I won’t use 90 minutes, Mr. Speaker. I know: a sigh of relief from the room. Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the Member for Edmonton Centre for bringing forward Bill 202, which I was prepared to support. I think it’s very unfortunate that we didn’t get an opportunity to be able to debate that bill because of a procedural manoeuvre, which I think doesn’t respect the rights of all of the members in this Chamber to be able to bring forward private members’ business. I think that you can well imagine the discussions that took place in our caucus over the last week or two as we were debating this bill. I think that the Member for Airdrie helped to come to a reasonable compromise that balanced all of the rights that are under consideration here: the rights of LGBTQ students to feel safe and accepted, equality rights, the rights of parents as well as the rights of school boards, in particular religious school boards and faith-based schools, to be able to ensure that everybody’s rights are protected. I was looking forward to that debate. I was looking forward to those amendments.
I’ve talked to the Member for EdmontonCentre. I know that she didn’t support all of them, but I think that we gave an honest effort to try to preserve the essential elements of what it is she was trying to do while still respecting that we needed to come to a conclusion on how we could better protect parental rights and religious freedom. The three main ways in which we would have approached that would be to have removed “sexual orientation” from clause 11.1 supporting that, affirming as well that home-school families and faith-based educators would not be forced to teach something that was contrary to their beliefs. Again, I think it would have been a reasonable amendment. Importantly, if a faith-based school or a Catholic board said no to a GSA, they would have to provide some kind of counselling or support to the student in question. To me, that’s absolutely essential to any bill that I can support, and it’s the reason why I’ll be voting against Bill 10. I don’t think it preserves what the original intention of the Member for Edmonton-Centre was attempting to do.
There have been some comments made about Catholic schools and Catholic school boards. I had the great privilege of going back and forth between Catholic schools and public schools when I was in the education system. It was of great value to me, and I think I characterize the Catholic concerns a little bit differently than the Member for Calgary-Buffalo. I think that the Pope himself – and I like this Pope – is having the same debate and discussion within his own hierarchy about how to be able to welcome members from the LGBTQ community and still be able to live within the tenets of the Catholic faith. I’m watching that with great interest, having been very close to the Catholic teachings over the course of my life. But I think we do have to respect that it is up to the Catholic school board and the Catholic schools to be able to find that balance of how to be able to reconcile those, and we can’t dictate to them.
As for Bill 10, there are some things that I do support about Bill 10. Putting sexual orientation into the Bill of Rights: again, this has already been determined by the courts. It’s already in our Alberta Human Rights Act. Having it in the Bill of Rights makes sense. Parental rights also being enshrined in the Bill of Rights: an excellent move for the reasons that the Member for Airdrie had said. We have a great stain on our history as a province and a country with the residential school system and the violation of parents’ rights, where the state felt that they knew better than parents. I think that we make a grave error in not recognizing how important parental rights are in determining the education for a child.Moving this section to the School Act I’m supportive of as well, but where I don’t support the bill is in the treatment of the issue of a student asking for a GSA club. I agree with the members for Calgary-Buffalo and Edmonton-Centre that it doesn’t do anything to advance where children find themselves today, and I’ll give a few stories to illustrate why I prefer the approach taken in Bill 202 as opposed to the approach taken in Bill 10.
First of all, going to Stony Plain a few nights ago, I met Rachel, a transgendered woman who actually supported the approach that we were taking by modifying Bill 202 with the amendments that we had proposed. She felt that that actually did get the right balance and would have satisfied her concerns. So I thought that that was important to know, that not every member of the LGBTQ community thinks everything has to be dealt with in exactly the same way. I think that there are members of every community who believe that this balance is important.
Secondly, of course, the Foothills school division, which overlaps the area that I represent, already have two gay-straight alliances in their schools, one in Okotoks and one in Black Diamond, so we’ve seen already in the community that I represent that this is something that our school boards have taken a proactive approach on, and I’m grateful for that.
