Kenney offered help to meet with gay-straight groups

EDMONTON — Alberta conservative leadership candidate Jason Kenney is being offered help to set up a meeting with students who are in gay-straight alliances at school.

The offer comes after Kenney said this week he wasn’t invited, and then was too busy, to attend Calgary Pride activities — even after singer k.d. lang said she’d give him free concert tickets if he’d sit down and discuss LGBTQ rights with her.

Kris Wells with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies in Edmonton and Barbara Silva of the group Support our Students say they can make a meeting happen between Kenney and students.

“If he genuinely wants to meet with LGBTQ youth and learn from them and not politicize them, we’ll do our best to make that happen,” said Wells, who works with students setting up gay-straight alliances in schools.

The social networks are meant to foster understanding, to help gay kids feel less isolated and to reduce bullying and harassment.

Silva’s group advocates for education equality and emphasizes the importance of the alliances.

“We would bend over backwards to make that dialogue happen in a safe environment,” she said Thursday.

“There’s something very concerning about somebody who wants to lead a province who doesn’t want to meet with its most marginalized members.”

A spokesman for Kenney declined comment.

Kenney, a Conservative cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper, is one of four candidates running for the leadership of Alberta’s new United Conservative Party. It was formed last month when the Progressive Conservative party and the Opposition Wildrose merged.

Kenney said shortly after winning the PC leadership last spring that parents should be notified if their children join a gay-straight alliance as long as it doesn’t put a child in harm’s way.

Kenney has not offered suggestions on how teachers could determine ahead of time whether parents would react positively or not.

Wells and Silva said if parents were automatically brought into the picture, students would lose control of a critical decision on an emotionally charged issue. The alliances would no longer provide safe spaces and would wither and die.

“It’s a roundabout way of killing the program,” said Silva.

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