Alberta GSA organizers warn against outing LGBTQ students

Two Alberta gay-straight alliance organizers are warning of the dangers of outing LGBTQ students after Alberta Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney said parents should be notified if their children join GSAs.

"You don't take the control of coming out away from the student ever," said Grade 12 student Dylan Chevalier, president of the GSA at Ross Sheppard High School.

"Because when they choose who they want to come out to, they're doing it because they know it's safe for them ... and a lot of the time kids don't feel safe coming out to their parents."

In an article published by Postmedia Tuesday, Kenney said "parents have a right to know" when their child joins a GSA, unless there is evidence of abuse.

But Chevalier, 18, said abuse isn't always apparent. He said outing a child to parents who don't accept their child's orientation could be "very dangerous. He pointed to examples of students who have ended up on the street or ostracized from their families.

Parents aren't notified if their children join a board-game club or the student union, Chevalier noted.

Premier Rachel Notley described Kenney's position as "troubling."

"When you're suggesting that parents need to be notified because your child is going to a club that gay kids might be part of that, implicit in that is a concern that somehow that's a bad thing," Notley said at a news conference in Red Deer on Thursday.

"That's at the heart of the position that Mr. Kenney has put forward and I think that's very troubling for any major leader of a political party in Alberta to be communicating."

She suggested Kenney doesn't support the legislation that protects the rights of Alberta students to form GSAs "and people should be concerned that that would be revoked."

'This isn't about trying to be sneaky'

Cameron Litowski, 16, started the first gay-straight alliance in the Wolf Creek Public Schools division while at Lacombe Junior High School. Now at Hunting Hills High School in Red Deer, Litowski says being outed in junior high would have had grave consequences for many he knew.

"To be outed — the process of someone telling your parents or your friends your sexuality or your gender identity before you're ready — can be extremely detrimental to your mental health because you're not even comfortable with it and now you may have friends and family rejecting you for something you're not completely aware of," Litowski said.

"In Lacombe, for example, if you came out to your parents there was a possibility of getting kicked out of the house, or of emotional or — more drastically — physical abuse.

"I don't think Jason Kenney is taking [into] account that that could happen. I am vehemently opposed to his idea of alerting parents if a student is a part of a GSA. This isn't about trying to be sneaky and getting around parents." 

In a Facebook post on Wednesday Kenney clarified his stance on GSAs: "I have stated repeatedly that I do not support repealing Bill 10 regarding Gay-Straight Alliances in schools."

He said he had been falsely accused of wanting "to force schools to 'out' children to their parents."

Parents for Choice in Education has long argued that parents need to know if their child is struggling with sexual or gender identity.

"If kids are not ready to come out, then they're not ready to come out," Litowski said. "And I don't believe that Jason Kenney has the right, or should think he has the right, to tell gay or queer kids what should happen with their families or what should happen to them."

While current legislation doesn't stop schools from notifying parents, recommendations from the province advise against disclosure of sexual or gender identity without student permission.

Education Minister David Eggen, who accused Kenney of holding an "extremist" view, said he is looking at ways to strengthen gaps in the legislation.

That's something Chevalier said he would also like to see, pointing out that the need for GSAs is still very real. He recalled how one member of their club went home upset after he was called a 'faggot' on his way to class.

"This is why we need it here," he said.