Although Ron Voss’ letter to the editor was published on Nov. 28, recent comments made by United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney have compelled me to write a response.
Kenney told a crowd in Brooks last week that there wouldn’t be a need for a lawsuit against Bill 24 should the UCP form government in 2019, as it would be dismantled. Bill 24, An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, includes legislation mandating that all publicly funded schools ensure respectful and caring policies including the establishment of a GSA if requested by students, and ensures the protection of privacy for students in GSAs.
The statements made by Voss and Kenney underline the need to fight for the safety and human rights of some of our most vulnerable citizens.
As a parent, a member of the LGBTQ2S+ community, a board member of Kindred Cochrane Diversity Group, and a teacher, there are so many points I could speak to from Voss’ letter. MLA Cam Westhead, in supporting the bill, is standing up for young people’s safety and rights, and is so far from “totalitarian.” In fact, Voss has twisted the meaning of this word to the point of absurdity. He’s taken licence with the content of Bill 24 to infer it requires schools to remove pieces of scripture. In quoting John Carpay, he’s aligning himself with the UCP member, who compared a rainbow flag to a swastika, and thus the LGBTQ2S+ community to the Nazis (indeed, his use of pastor Martin Niemöller’s powerful poem “First They Came…” is tone-deaf at best, as homosexuals were one of the groups specifically targeted by Nazi policies).
Lastly, I'd like to point out that in a democracy, rights and freedoms can at times be in conflict. This doesn’t mean that one is more valid than the other; it means that as a society, we weigh the potential harm of one right infringing on another, and mitigate this through legislation as best we can. This is laid out in Section 1 of the Charter, the reasonable limits clause.
Bill 24 protects some of our most vulnerable citizens — LGBTQ2S+ youth are disproportionately represented in mental health statistics, due to discrimination, bullying, and lack of support. Mandatory GSAs are seen as a threat to religious freedom by Kenney and Voss, but without them, young people’s lives are at risk. A 2014 UBC study established that the mere presence of a GSA in a school reduces suicidal ideation, attempts, and discrimination for sexual minority students and non-minority students alike.
The provision of the bill protecting the privacy of students in GSAs is there to protect the rights of youth to not come out for whatever reason they choose, whether this is because they fear reactions of caregivers, or they’re just not ready to. This is essential to their ability to live in safety and free from discrimination.
With Kenney’s statements in Brooks, we're reminded of whose voices will be privileged — and whose will be threatened — should the UCP form government in May.