Last Tuesday, Bill 10 was passed by the Alberta Legislature, finally requiring schools to allow students to start Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) when requested by students.
The Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association, though, recently proposed to send letters home to parents of students who request to join/start a GSA. This will certainly harm more students than it helps, especially those who are closeted and looking for support from peers.
The overall passive-aggressive nature of Alberta’s Catholic schools to the bill demonstrates that they’re going to resist every step of the way and make students’ lives difficult in the process.
GSAs are incredibly important in high schools, where teenagers become more aware of themselves and begin making their own decisions. Such alliances promote safe spaces and peer support networks that can make all the difference to a student who comes from an unsupportive family environment or needs further support. Furthermore, they reduce prejudice, educating students about LGBTQ issues and allowing them to gain information from a balanced viewpoint instead of through word-of-mouth or equally untrustworthy sources.
Sending letters home to students’ parents potentially hinders students from taking advantage of the safe space that a GSA can provide. A student seeking the support that a GSA offers may not have a terrible home life — they may have supportive parents and may just be looking for the extra connections and welcome that a group of open-minded peers can provide. But schools (and school boards) shouldn’t assume that LGBTQ-friendly home lives are the norm for high school students, even if members of this trustees’ association are willing to take the risk.
Students who lack family support need GSAs the most, and the Alberta Catholic School Trustees are putting them at the highest risk. Even a student who joins a GSA that isn’t necessarily LGBTQ may have parents who are homophobic, so straight students in repressive home environments could also be put at risk.
Beyond the establishment of GSAs, school administrators should not be allowed to regulate or repress students’ ability to be informed and active in safe spaces that facilitate their growth and awareness as adults.
Teenagers in high school are becoming more autonomous. Keeping them under the thumbs of their parents is detrimental to the ability of those students to come into their own and be happy while doing so.
GSAs need to be present at all schools, especially those that aren’t necessarily open to LGBTQ students or whose constituencies are lacking in that support network. The desire of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees to send letters home regarding the students that they profess to protect instead endangers vulnerable members of their student body and are invasive to those students’ privacy. A person’s sexuality is their business and nobody else’s. Administrative officials and public figures need to understand that and respect it, because otherwise school systems and other societal networks will never be the open, welcoming spaces that people need to be healthy, whole individuals free of criticism and repression.