Gay-straight alliances in schools can provide safe environments for students.
That was the message at a roundtable discussion between Education Minster David Eggen and students from Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School and Hunting Hills High School on Wednesday.
Katherine Jones, a Hunting Hills student, said it’s important for a person to feel secure in who they are and to have a support system.
“I know there’s fear surrounding (GSAs) with some parents and older people, but it’s better than the alternative, which is an isolated child who feels alone and afraid,” Jones said, adding that isolation could lead to a person committing suicide.
Cameron Litowski, also from Hunting Hills, said it’s a perfect time to talk about gay-straight alliances with a provincial election coming later this year.
“We need an adamant government that will support our rights as human beings,” Litowski said. “We need to ensure everyone is educated so everybody is safe. That is the forefront in what we are doing here.
“We’re not saying you cannot have an opinion if it does not align with us. I believe all of us will say if you don’t agree with us, please reach out and contact (us). We would love to have a respectful discussion.”
Parents attended the roundtable discussion as well.
Litowski said younger people look up to adults, so it’s “important our parents (and guardians) are involved in the discussion.”
Camryn Loonstra, a student at Gateway Christian School and a member of the Lindsay Thurber alliance, said these groups provide support for youths.
“I didn’t come out to my parents until last week, because I was so afraid of telling them” said Loonstra. “It’s just nice to have that confidence to be able to come out to everybody.”
Eggen said the goal of the roundtable was to hear from students about how the government can better assist them.
“GSAs in schools help to save lives,” he said. Hunting Hills and Lindsay Thurber “are two Red Deer schools that have done a great job building safe and caring environments for LGBTQ kids here in the city.”
Eggen also took aim at the United Conservative Party and its leader, Jason Kenney.
“They voted against Bill 24 (an act to support gay-straight alliances) and they would remove previsions to make GSAs a safe place for vulnerable kids in Alberta,” Eggen said.
“I think people need to take a long, hard look at what sort of person, what sort of party, would choose to make an unsafe environment for our most vulnerable kids in our schools.”
Bev Manning, Red Deer Public Schools board chair, said she hopes the students felt they were heard at the roundtable discussion.
“Whenever you have an opportunity to have a conversation with the minister of education, it can provide a lot of input he can take back and use in his government,” she said.
GSAs are important for schools, Manning added.
“It’s certainly an honour to offer our students the best possible education experience, and above all else, that means they need to be safe in our schools.”