UCP opposes GSA bill banning parental notification

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney says his MLAs will oppose Bill 24, proposed legislation which would make it illegal for schools to inform parents if their child joins a gay-straight alliance.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney wants teachers to retain ability to notify parents if required

UCP Leader Jason Kenney says the caucus will not support Bill 24. (CBC)

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney says his MLAs will oppose Bill 24, proposed legislation that would make it illegal for publicly funded schools to inform parents if their children join gay-straight alliances.

Kenney wants to keep the status quo, which would give teachers and principals some latitude to talk to parents if necessary. 

"Teachers, not politicians, should decide when it makes sense to engage parents," he said. "The unique circumstances of each child should be the key factor, not the blunt instrument of law."

Kenney made his remarks before second reading of the bill in the legislature. MLAs started debating the bill Tuesday morning.

Alberta law requires schools to notify parents when religion and sexuality are taught in the classroom. Bill 24 would add an exemption for GSAs to the School Act.

GSAs or queer-straight alliances (QSAs) are extracurricular clubs where LGBTQ and straight students can talk, eat pizza and hang out together.

They are seen as a way for students who are struggling with their sexuality to get peer support, especially for those who are not ready or don't feel safe talking to their parents.

However, the issue has become a flashpoint for parents who feel they should be informed of everything their children do in schools.

Premier Rachel Notley said she was disappointed in Kenney but not surprised. 

"I think Jason Kenney had an opportunity to show Albertans that he had changed and that he would not be trying to drag the province backwards," she said. "But he's not taking that opportunity. "

As for Kenney's contention the bill is the NDP's attempt to create a political wedge issue, Notley said, "I think we covered it. It's about kids."

Premier Rachel Notley said her government has been working on changes to GSA legislation after realizing the bill passed by the previous government didn't go far enough to protect students. (CBC)

During the debate, Michael Connolly, one of three openly LGTBQ members of the legislature, said GSAs save lives. The NDP MLA for Calgary-Hawkwood accused Kenney and the UCP of hurting gay and transgender youth. 

"When we have politicians spewing their hateful, bigoted ideology about LGBTQ+ kids, it only makes matters worse for our youth," Connolly told the legislature. 

"The words of Jason Kenney and the members of that side of the house matter to our youth.

"And the fact they are opposing this based on social conservatism and the hatred for the LGBTQ community is disgusting. The members opposite should be ashamed of themselves."

Connolly reflected on his own experience coming out to his peers in Grade 11 before he was able to tell his parents. 

He said thought about taking his own life because it was so difficult for him to be a gay kid in high school. 

UCP doesn't want to out kids 

At his news conference, Kenney said the UCP caucus supports GSAs and is not in favour of mandatory parental notification.

Kenney said he supports Bill 10, the law passed in March 2015 that made GSAs mandatory in schools where students request them. He rejected the suggestion he and his MLAs want to "out" gay kids.

"To suggest otherwise is offensive and dishonest," he said.

Kenney contended that not all GSAs are after-school clubs. A guideline on GSAs from the Alberta Teachers Association said some teach curriculum and political activism, he said.

"The NDP is trying to do indirectly, what it cannot do directly," Kenney said. "That is teaching sensitive subjects that would normally require parental notification."

The guideline, prepared in 2016, lists four types or roles for GSAs: for counselling and support, to provide safe spaces, to raise visibility and awareness, and to effect educational and social change. 

One bullet point under the "visibility and awareness" section said those GSAs are "characterized by social, educational and political activities."

The document stated that GSAs that "effect educational and social change" have "an anti-oppression educational mandate across intersections of difference (race, gender, class, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity etc.)."


Michelle Bellefontaine

Provincial affairs reporter

Michelle Bellefontaine covers the Alberta legislature for CBC News in Edmonton. She has also worked as a reporter in the Maritimes and in northern Canada.