Canadian Politics (Provincial), Opinion, Published Articles

Let GSAs do their job

Originally published in the Whitecourt Star

Alberta PC leader Jason Kenney recently came under justified criticism for insensitive remarks he made about gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

Kenney said that under his premiership, parents would be notified if their children were a member of a GSA, essentially an extra-curricular club for students to get together and socialize under the rubric of support for LGBTQ rights.

The problem with Kenney’s proposal is that this notification may be how parents find out their kids are gay, which is especially problematic if the parents are homophobic. It would have the effect of outing homosexual students to their family, something that makes the already difficult process of coming out even harder.

The law mandating GSAs if students request one, Bill 10, was ironically first proposed by the late leader of Kenney’s party, Jim Prentice. But it wasn’t implemented until the New Democrats won the 2015 election.

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association said they would send letters home to parents of students who request to form or join a GSA when the PC’s first came forward with their legislation to make GSAs obligatory.

This can be contrasted with the two Edmonton-area Baptist schools that are currently refusing to even submit a draft policy to Education Minister David Eggen, as the NDP government has requested of every school.

I’m not sure what’s worse — no provincially-mandated GSAs or ones that are completely toothless and don’t allow LGBTQ students solace from an often-hostile outside world.

It’s certainly a good thing that GSAs have become so publicly accepted that we’re no longer debating whether they should exist at all but how they operate. But their operation should be left up to the GSAs themselves, not dictated by politicians or school boards.

To be fair, Kenney said his proposal wouldn’t apply to abusive parents, but this exception itself raises some questions.

How would the school board know which parents are abusive? Is he talking only of physical abuse or the greyer area of emotional abuse? Does homophobia count as abuse under this framework?

With this stipulation, Kenney is throwing GSA advocates a bone while speaking out of the other side of his mouth to homophobes.

It’s worth noting that Kenney’s record on LGBTQ rights is lacking, to put it mildly.

In 1998, when the PC leader was a young firebrand MP for the Reform Party, he staunchly opposed the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in favour of an Edmonton teacher, Delwin Vriend, who was fired from a Christian school for being gay.

This landmark ruling resulted in sexual orientation gaining protection under Alberta’s human rights legislation.

Kenney was aghast, standing in the House of Commons to denounce what he considered, “an unprecedented attack on democracy and on our constitutional order in what can only be described as an exercise as raw judicial power.”

Back to GSAs, Wildrose leader Brian Jean spoke out against Kenney’s proposal. This is particularly impressive coming from the leader of a party that as recently as 2012 had a candidate damn homosexuals to an eternity in a “lake of fire.”

In an April 5 Facebook post, Jean said, “that a child struggling with his or her identity or sexuality, I believe they should not be forced to talk about it before they are ready,” which is pretty close to the NDP’s position.

There’s no doubt some politics at play here, with the looming merger of the PC and Wildrose parties and necessary leadership race for the new conservative entity.

Kenney and Jean appear to be trading places with their bases, with the PC leader appealing to the hard right and the Wildrose leader pitching himself to the centre.

Time will tell which approach is more successful, or if the NDP can successfully turn this into a wedge issue for the 2019 election.

Either way, GSAs are a valuable tool in the fight against homophobia and should be permitted to operate independently.

Published Articles

The 519 opens Firefly Pub for St. Patrick’s Day

Jeremy Appel
Originally published at Daily Xtra

Finally, there’s a way to get drunk and raise money for an LGBT community centre.

The 519, Toronto’s LGBT community centre,  is kicking off its new pub series just in time for St Patrick’s Day.

“The 519 grand ballroom will transform into a decidedly queer Irish pub, complete with pub-appropriate decor and food, a whiskey bar and giveaways,” according to a release on the 519’s website.

There will also be live music, with Irish band Ugly Horse and fiddlers Sammy V and Ticky Ty taking the stage.

“The Firefly pub is a new concept that we’ve come up with. The idea was to create an inclusive community engagement opportunity and to raise some funds for The 519 and have a really fun event,” says John R Farrell, director of philanthropy for The 519. “St Patrick’s Day seemed like a very pivotal day in which to launch our pub event.”

There’s also a symbolic element to the choice of date.

St Patrick’s Day hasn’t always been queer-friendly, Farrell adds, noting that LGBT people were barred from participating in New York City’s official St Patrick’s parade as recently as last year.

”We wanted to conceive an event that is fun and welcoming for everyone,” he says.

“The 519 operates a host of programs and services,” says Farrell, who primarily oversees The 519’s fundraising initiatives. Supporting LGBT refugees, newcomers, seniors and parents are just some of the services that benefit from support.

“A lot of our work is externally facing. We do a lot of education and training work to advance issues of diversity and inclusion,” he says.