Alberta passes Bill 24, supporting gay-straight-alliances in schools
LBGTQ+ advocate and mom Lindsay Peace called the decision a "huge step forward," but was disappointed by the opposition voiced by several conservative lawmakers.
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Bill 24—which made it illegal to out kids involved in gay-straight-alliances (GSAs)—passed after its third reading in the legislature on Wednesday.
The passing of Bill 24, by a vote of 42 to 23, bridges gaps in the legislation that prevented or deferred some students from forming GSAs and comes just one day after a group of anonymous parents and independent schools let their intentions to challenge the legislation to be known.
Those MLAs missing from Wednesday’s vote included United Conservative Party members Brian Jean and Leela Aheer. UCP leader Jason Kenney, who hasn't yet been elected to the legislature and cannot vote, was not in the house for the proceedings.
Lindsay Peace, the founder of LGBTQ+ advocacy group the Skipping Stone Foundation and mother to transgender son, Ace Peace, said she’s conflicted—not by the outcome of Wednesday’s vote, but by the continued opposition from lawmakers.
"I’m thrilled that Bill 24 passed. I'm grateful that we have a government willing to take a stand on protecting kids and find it promising that leaders from various parties were able to agree on this important matter,” she said.
"But I’m angry, disappointed, worried—and perhaps a bit fearful at the same time.”
Peace questioned those who wanted to stand in the way of the bill's passing.
"What does it say to our LBGTQ+ kids that there is still such hatred and ignorance?” she said. "What does it say to them when not one single UCP member stood up for them and said that they will protect them?"
Peace said this is a "huge step forward," but said the process produced some backward steps, too.
Kenney and the UCP took a firm stance against Bill 24 last week, saying all its members would oppose it – but were free to vote as they wished.
Kenney said he's opposed to outing kids but doesn't believe schools should be "legally barred from engaging teachers, principals or counsellors, should they deem it prudent to do so," for at-risk youth.
"Bill 24 would make it illegal to engage parents in certain school activities for children beginning in kindergarten, regardless of their individual circumstances," he said at the time.
Lawyer John Carpay of the Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) represents the group of parents and independent schools who plan to challenge the legislation.
In their news release sent out on Wednesday, JCCF said they believe the bill attempts to "control and change the religious character of independent schools," and by doing so “undermines or effectively negates the exercise of parental rights in educations…"
“Rather than respecting parents’ choices, Bill 24 instead compels independent schools to adopt policy positions in support of the government’s preferred LGBTQ ideology.”
Ace Peace, Lindsay’s son, who was reached at Calgary’s Crescent Heights High School, said it was great to hear about the bill passing.
“It’s so important for kids to know they’re protected because these kids need to be safe and the legislation will make sure they are,” he said.
Ace said he doesn’t understand why Bill 24 was such a big deal in the first place.
“It’s been silly to watch some people make such a big deal out of what we do at lunchtime.”
Dr. Kris Wells, faculty director for the Institute for Sexual Minorities Studies (iSMSS), echoed some of the Peaces’ thoughts.
“It’s sad that there wasn’t unanimous support for something so obvious and clear about protecting a very vulnerable minority of students in our school system,” he said.
Wells said with a provincial election on the horizon it shows that we have a lot of work to do.
“There is a battle shaping up for our province,” he said. “We see many forces that want to see Alberta move forward to be an inclusive, welcoming province for everyone regardless of how they identify, and then backward forces that want to see Alberta go back to the 1950s when discrimination was rampant and it was survival of the fittest.”
Wells said it’s also disappointing to see that UCP members were “not free” to vote.
“That talks a lot about the politics of today and of the future.”
Wells said it’s good the legislation passed now because it’ll now be more difficult to undo.
“If a future UCP government wants to undo this it’s going to cause another massive provincial discussion and much in the same way as when Stephen Harper ran for re-election he realized it wasn’t wise to re-open the same-sex marriage debate.”
Wells believes that as time passes, regardless of the election, he believes people will see the opposition of Bill 24 was based on “outdated stereotypes.”