The Attack on Gay-Straight Alliances Continues

Last week the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) brought a court application challenging the constitutionality of changes to the School Act which are intended to support the establishment of gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in Alberta schools.

Just to get our bearings, the JCCF is a non-profit legal organization run by John Carpay.  Mr Carpay is a lawyer and a former director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation for Alberta, a former candidate for the federal Reform Party and the Alberta Wildrose Party.

The Application was filed by eight parents, 26 schools and two non-profit organizations that promote choice and fundamental Christian education.

The Issue    

The Applicants argue the government violated their Charter rights and freedoms when it introduced legislation requiring schools to support students who want to set up a GSA (this includes allowing students to call the club a “gay-straight alliance” or a “queer-straight alliance” and implementing codes of conduct to support GSAs).  Schools are free to tell parents a GSA has been created but are not free to “out” kids that join one.

The Constitutional Argument

It’s difficult to follow the constitutional argument because the Application is tinged with hysteria.

It starts with the premise that kids are sexually and emotionally exploited by adults and their peers “most often in places and during times when parents are absent and unaware” so the lack of “parental knowledge” that kids have joined a GSA “opens the door to predation”.

The Application says parents are alarmed and frightened by the climate of secrecy that the School Act has created around ideological sexual clubs and related activities.  It cranks up the Alarm-O-Meter by providing a list of sexual practices it defines as “GSA materials”–the list is no doubt intended to shock God-fearing folk but is irrelevant because it is not part of the guide to GSAs produced by the Alberta Government or Alberta Teachers Association.  (For the record the official GSA materials include suggested activities like volunteering at a soup kitchen, baking rainbow cakes, and inviting your parents to attend a GSA meeting if you’re so inclined).


The Application asserts that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms “constitutionalizes” (whatever that means) parents’ rights to protect, support and educate their children and a child’s right to be protected and supported, but fails to explain how the Charter, which makes no mention of parental or children’s rights, can be stretched to support this allegation.

It argues the requirement that schools allow kids to form GSAs infringes their parents’ freedom of religion, freedom of belief, and freedom of association, but doesn’t explain why a GSA would infringe such fundamental freedoms while a government mandated curriculum requirement to teach evolution does not.  (Did they stop teaching the Biblical version of creation?)

The Applicants argue they should have the right to opt their kids out of GSAs without acknowledging that the right to opt-out applies only to mandatory instruction if the focus is on human sexuality and religion, not voluntary participation in a club.  (Hint:  if you get credits for it, it’s a mandatory course and you can opt-out;  if you don’t get credits, it’s a club, there’s no opt-out because you’re not forced to opt-in).


The real issue is this.  The Applicants adhere to a set of “foundational beliefs” which they describe as follows:

  • People are created as male and female and God intends them to “accept their gender”
  • Individuals cannot “truly or actually” change their gender or sex
  • Marriage is the union of one man and one woman, for life, to the exclusion of all others, and so instituted by God
  • Sexual relations are intended only for within marriage
  • Departure from these “principles of God’s expressed will is morally wrong”

We understand that schools that cling to such foundational beliefs are thrown into crisis when their students ask for a GSA which, by definition, may not align with such beliefs and prove that all efforts to inculcate such beliefs in some students have failed.

However, society has moved beyond these beliefs, as evidenced by our legal right to be free from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender expression.

Rather than bash each other with arguments about clashing belief systems, let’s ask the Applicants a simple question:  If they truly believe their children have a constitutional right to be protected and supported shouldn’t they focus less on outing the kids who want to join a GSA and more on supporting them if they do.

It’s time for the Applicants to show some compassion.


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40 Responses to The Attack on Gay-Straight Alliances Continues

  1. ed henderson says:

    I support GSA’s. I do not support teachers telling their students that they may lie to their parents.

    • Douglas says:

      Teachers of all stripes, especially of teenagers, work hard at teaching knowledge and the beginnings of wisdom, whether in driving a vehicle in public or flourishing as a self sustaining social citizen. A teacher saying to a youngster, trust me, I will not out you to your parents, is what this is all about, and setting standards of teacher conduct is spot on. And supporting an internal organization where the young learn to make up their own mind in dealing with their parents, has no connection to your allusion of “lying” .

      • Well said Douglas. The ATA teachers’ guide to GSAs and QSAs is over 60 pages long and packed with helpful information to address almost any situation that might arise. It stresses the need for confidentiality because unwanted disclosures can be devastating and potentially life-threatening, but still allows the teacher to break confidentiality in order to get help for the student if he suspects the student might be suicidal or subjected to abuse. Seems pretty balanced to me.
        The ATA guide addresses GSAs in faith-based schools by turning to their foundational belief that all children are loved by God and focusing on the dignity and sanctity of life, the need to respect ALL people, the sacredness of the individual and importance of social justice. Perhaps the Applicants didn’t get the memo from on high.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      I would not consider this a lie but even if you do I wonder what is your concern with it? At this moment there is hardly a moment in our lives that is not a lie. We, the supposed adults lie way more than the kids and are forced to live in a planet infested with a completely distorted society of lies and spin. It is without a doubt one of the biggest shocks young adults face today when they start understanding the cesspool they are being thrown at.

