EDMONTON — Alberta Education Minister David Eggen says Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney is setting back the cause of LGBTQ youth with recent comments on gay-straight alliances.
"Jason Kenney has shown that once you scratch the paint off a little bit, you find the extremist that he actually is," David Eggen said Wednesday.
Kenney says school officials should let parents know when their child joins a gay-straight alliance if they feel it's in the best interests of the child.
Eggen said the alliances are social clubs like any other but serve an important purpose.
"Gay-straight alliances are a support group for students that are in a very vulnerable position," said Eggen.
"If the government is compelling people to out those students (who are) in a very compromised situation, then they're only serving to make the situation even worse."
Gay-straight alliances were brought in under the former Progressive Conservative government in 2015. Under the law, students in schools are free to set one up if they choose.
The alliances are social clubs where gay and straight students can build friendships and help LGBTQ students feel safe, avoid getting bullied or feel intimidated as they explore issues around their sexuality.
In an interview with Postmedia Tuesday, Kenney said he would not repeal the legislation but said parents need to be told when their child signs up.
"I don't think it's right to keep secrets from parents about challenges their kids are going through," he said according to a transcript.
Kenney has since been criticized on social media for advocating a policy that would effectively out gay kids to their parents.
In response, Kenney posted a message Wednesday on Facebook saying he isn't advocating a new law ordering schools to tell parents when their child joins a gay-straight alliance.
But he also suggested school officials should inform parents anyway if they feel it's in the best interests of the student.
"I trust teachers, principals, and school counsellors to exercise their judgment about such matters, and that there should be a presumption that most parents are loving and caring, seeking only what is best for their children," said Kenney.
Kenney declined an interview request Wednesday.
Eggen said under the current law, schools can inform parents if their child joins an alliance. But he said he is working with them to ensure it doesn't undercut the spirit of the process.
Former Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman, one of the trail-blazers on the law, said Kenney's plan will especially harm kids most at risk.
"It's the kids who are questioning (their sexuality). They don't know what's going on. Perhaps their home life is giving them the impression that this is a bad or a dangerous thing," Blakeman said in an interview.
"All they're trying to do is figure it out, but if you threaten with outing them, they will shut up and disappear into the background."
Blakeman also said children are always free to tell their parents.
"Nothing in the legislation says kids can't volunteer that information," she said.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press