Gay Straight Alliances

“My position’s very simple: parents should be told that their child joined a gay-straight alliance when the child decides that they will tell them,” Hehr said. [Calgary Herald, October 5th]

The number one question I have received by email this election has been about Gay Straight Alliances, and my support of them. Let me be blunt: I am 100% in favour of Gay Straight Alliances when and where students want them. As my quote above showcases, the time that a parent ought to be told about a student's involvement in such a club should be determined by that student.

It is really that simple.

The statistics are clear: in schools where there are Gay Straight Alliances versus where there are none, a UBC study showed that there was 50 per cent decline in suicidal ideation amongst LGBTQ youths – and heterosexual male students as well. Students should be able to associate freely with one another, and support one another. 

I have included the article below from where I made my comments at a forum a few weeks ago about my support of GSAs.

Though unanimous on the benefits of gay-straight alliance clubs, or GSAs, school trustee candidates at a forum held Tuesday night were divided on whether parents should be informed when their children are involved in such clubs.

The forum was held at the Albert Park and Radisson Heights Community Hall and hosted by 12 Community Safety Initiative, a crime prevention group.

Public candidates from Wards 8 and 9, and Wards 5 and 10, as well as two Catholic candidates running in Wards 9, 10 and Chestermere, were each given a one-minute window to respond to a variety of audience-submitted questions.

Richard Hehr, a public school candidate running in Wards 8 and 9, said the decision to disclose information should belong to the students, not the school.

“My position’s very simple: parents should be told that their child joined a gay-straight alliance when the child decides that they will tell them,” Hehr said.

“The research is clear — we have numerous children facing difficulties who end up committing suicide because they haven’t had the opportunity to live their life as they would wish.”

Hehr was among six of 11 candidates opposing schools’ ability to tell parents about students’ involvement in GSAs. Other opponents included Wards 8 and 9 public trustee candidate Sabrina Bartlett, and Wards 5 and 10 candidates Rekha Dhawan, Bianca Smetacek and incumbent trustee Pamela King.

 

The debate over parents’ “right to know” has heated up recently, with Alberta Education Minister David Eggen saying last week he is moving forward on legislation that would outlaw the outing of students who join gay-straight alliances.

Cheryl Low, the Catholic incumbent trustee for Wards 9 and 10 plus Chestermere, said that while schools in her jurisdiction don’t give individual information, they do alert parents when such clubs are formed.

“We have a process where we notify all parents of any club that is created in our school,” Low said, “We don’t tell them who is in it .… That’s not the intent.”

Other candidates, however, suggested parents have the right to know when their kids are involved.

Merle Terlesky, who is running in Wards 8 and 9 against Hehr, said that parents should be told when a child joins a gay-straight alliance, comparing it to joining a sports club.

“If a child wants to join a rugby team but his parents don’t want him on that team because he might break his arm, are the teachers required to not inform the parents when he breaks his arm a week later?” Terlesky asked.

Jameela Ghann, running in Wards 5 and 10, echoed Terlesky’s remarks, saying parents will ultimately make the right decision for their children and that schools shouldn’t keep them in the dark about their children’s activities.

“I think that there is a fine line between what’s good for the public and what’s good for the individual, and I am always on the side of the family,” Ghann said.

Mario Deshaies, from Catholic Wards 9 and 10 plus Chestermere, and Raman Gill, from Wards 5 and 10, also agreed that parents should be informed of their children’s participation in such clubs.

Cher Gaze, a resident of the area, attended the forum and said the discussion surrounding GSAs was eye-opening.

“It wasn’t something that I had in mind, I hadn’t thought about it,” said Gaze. “We have to make sure that our kids are open and accepting everybody for who they are. If the schools aren’t going to accept that, and some of the parents aren’t, we have an issue.”

Alannah Page and Nathan Kunz are reporters for the Calgary Journal, produced by the journalism students at Mount Royal University. The Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Calgary Journal are working together this election to provide readers with the city’s most comprehensive coverage of the civic campaign.