Balance, not politics needed in debate on protecting sexual-minority youth

Published on November 08, 2017

Debate is now underway on the NDP’s Bill 24, an act that would make it illegal for teachers to notify parents if their children (aged 5 to 17) are involved in a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

This bill is entirely about politics, and not about protecting our youth. The NDP know that their track record on the economy and fiscal management are leading them on the path to defeat in the 2019 election, and they are desperately trying to change the channel to talk about something, anything, other than their own record.

Bill 24 is an attempt – with the willing help of most of the mainstream media – to use the desire of most people to protect vulnerable youth to divide Albertans for partisan gain.

This issue is far more complicated – and sensitive – than the usual partisan banter between parties. Here’s some background.

Gay and lesbian youth are at higher risk than their peers for suicide, substance abuse and homelessness. Being a kid is tough enough, and I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be for kids who feel out of place. This is compounded if they do not have loving and caring friends, family and communities. Some kids turn to GSAs for support, and Bill 10 (passed by the previous government in 2015) makes it mandatory for schools to set up a GSA if a student requests one.

Since Bill 10 was passed, there has been some debate as to if parents should be notified if their child joins a GSA. Bill 24 would make it illegal in virtually all circumstances for teachers to notify parents if their child is involved in a GSA. The ostensible reasoning behind this is that any parental notification will ‘out’ gay and lesbian kids before they are ready and put them at risk.

If I believed that this was the case, I would support Bill 24; but it’s not.

The overwhelming majority of parents love their children unconditionally, and care more about them than any government bureaucrat or politician ever could. This is not to say that some parents would not be accepting or supportive of their child coming out. In some circumstances, this could even put that youth at risk, and this where the government has a legitimate role to play.

Government should not create a blanket law entirely forbidding any and all notification to parents.

A blanket ban on notifying parents is as irresponsible as automatically notifying parents, regardless of the circumstances. Teachers and other education professionals are better suited to make this sensitive decision, not politicians (myself included).

Bill 24 also makes no distinction whatsoever between a 5 year old and a 17 year old. Blanket laws like this meant to achieve political objectives are overly blunt and do not account for nuance.

Bill 24 also overrides the principle that schools have delegated authority over children given to them by parents, not government. We should remember that parents – not the government – are the primary authority over children. The government should only ever intervene in this relationship when there is abuse or neglect, not differences over politics.

This is a legislated wedge being driven between children and their parents not intended to protect children, but to change the political channel away from debt, deficits and recession, to divisive social issues. To do so using the most vulnerable of our youth is saddening.

Most of you know where I stand on issue of personal liberty as it involves sexual matters: I don’t believe that it is any of the governments business what consenting adults do in private; but matters involving our children are more complicated.

When we as legislators are making laws concerning the most vulnerable of our children – sexual minority youth – we should take care to put them first and remember that their greatest ally in most cases, is mom and dad.

Derek Fildebrandt
MLA for Strathmore-Brooks