The third story is that I had a constituent who called me because her transgendered son had wanted to start up a gay-straight alliance in the school that he was in, in Claresholm, and was told no. And that was just it. It was no. It was not: no, but here is what we can do instead. It was not: no, but here is another school that you can go to. The answer was just no, and that has stayed with me for a year. I’ve been wondering what happened to that child in being shut down by the adults in that school when he was clearly trying to reach out to find a support group. The fact that there was no answer for him – and his mother was calling me to see what I could do. I contacted Kris Wells, who teaches at the University of Alberta in the sexual minorities area, to get some advice from him. It was the first time that I came into contact with him and the group and the work that he’s trying to do. I’ve since been able to visit GSA clubs and talk to the kids who benefit from them, and it’s moved me greatly, which is part of the reason why I support the approach that was being taken by the Member for Edmonton-Centre.
One of the issues that I think is important for us to understand – and I mean this as no offence. I’m trying to speak in a way that’s accepting of everybody’s diverse viewpoints in here, and I know that everybody does have strong passions about it. In speaking with a Catholic school trustee at the ASBA breakfast a little while ago as they were trying to grapple with how to deal with this issue of how to accommodate gay students within a Catholic environment, they did a series of round-tables with students at high schools. I think that the adults were looking at this as just an issue of bullying, so they wanted to understand the bullying aspect of it. What the kids told them was: “We’re accepted by our peers. It’s the adults who don’t accept us.”
That, I think, is why we have to really understand: at what point does a mature youth have the ability to make their own decisions about their sexuality that don’t involve their parents? At the age of 12 a child, if they’ve got a split home, can choose to live with mom or dad. We recognize that a child as young as 12 can choose which parent they want to live with. At age 14 they can choose to have sex as long as it’s with somebody who’s within a close age to them and not somebody who’s in a position of authority over them. At age 16 they can become emancipated from their parents and make entire education decisions on their own. There is with these children somewhere in the age of sexual maturity, somewhere above the age of 14, when they’re in high school, where they really have the ability and right to be able to make their own decisions about the kind of support that they feel they need to feel accepted.
That, to me, is what GSA clubs are about. The children that I met with who were at these GSA clubs: most of their parents didn’t know that they were out yet. Most of them knew that if their parents knew, there would be some consequences to that. One individual I spoke with said that two lesbian girls had come out at her school and had been kicked out of the school. Another young boy told me that he came out to his parents, and his dad rejected him.
Another young woman was beaten by her father. While I respect that we need to find a balance with parental rights and with religious freedom, I think we need to also respect that in the case of these mature youths this really is a case of life or death for some of them. We really do have a number of youths who have nowhere else to go if they’re not accepted by their community, not accepted in their home environment. It’s a very confusing time to go through puberty at the best of times. These kinds of clubs are providing an opportunity for these students not just to feel safe from bullying, which is important, not just to be able to provide an avenue to be able to educate their peers but also to make sure that they can deal with the confusing thoughts that come along with what it is that they’re dealing with, which is compounded by everything that kids this age are going through.
Now, these students who are going through this, who are already facing these extreme emotions: in some cases these kids are cutting themselves, they’re attempting suicide, and in some cases they are actually succeeding in committing suicide. To take these kids and say that the solution when their teacher says no is to go before a school board and try to argue their case or go before a lawyer and a court and try to get a judicial decision for them to be able to set up one of these clubs: that’s not reasonable, Mr. Speaker. That’s not the balance that we were looking for in this bill. I think that Bill 202 found that correct balance.
I’m very hopeful that when the members are considering this bill and considering potential amendments to it – unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of time to bring amendments to it – they will bring forward and support an amendment that doesn’t give a school board the right to just say no when a child comes before them, will support an amendment that will create an opportunity for these kids to have some other avenue to be able to feel supported, to feel accepted, and to deal with the issues that they’re dealing with. I’m afraid that Bill 10 falls well short – well short – of what the Member for Edmonton-Centre was trying to accomplish, and I would hope that if it cannot be properly amended to be able to accommodate that, that it would be voted down so that we could go back to debating the bill that I think creates that better balance and ensures that LGBTQ students do feel accepted and don’t end up on the path that so many have gone down so far. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.