have already done a "tremendous job" of addressing these students.

In a media release, Ng said opponents of the policy want the minister to rescind the mandatory requirement that school boards adopt this policy by the end of the month and remove any "explicit or implicit pressure or obligation" on school boards to adhere to the guidelines.

The campaign is backed "not necessarily" just by those who identify with religious organizations, but includes a "diverse" group of people who feel like their opposing voices have been silenced, Ng said. 

"We are not against anyone," she said. "Unfortunately, any perspective that did not agree with what the guidelines represent has so far just really been marginalized and would just like to have a voice."

By noon on Tuesday, the #protectABkids hashtag was trending in Canada, and exploded with both supporters and opponents of the movement. Some opponents of the Twitter campaign decried it as veiled homophobia.

'Good LGBTQ policy saves lives,' Eggen says

Education minister David Eggen said on Tuesday he has, so far, received around 20 of the 61 draft policies from Alberta schools outlining how they will adhere to the guidelines.

He said the guidelines were a way for people to understand what's been done in other schools, and that school boards must reflect that in their policy but don't need to be as exhaustive as the guidelines.

Eggen said he has been in "constructive discussions" with other schools and thinks the process is going well.

"It's very important for us to remember that this is an educative process that we're going through as well, and as we have this interaction, I know that it will help for people to clarify we're not looking to diminish in any way anyone else's human rights," Eggen said. "If a certain small group's human rights are being compromised, then it diminishes us all in the process. So I think we will come out stronger as result of this."

Eggen said the government's next step is to work with teacher, parent and student groups to teach the rest of the school population on sensitivity.

"I know it's sometimes a bumpy road to ensure that people internalize and understand what it means to look after all people, including very vulnerable young people regardless of their sexual orientations," he said. 

"I've been told over and over again by kids around the province in the last few weeks that GSAs and good LGBTQ policy saves lives."