Progressive Views: PC and Wildrose MLAs vote against anti-bullying motion

by Tristan Turner

Liberal MLA Kent Hehr introduced Motion 503 to the floor of the Legislative Assembly Apr. 7. The non-binding motion would have supported students wanting to start a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in their school, a group that creates a safe space for students that are both in and outside of the LGBTQ community to discuss how to make their school more inclusive, and how to help each other with issues they may be experiencing. These groups have been proven to reduce feelings of isolation and instances of both bullying and teen suicide. Despite the proven effectiveness of GSAs, Motion 503 was defeated 31-19. The entire Wildrose caucus present for the tabling of the motion voted against it, and twice as many PCs voted against the bill than voted for it.

Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson was one of the many PC MLAs who voted against the motion. The Minister defended his position by saying the question before him was not whether he supported GSAs but whether or not to legislate one in every school. Johnson’s response and those of his colleagues show that he does not fundamentally understand the nature of the motion. Not only would the motion be non-binding, it also requested that legislation be introduced that required “all school boards to develop policies to support students who want to lead and establish gay-straight alliance activities and organizations,” not require the existence of GSAs without students’ request.

MLA Rob Anderson (Airdrie) was among the more vocal opponents and said in a radio debate that elected school boards and local schools are best positioned to create anti-bullying strategies that fit their particular situation. Anderson went on to say a GSA might be a perfect fit in a public school for curbing bullying but a Catholic school or a faith-based school might want a different strategy.

Regardless of whether it is a public or separate school, creating an environment that allows students to support each other and prevent bullying is always a good strategy. There is a lack of evidence to show GSAs are not effective in ‘faith-based’ schools and saying that we should allow school boards to be able to decline a student’s requests to create a healthier and safer school environment is disturbing. While Anderson and the other MLAs, including our own MLA Maureen Kubinec, who voted down the motion claim they care about ending bullying, they have shown they will allow thousands of students across the province to study in school environments that are less safe because of the beliefs of socially conservative school board members.

The bottom line is students in and near our community will be hurt as a result of this motion not being passed. In an interview with CTV Edmonton, an anonymous mother of a child who was enrolled in the Greater St. Albert Catholic School system – a school division that includes Notre Dame Elementary School, Georges H. Primeau and Morinville Community High School – said her son was barred from creating a GSA in his school after the school board disapproved of it. School division Superintendent David Keohane confirmed the mother’s reports, saying the board did not believe a person feels whole and feels that they can be completely embraced in society for who they are by addressing that student in isolation.

Mr. Keohane doesn’t seem to understand the fundamental purpose of GSAs – to engage all members of the school community in a collaborative group that supports a safer and more welcoming school environment. GSAs do not isolate students; they are a place for all students to become involved. With his comments, Keohane has shown that he doesn’t allow for the creation of GSAs in his school system despite not clearly understanding the hard facts about how they operate. It is a mindset that necessitates motions like Motion 503, and it is the children of our community that will bear the price of the Assembly’s inability to pass the motion.

A 2011 national survey revealed 53 per cent of LGBTQ students reported feeling unsafe at school, and 70 per cent reported hearing homophobic language daily in school. As well, three-quarters of transsexual youth reported being verbally abused in the same survey. Around 300 Canadian teenagers commit suicide each year. For each teen suicide it is said there are 10 to 100 unsuccessful attempts. LGBTQ youth are among the most likely to commit suicide according to Health Canada.

Interim Premier Dave Hancock said in question period on Apr. 8 that “It is absolutely against the law for people to allow bullying or to promote bullying in our schools.” By not supporting this motion, and ignoring the bullying of LGBTQ students in schools like Morinville Community High School, there are 31 MLAs that should be in handcuffs if we are to take Hancock’s statement seriously. Thirty-one of our MLA’s have misrepresented their province by not actively acting to ensure that in the 21st Century, all of our students have the opportunity to work towards a safer and more compassionate learning environment. Once again, our two conservative parties show they are unwilling to support legislation that will ensure the safety and happiness of Alberta’s most vulnerable citizens.

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  1. Sorry Tristan, I really can’t agree with everything you’ve said today.

    In the first place, anyone who believes that bullying can EFFECTIVELY be dealt with via legislation is, in my opinion, smoking dope. A lot of people are making a lot of money from this newest of “cottage industries” and I believe that more than a few parents have simply abrogated THEIR responsibility to teach their children right from wrong. Expecting politicians to correct all society’s ills, or to believe without reservation the so-called ‘experts’ profiting from the misfortunes of others is as bad as the problem itself.

    Another question should be: Why should the “LGBTQ community” be accorded special treatment? There must be other so-called marginalized segments within our schools. Do you expect government to be able to deal with their problems as well?

    You have also made a couple of statements in your article with which I take particular exception.

    You said “The bottom line is students in and near our community will be hurt as a result of this motion not being passed.” How can you POSSIBLY know for certain that someone will be hurt by this legislation not being passed?

    You conclude by unequivocally stating “Once again, our two conservative parties show they are unwilling to support legislation that will ensure the safety and happiness of Alberta’s most vulnerable citizens.” What is NOT shown is exactly how this proposed piece of NON-BINDING legislation could possibly have ensured ANYTHING, let alone the safety and happiness of anyone!

    Bullying – definitely not a nice idea but, unfortunately, it is a phenomenon that has been around forever. Legislation will never eliminate it; education might… But there will ALWAYS be those who delight in the torment of others.

    And it doesn’t stop when one becomes an adult.

    • The irony your statement based on the comments you consistently make toward Mayor and Council is not lost on me in the slightest!

