December 8, 2014

Alberta Pauses On Helping Gay Kids...

While we all have our own stress and drama, especially at this time of year, last week was one to think beyond our own lives...

Man it was a tough week to be a citizen of the world with so many tragedies out there... no charges for the white cop in New York whose illegal chokehold led to death of unarmed black man... a 12-year old in California committed suicide after enduring bullying for being a male cheerleader... Peter Pan Live.

Here in Alberta, the alleged redneck Texas province where I live, when it comes to supporting gay kids in schools, we had almost progress and then real bigotry and now it is all in limbo.

Laurie Blakeman, a member of the so-few-seats-they-arent-even-the-opposition Liberal party, introduce a private members' bill that said if kids wanted gay-straight alliances in school, the school was required to accommodate them. This is a great thing, and it did not go over well.

GSA's are peer support groups for at risk kids who self identify as a minority. This is not revolutionary; other provinces and areas have them. The idea is that  if a gay or questioning kid is scared or bullied or whatever and wants to set up a peer group, they can, in a safe place in their school.

Even some members of the redneck opposition party said they would support this one.

As someone who was a scared closeted lonely kid, I can only wonder and marvel at how much better my young life would have been with something like this. Bullying is real. And I watched this story unfold like it was a car crash I could not look away from. 

Our Conservative government under new Premier Jim Prentice swooped in to kill that bill and steal the spotlight with their own Bill 10, which claimed to protect the kids but really did nothing, giving ultimate power to the school boards to allow or not the GSA's. 

So religious school boards could say no, and the bill said kids could sue if they were unhappy. Bet they thought that would make everyone happy and kill Blakeman's more polarizing bill. Cuz yeah having a kid sue a school board makes sense in terms of time, money, and common decency.

And religious school boards (who yes are public schools and take our tax dollars) did not want to accommodate. And they have special status here.

From The Globe and Mail:

The debate over Bill 10 became stuck on finding a balance between the rights of gay students and the rights of parents that are enshrined in Alberta’s Human Rights Act, unique to the prairie province.
Created in 2009 by the socially conservative wing of the provincial Tories, parental rights require schools to inform parents when religion, sexuality or sexual orientation are to be discussed in class. Parents can then ask for their children to be pulled from those classes.
Championed by former MLA Ted Morton, the concept of parental rights arose from U.S. Christian groups. Mr. Prentice said he has been told the clause is “one of the most discriminatory pieces of legislation in our country.”
While Alberta’s urban school boards have some peer-support groups for LGBT students, they are rare in our rural areas and there are none in Catholic school boards. Edmonton’s Catholic school board opposes the groups.

Public uproar ensued, with online buzz and real world protests, especially with online allies like Kathleen Smith and Ryan Jespersen on social media. #Bill10 became the number one trend on twitter in Canada. Was all over the news. Amazing stuff.

See Jespersen here:

Canadian celebs like Rick Mercer and Tegan & Sarah weighed in with their support for GSA's.

Our premier and his government looked liked cold blooded politicians, and not especially competent ones at that.

They back tracked with amendments taking back the 'kids gotta sue' bit, saying kids could appeal to the Education Minister, but then when asked could not even say if that GSA would even be on school grounds.. separate but equal anyone? Then then media storm really hit the fan.

Our Minister of Education has a public anti-gay past and stayed silent during this whole thing. How did he get that job again?

Other politicians who our usually allies of our community, like former Edmonton mayor and current Health Minister Stephen Mandel, stayed silent and supported the government like sheep.  

Then late Thursday the premier stepped in and in his words 'paused' the whole thing. So no step forward, all in limbo. A political mess paused. Supporting kids put on hold until at least 2015. No progress, no balls.

The upside is how this is now an issue... we are talking about GSA's. Hopefully our government will actually consult with kids and gay community leaders. And yes school boards as well. And Laurie Blakeman. And come back with something that will truly support these kids.

Then Friday night, in a truly inspiring moment, and responding to public requests, Edmonton's municipal government lit up the High Level bridge with pride colours to celebrate tolerance and diversity... love it!

To take action, go here: