Red Deer’s New Democrat MLAs say they are standing up for Albertans by protecting LGBTQ+ students from being outed while the United Conservative Party has turned its back on Albertans.
On Sunday, the United Conservative Party voted 57 per cent in favour of reinstating parental opt-in consent for any subjects of a religious or sexual nature, including enrolment in extracurricular clubs like gay-straight alliances at the party’s founding annual general meeting in Red Deer.
Red Deer North MLA Kim Schreiner said voting to notify parents when students join a gay-straight alliance (GSA) clearly shows the UCP does not support Albertans.
“The vast majority of Albertans want to be accommodating and create a safe and caring environment for all kids in our schools,” Schreiner said on Monday.
She said GSAs are about creating a safe community for students.
“It’s about kids supporting kids and giving each other confidence and encouragement,” Schreiner said.
Red Deer MLA Barb Miller said it’s a fact that GSAs saves lives.
“Last weekend we saw Jason Kenney’s extremist UCP outing gay kids, privatizing health care, cutting education funding, attacking teachers, and cutting taxes for the rich their priority,” Miller said.
“My colleague in Red Deer North and I will always stand on the side of Albertans. We will keep fighting to get a pipeline to tidewater, we will keep protecting health care and continue to make sure kids get the best education they can in a safe and welcoming environment.”
Bev Manning, school board chair with Red Deer Public Schools, said the district supports Bill 24 which does not allow school officials to tell parents if their children are in a GSA except in special circumstances, such as when a student is under direct threat of harm.
“We just want safe places for kids, that’s all. We just want kids to feel like they can be who they are and be respected for who they are and be loved for who they are and have the same opportunities as everybody else. At the end of the day that’s just what we’re all trying to achieve,” Manning said.
She said the GSA at École Secondaire Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School has been around for a long time so it isn’t anything new for the district.
“I think we try and treat everybody with respect, including the parents. That’s our bottom line,” Manning said.
UCP member Harrison Fleming, who hoped the motion would be voted down and spoke against it, said the motion hardly reflects the opinions of a majority of UCP members with only about 450 members voting in favour.
“People didn’t really understand where it was coming from and the implications that it would have. They saw it as a chance to support parental rights and it’s not what it was about,” said Fleming, Alberta co-ordinator with LGBTory Canada, on Sunday.
UCP leader Jason Kenney has said very clearly that these types of issues will not be included in the party’s platform, Fleming said.
“I’m so confident and happy to hear Jason say that this isn’t making it into our party platform and our caucus isn’t supporting this type of legislation coming forward.”
He said the vote just showed how toxic the debate has become with the NDP contributing to the fear and rhetoric that’s happening.
“So many parents do feel their rights are being trampled and we saw that today.”
“It’s really up to our members of caucus, to organizations like (LGBTory Canada), to ensure we’re having conversations with our membership so they are understanding the nuances of some of these decisions.”
He said LGBTory Canada was invited by the UCP to set up a booth at the general meeting held at Sheraton Red Deer.
“These decisions don’t change the heart and soul of our party which is a big, broad, diverse tent that welcomes our organization. That diversity is our biggest strength,” Fleming said.
Denton Wierzba, vice president of policy for Red Deer North UCP, said the party is “pro-freedom.”
“We all don’t think the same. We’re not like a collective group. We’re going to have these disagreements,” Wierzba said.
Red Deer County UCP member Christine Moore said it’s encouraging that people can speak up about issues.
“We need engagement and we most definitely have got it here,” Moore said.
“I’m sensing great momentum here for the founding convention for the United Conservative Party.”