MLAs vote down gay-straight alliance motion

By Tendayi Moyo

Albertan legislators voted down a motion that requires school boards to support the creation of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools if students ask for them.

The private member’s bill, brought forward by Calgary-Buffalo MLA Kent Hehr, was defeated 31–19 in a vote on the evening of April 7.

Hehr said some schools in the province are resistant to GSAs and that students could benefit from provincial intervention.

“Simply put, some of our conservative institutions will not support a GSA when kids want them formed,” Hehr said. “The government of Alberta, recognizing this, needs to act and ensure that they legislate it.”

Hehr said that while GSAs are flourishing in public schools, the number of alliances drops dramatically in the private and Catholic education systems.

Similar legislation was passed in Ontario and Manitoba in 2012 and 2013. In both cases, provisions were added to anti-bullying laws that require schools to support the establishment of GSAs.

Hehr thinks the outcome does not represent how most Albertans feel about the issue. He intends to continue advocating for the law.

Some Progressive Conservative MLAs supported the bill, but the majority voted against it alongside the Wildrose.

“I’m very surprised that the PCs and the Wildrose seem to think that Alberta is somewhere in the 1950s,” Hehr said. “Last night was a starting point, not an end point.”

Minister of education Jeff Johnson, who voted against the bill, said the motion pushed for measures the Education Act will already assure when it comes into effect in 2015. He added that singling out a specific group of students in legislation was “troublesome.”

“[There are] many other highly effective groups like GSAs that promote acceptance, build bridges, and help fight bullying, but we can’t possibly legislate for each and every one of these groups,” Johnson said. “So instead we endeavour to create schools and learning environments that are accepting of all students and empowering for all students regardless of what their differences are.”

The University of Victoria recently published a study that found GSAs and anti-homophobic bullying policies can significantly reduce bullying and suicide attempts in schools.

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