      “But there will ALWAYS be those who delight in the torment of others”.
      – James O’Brien

  2. Tristen, you may not be aware but essentially there was a GSA at the High School. WHAT!!!!! a secret GSA at a Catholic School? No way!
    When my son was denied the opportunity to create an official GSA, he and his friends (Gay and Straight Allies) did the next best thing. He went on living his life open, confident and true to himself, and his friends continued to love him, support him and at times protect him from verbal or cyber bullying, and yes there was some of both.
    When he came out at school, the world did not end, for him or for his fellow classmates. Life went on, but now he could be true to himself and he did not have to pretend to be somethig he wasn’t. You know what happened? The school, teachers, administrators and students accepted him, other students who identified with LGBTQ came out and the fear of the unknown was made clear. One of “them” walked the halls, participated in activities and smiled or hugged you if you warranted it. He did not recruit others to be like him, he did not try to advance a gay agenda, he was just a normal teenager. I believe he created a more accepting culture at the school, and maybe a bias on my part, but I believe he made a difference in many lives.
    Do I think that all schools should have to allow GSAs “if” a student wants to create one, yes! When a child spends 75% of their life in an institution during their most emotionally, and physically vulnerable state, and when they are learning so much about how a society functions, I do think it’s the Governments responsibility to mandate legislation that protects them when school administrators and boards will not. I believe in time it will happen, it is a generational thing. The younger generation is very accepting and as they advance in years their values will follow them, but in the mean time I believe we as parents, friends, and general citizens of any community have to fight the fight, do the best that you can with what you have at the moment and,”Be The Change You Wish To See In The World” ~ Ghandi

    Respectfully submitted.

  3. Valerie:

    You, your son and his friends are to be commended for overcoming what must have been a path literally strewn with obstacles.

    And I continue to firmly believe that NO government legislation could or would have made this struggle any easier. Unfortunately we have become way too dependent on “Big Brother” to make our lives “better” or “easier”. Well, your son and his friends have PROVEN that good things can happen without governmental intervention – and I sincerely hope that they feel a sense of accomplishment at what they’ve done – because they ought to!

    And YOU have every right to be proud of his accomplishments!

  4. Thank you James, I am extremely proud of my children.
    My son was very fortunate he did have a core group of friends and protectors, however, not all are afforded the same, some have no support system at all, and do not know where to find it, they are essentially lost. I am not asking bullying to be dealt with via legislation, what I am asking is for legislation be in place so that any student who wishes to create something that fosters a culture of acceptance and understanding to the LGBTQ community be allowed to do so. Let the GSA deal with the bullying, let them create a place for those who are lost to have a safe zone, that’s why a GSA is created, what can the harm be? If a student is willing to do all the work and essentially the school just has to monitor and provide guidance, why would we not allow this?

  5. Of course youth will be hurt by this. Denying them the opportunity to develop their own support systems (no ones mandating that kids must be in these groups or that every school has to have them, they are simply advocating that they be allowed if there’s interest) continues to foster any child struggling with this part of their identity to continue to feel different, less than, a target for abuse etc. Just rudimentary research on the topic of LGBTQQ and the rates of suicide in its teens will make you well aware that not allowing the opportunity to seek the support of like minded people within the school setting puts them at increased risk of other teens. What people fail to realize, sexuality is a part of our identities, our lives, our support network and can put certain individuals at risk for their lives… Whether it be through suicide or hate crimes. Fostering GSAs within the schools fosters acceptance, support, understanding and people NOT jumping to age old archaic conclusions. I have never feared my kids realize they are LGBTQQ, I only fear this world doesn’t change enough to fully support all of its people… This is this generations civil rights fight and in twenty years their kids are going to be looking at this like we do race wars… Puzzlement and disgust that it was ever an issue. Kids need to be free yo be themselves regardless of orientation, race, gender or religion.

  6. @ James O’Brien

    Your question- Why should the “LGBTQ community” be accorded special treatment? Is insulting. They don’t want SPECIAL treatment, they want the SAME treatment. They want to be able to form a school club based on shared experiences and challenges. It’s no different from any other club. Its called EQUALITY.

    Your question- How can you POSSIBLY know for certain that someone will be hurt by this legislation not being passed? Kids are HURT over sexuality ALL THE TIME. Researchers have found that attempted suicide rates and suicidal ideation among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth is comparatively higher than among the general population.LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts. I witnessed these children first hand struggling with who they are and being rejected by others, its heartbreaking, its even more heartbreaking going to a childs funeral over it. Going forward WE DO NOT WANT TO LOSE ANYMORE CHILDREN!!

    Your Friendly Child & Youth Care professional for over 15years EQUALITY for everyone

    • You have made a compelling argument and much of what you say may be correct.

      I’m truly sorry if you think my question concerning “special treatment” is insulting; it certainly was not my intention. You have inferred that perhaps I have no problem with losing children to suicide – nothing could be further from the truth…

      Tristan made it quite clear in his writing that the resolution which failed to pass at the Provincial Government level would have been non-binding. Apparently, a majority of our Provincial politicians felt this falls within the purview of the Boards of Education – and I agree. Those Boards have the authority to say go / no-go to things of this nature, so why not lobby them?

      I will continue to maintain that EDUCATION not LEGISLATION is the answer.

      Have a nice day…

  7. GSAs are very important, and I hope more places will welcome them and that every GSA is or will be inclusive, accepting all whose gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship orientation, or existing relationship (or that of their parents) makes them a target for discrimination or bullying. Think polyamory, for example.

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