Education Minister David Eggen hosted Red Deer students at a gay-straight alliance (GSA) roundtable at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School Wednesday afternoon.
The minister was in the City visiting Lindsay Thurber in the afternoon to learn how the GSA peer support networks were working out in Red Deer schools.
He also visited Aspen Heights Elementary School to tour the school’s MicroSociety program.
Eggen praised schools, including Lindsay Thurber and Hunting Hills, which have implemented the support groups that help LGBTQ+ students feel welcome in schools and prevent bullying.
“(It) sets a good tone in Hunting Hills and Lindsay Thurber that we look after kids. We look after vulnerable kids and everybody is protected,” he said.
With the upcoming provincial election, Eggen said he is disturbed the United Conservative Party (UCP) voted against Bill 24, an Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, which became law in 2017.
The law makes it illegal for teachers to inform parents if their child had joined a GSA unless the child consented.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney criticized the Bill, saying it gives the education minister unnecessary powers. It was also criticized for limiting a parent’s right to know.
“It doesn’t impinge on anyone’s rights,” Eggen said. “It just creates a safe environment for young people, which is the ultimate right, isn’t it? To have a safe place to be, a safe place in which to learn and they achieved that here so well in Red Deer.”
Cameron Litowski, from Hunting Hills, said vulnerable students need advocates in the government.
“With the upcoming election, it’s not OK just to be OK with the GSAs, we need an adamant government that will support our rights as human beings,” Litowski said. “And that is one of the forefronts of going into a new election — what election party will ensure the safety of all citizens not just the selective groups of society.”
Katherine Jones, also a high school student who participates in the GSA groups, said having Eggen listen to LGBTQ+ students is important.
“Having the support of adults — especially adults with significant power — is very uplifting for disadvantaged children to see. Especially us specifically. We’ve been doing (queer-straight alliances) since we were in Grade 7, we made one in our middle school, and back then anything like this wouldn’t have been conceivable. But now, there’s just been such progress, especially someone within the government (showing) that they do care.”
She said benefits of the GSA peer support groups outweigh what some see as negatives.
“I think that the right to safety within a child and them feeling safe as a person and secure in who they are and having a support system is just so important to growing up well as a child,” she said.
“I know there is fear around it with older people, but it’s better than the alternative, which is an isolated child who feels alone and afraid and then potentially killing themselves because they didn’t have any support. I think a gay child is better than a child who is dead.”