Legal challenge of GSA participation privacy draws crowd to Medicine Hat courthouse

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Alberta’s law prohibiting schools from disclosing a student’s participation in a gay-straight alliance (GSA) to parents and guardians was challenged in a crowded Medicine Hat courtroom on Wednesday and interest in the case forced supporters and opponents outside.

The hearing requesting the law’s postponement was the result of a constitutional challenge of the legislation by a number of faith-based schools and dozens of parents. The group argues that keeping parents out of the loop violates charter rights including the freedom of religion and expression.

Those who oppose the law, and the alleged ‘climate of secrecy’ it has created, are asking for it to be redacted pending the result of their constitutional challenge which is scheduled to be heard in the fall.

The Calgary Sexual Health Centre successfully championed for intervener status for the hearing to speak on behalf of LQTBQ youth

“It’s very important that the voices of LGBTQ youth are heard,” “said Pam Krause, the president and CEO of the centre. “The Calgary Sexual Health Centre has expertise. We have over 40 years working with youth in school systems and have been supporting gay-straight alliances since 2012.”

Krause says LGTBQ youth are a ‘very vulnerable group’ that often struggle in the school system and GSA clubs offer them support and advice.

“One of the biggest things that happens at gay-straight alliances is youth talking to us about how they can come out to their parents, what the experience of coming out will be like,” said Krause. “It also really helps us to help them to manoeuvre through the coming out process and our real interest is that they can then create really strong relationships with their parents. That safety and protection is vital when they’re young and haven’t really figured that out yet.”

Rob Wells says he travelled to Medicine Hat from his town east of Edmonton to show his support for GSA clubs during the hearing.

“I thought it was very important for someone to be here to express the other side of the story and the concern for the safety and lives of vulnerable gay and lesbian kids who need desperately to have the support of a gay-straight alliance club,” said Wells.

Wells and the other supporters of GSA clubs were in the minority outside of the courthouse.

“It’s disappointing to see people claiming to be supportive of the kids when you know this is a ‘lake of fire’ terrorism to terrorize their kids with their religious fundamentalism,” said Wells. “That’s what’s driving kids to suicide, driving kids to alcohol and drug abuse.”

Caelan Hart, a Medicine Hat-based human rights activist, says disclosing GSA participation to parents would put students at risk.

“A lot of these kids don’t have loving and tolerant homes where their rights would be respected and often these youth face marginalization and homelessness.”

Opponents of the legislation who had gathered in Medicine Hat for the hearing say the law strips parents of the knowledge of where their child is, who their child is spending time with and what they are being exposed to. CTV’s attempts to interview any of the opponents on camera were unsuccessful.

With files from CTV Lethbridge’s Terry Vogt



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