Now that we have introduced the parties (part 1, part 2, part 3) and met the leaders, it’s time to start learning about the issues. I’m choosing to start with one that, in addition to dominating headlines for the last few years and playing a big role in this campaign, is very near to my heart. This is by far the most controversial post I have written so far. This issue is important to me so this is probably a good time to remind people that this blog is not meant to be politically neutral.
Any issue involving homosexuality, Christians, and contentious political issues is always going to mean passionate opinions on all sides. So, let’s get as awkward as a thanksgiving dinner with your uncle who brings up… well… GSAs.
Explaining the issue:
What even is a GSA? GSA stands for gay straight alliance. GSAs are student led clubs in schools that aim to be a safe place for the LGBTQ community and educate peers on the issues they face and how to be an ally. There is a lot of misinformation about GSAs right now. Despite what you may understand, GSAs have existed in Alberta since the 1980s. So not a new phenomenon. GSAs function like any other student led extracurricular club. A teacher is assigned to the group to make sure everyone behaves, but the students themselves run things. Despite what you may have heard, no sex education happens in GSAs. They are simply a social club like any other.
Why is it an issue:
A few years ago, the governing NDP started to receive reports that some schools were denying student attempts to start GSAs. Occasionally this was happening in public schools, but mostly it was private, often religious schools. The NDP introduced a bill that made it mandatory for schools that receive public funds to allow GSAs and to keep educators from identifying students who join them. You may see the issue with both of those things. Religious schools immediately launched a legal fight against the government, even while still taking that same government’s money. Some parents became irate that schools would not inform them when their kids joined GSAs.
This is an issue that has played out over several years but is central to the election this year because of one party – the UCP. In addition to opposing the original bill that the NDP enacted, Jason Kenney and his merry men announced a couple of days ago that they would undo it. It thrust the issue back into the news as all other parties, the teachers’ association, and LGBTQ advocacy groups decried the announcement.
As I mentioned off the top, I can’t even try to be neutral on this issue – it would betray my family and friends that are part of this community. GSAs are vital for LGBTQ youth and the idea that teachers can identify members completely undermines their purpose.
This is probably a good time to remind everyone that just because someone joins a GSA, it doesn’t mean that they are gay or even questioning. They are called gay straight alliances – the presence of cis-gendered, straight students is a requirement. Otherwise it would just be a gay alliance. Now you might be saying, “But John, you’re arguing against yourself! If kids can join these clubs and not be gay, then there is no reason to hide it from their parents!” First of all, settle down with the exclamation marks OK skippy?
But also, I understand that many people within my own church are against GSAs simply because they involve what they perceive to be a sinful lifestyle. To be clear, I’m not here to get into a debate about homosexuality and whether or not it is sinful. That is an issue for another day around an actual thanksgiving dinner among people who have had a lot more to drink than I have today. It’s also not relevant to the issue at hand. Gay kids exist whether we want them to or not. They deserve to be safe. My freedom of religion doesn’t outweigh anyone’s right to be safe.
I’ll also add that if a school believes that GSAs are so dangerous to society that they should be banned, unlike say homemaker clubs, then they can do so. They just can’t do it while taking government money. Whether or not someone agrees, homosexuality is not something the government discourages. If you take their money, then you also agree to any strings they attach. We can argue whether the strings that exist are reasonable, but they exist nonetheless. It’s hypocritical to demand they fund your school while getting no say in how that money is spent.
The very purpose of these clubs is that it doesn’t matter who someone is attracted to or what gender they identify as. If we tell parents who is joining them, we are outing kids. The hardest people for LGBTQ youth to come out to are usually their parents. Despite making up less than 10 percent of teens, LGBTQ teens make up 40% of homeless youth. Think about that statistic, it’s staggering. Why are LGBTQ youth so much more likely to be homeless? Because when parents find out their kid is gay, they often kick them out.
I wish that was the bad news. The really bad news is this: Outing kids against their wishes literally kills them. The attempted suicide rate among teenagers is roughly 7%. Among gay teens it’s 33%. Between family rejection and bullying, sexual minority kids are far more likely to be victims of self harm and suicide (for more click here). So, when kids join one of these groups, they need anonymity. They need a safe place with allies where they can be free to be themselves as they build up the courage and freedom to be themselves publicly.
Now, I’m not indifferent to parental rights. I have two young children of my own and I want to know what they are up to. But my right as a parent to know what is happening with my kids is not their teacher’s responsibility. Even if it were, my parental rights come second to keeping kids alive. It’s also worth pointing out that if you are so against homosexuality that you demand to know when your kids are hanging out with gay kids, then you probably are the sort of parent that GSAs exist to help with. Kids who know they are loved and accepted are far more inclined to be open with their parents. If your child can’t be honest with you to the point that you feel like a teacher should rat them out, then you have a relationship problem with your child.
I want to end by sharing a post by someone from within the LGBTQ community on what a GSA would have meant to him growing up. He is much more eloquent than I could ever be and if you aren’t moved by his story, then you’re a robot.
Support GSAs. Let’s keep kids alive.