Gay-straight alliances offer support, acceptance: Red Deer teacher

“We don’t want kids painted with a brush of any type”

School clubs that offer acceptance and support to LGBTQ students should be treated the same as any other club, says a Red Deer teacher who is chair of a diversity, equity and human rights committee.

Patti Yackulic has been part of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 60’s committee that advised the public school board on gay-straight alliances, also known as GSAs, or QSAs, queer-straight alliances.

“We need them. It should be treated like any other club,” she said, adding that parents should not be notified if a student joins a GSA.

“We have a lot of perception in the community that if a student belongs to a GSA that they have to be part of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) students (LGBTQ)population, and that’s not necessarily true.”

“We don’t want kids painted with a brush of any type. We want the kids to just be kids, and identify where they’re going as their own individual person,” Yackulic said.

GSAs became a news headline again over the past week when newly-elected Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney told Postmedia editors that he believes parents have a right to know to know what’s going on with their children in schools unless the parents are abusive.

Education Minister David Eggen termed Kenney’s view extremist.

Wild Rose leader Brian Jean waded into the controversy, and said he disagreed with Kenney. Then Jean was accused of flip-flopping after he later said in some cases parents should be notified.

Eggen subsequently sent out a ministerial order to all schools that they are not to tell parents if their child joins a GSA.

Yackulic said that what students get from being a member of a GAS is an acceptance level that they belong somewhere, and support.

Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer was the first in the province to form such a group in 2000, when a sub-group of the Students and Teachers Opposing Prejudice organization formed a gay-straight alliance that existed for awhile. The school has recently formed a new QSA.

One of the things Yackulic said she has noticed is that GSAs can affect a whole school. “It permeates through the school in terms of acceptance. It’s a very nice environment in the schools that have GSAs. They do have an important role.”

The QSA club at LTCHS does a variety of activities, such as last year students gave Safe Space stickers to businesses to display in the front of their stores.

If the child is comfortable with their parents and feel their parents will accept them, they do tell their parents they belong to a GSA, she said.

Students nowadays are more socially active and aware then when she was in school, she said. “These things aren’t issues with the kids as a whole. … The kids are very accepting.”