Bringing back the Education Act will only hurt queer youth in Alberta

It’s finally April, which means three things: that finals are starting, that your New Year’s resolutions probably aren’t going as well as planned, and that provincial elections are right around the corner.

As such, the people of Alberta want to know what both candidates and their respective parties stand for. Both Jason Kenney of the United Conservative Party and Rachel Notley of the NDP have finally released their platforms to the public.

The UCP’s platform is based on three priorities: getting Albertans back to work, standing up for Alberta, and making life better for Albertans. Much of this is pretty typical rhetoric for politicians; priority goes to making change that will suit the interests of the people of the province, as it should. However, it seems that the UCP won’t be making life better for all Albertans.

Kenney has announced that the UCP plans on reinstating the 2012 Progressive Conservative government’s Education Act. Effectively, this would revert the changes made by the NDP with Bill 24, which mandates that schools are required to set up a GSA if requested by students.

Typically, GSAs function as a way for queer and ally students to work together to prevent bullying of LGBTQ students, but they can also serve as places where queer students can explore their identities in a safe and welcoming environment with other students facing the same issues. If Bill 24 disappeared, it could mean outing a child before they’re ready at best, and putting them into an abusive situation at worst.

Those who objected to Bill 24, like the UCP, did so on the grounds that it allowed students and staff to keep secrets from parents. While Kenney has said that his party supports GSAs, he does not think that barring teachers from communication with parents is an appropriate response, saying that the province should “let highly trained teachers and principals make a decision on a case-by-case basis of what’s in the best interest of the child”.

Even if the parents of these children aren’t abusive or homophobic, having the power to out a closeted child is having the power to release a very personal issue that the child may not be ready to have known publicly.

In some instances, having teachers act more autonomously on behalf of their student’s best interests may be beneficial, such as if a student is expressing suicidal thoughts. However, repealing Bill 24 and making it possible for them to be outed is not.

The UCP’s platform states that they plan on supporting “safe schools that protect students against discrimination and bullying.” Yet, that same platform reflect the exact opposite for queer students. Middle and high school are important social and academic spaces in any student’s life. Every student deserves to feel safe in their school, and implementing a rule that allows teachers to out their students undermines this completely.

It’s great that Kenney wants to make life better for all Albertans. But all should mean all. For the sake of queer youth in Alberta, protect Bill 24. Don’t being back the Education Act.

Bree Meiklejohn

Bree Meiklejohn is a first-year classics and creative writing student. She’s also an aspiring writer who loves dogs, Earl Grey tea, and pretending to know what she’s doing.

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