      • Carlos, your point about “lying” is a good one. I’ll never forget watching Danielle Smith when she was the leader of the WR Opposition describe a meeting with a 16 year old girl who’d been beaten by her father and thrown out in the street when she told him she was gay. Smith was in tears in the Legislature.
        There’s a reason why the GSA legislation does not allow teachers to out gay students…it’s because the kids, and only the kids, known whether it’s safe to let their parents know or not.

    • Ed, I’m glad to hear you support GSAs. With respect to teachers telling students to lie to their parents, there’s nothing in the GSA materials prepared by the Department of Education and the Alberta Teachers Association to suggest this is an expectation.

    • GinRummy says:

      Actually Ed, the constitution clearly supports a child’s right to not discuss anything they don’t feel comfortable with their parents.
      That you have fallaciously labelled their rights a “lie” doesn’t say much about your assertion that you support gsa’s, nor your knowledge of human rights in Canada.
      Those’s rights are clearly written in the constitution based on gender identity, and nowhere does it say a parent has the right to lie to their child and tell them marriage is only between a male and female, or that the parents religious views take precedence over their child’s rights as a member of the lgbtq community.

      Here is some information to help inform you.

      • Thanks for this GinRummy. What I find interesting about all this is the parents’ argument that in order to protect and support their kids they have to be informed if the kids join GSAs without also acknowledging that gay kids often need protection from their own parents. The JCCF says “99% of parents…love and support their children unconditionally and know their children better than anyone else”. If this were true I’d like to hear the JCCF explain why gay kids have higher levels of depression than straight kids and are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. The JCCF also says the few kids at risk from their parents are protected by child protection legislation. Isn’t that a handy piece of advice, out a kid and tell him to put the number for child welfare on speed dial and you’re good to go.

  2. Sylvia Krogh says:

    Teachers aren’t going to tell students to lie to their parents.

  3. Edison says:

    “It’s time for the Applicants to show some compassion.”

    A laudable tenet and practice amongst Christians, and those of most other religions. However, a seemingly unacceptable demand to be put upon this sect by (their) God. I’m afraid there will be no conversion on the road to Damascus for this bunch anytime soon.

    To me, they are just another activist wing of a demographic with deep roots in Alberta who are perpetually angry. About what? Anything and Everything. A coalition of mean spirited ‘fellow travellers’ who find fulfillment and community only within the context of conflict, a house they are more than happy to help build.

    And now they have hit the political jackpot. Oh happy day

    • Edison, I just finished Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. It outlines the impact the Koch brothers on US politics. Notwithstanding their constant refrain that the Democrats were bad for the economy the Charles and David Koch’s personal fortunes tripled from $14B each to $42B each during the Obama years. And yet they’re as angry and bitter as ever. Charles Koch said when he was asked as a child to split a treat he’d say “I just want my fair share–which is all of it”. It’s never ending conflict until they get all of it.

  4. Bob Raynard says:

    The satisfying part of this issue is seeing how rednecks change their beliefs when a child outs him/herself. True, some parents may try to ‘cure’ their child, but many others realize that since they did everything right raising their child, and (s)he still turned out gay, maybe the rules need to be questioned.

    • Bob your comment reminded me of my parents reaction when they learned their neighbour’s son was gay. They’d always been uncomfortable with “the gays” but when they found out the kid next door (who they’d known for years) was gay it caused them to rethink the whole thing. I think it helped them see the person not the label which makes all the difference in the world.

  5. Ken says:

    It would be an interesting exercise to filter the list of applicants (and their respective churches and employers and coworkers) against items 4 and 5 of their foundational beliefs. The number of people involved would surely shrink. How many Christian churches actually still take a hard line against divorce? Revealing which “principles” these types of organizations let slide over time.

    • Excellent point Ken. It’s always interesting to see how a fundamentalist Christian community reacts when their spiritual leader is caught far from the path of God (often in the back seat of their car with a prostitute). Small time wayward pastors tend to be removed from office while famous tele-evangelists like Jim Bakker are convicted, jailed, write a book about being led astray and bingo, they’re back on the air. Incidentally Bakker’s comment about the Parkland school shooting was God came to him in a dream wearing, camouflage, a hunting vest, and an AR-15 strapped to his back and told him he (God) supported Trump’s plan to arm teachers. (!!)

  6. Sylvia Krogh says:

    T’is incredible what fundamentalists and their leaders can say to justify their beliefs, actions, dreams, president’s antics, etc. That is what would be called ‘lying’!

  7. Amen to that Sylvia! In addition to inflammatory language alleging the government is “promoting” sexual practices to children as young as five, the Application makes a point of distinguishing between “government-controlled schools” (public schools) and “independent schools” (religious schools). I didn’t understand why they used this language until a friend told me some right-wingers use the term “government-controlled schools” to invoke the memory of the residential school system as a way to prove “independent” schools are a better use of public tax dollars than public schools which by their definition are just one step removed from residential schools. It’s convoluted example of the “lying” you refer to in your comment.

    • GinRummy says:

      I find it ironic that the conservatives would do so when it’s common knowledge that the residential schools were a product of religious missionaries more so than the Canadian government.

      “The primary stated goal was to convert Indigenous children to Christianity and to civilize them.[12]

      Many of the government-operated residential schools were run by churches of various denominations, with the majority administered by Roman Catholics. Between 1867 and 1939, the number of schools operating at one time peaked at 80 in 1931. Of those schools, 44 were operated by Roman Catholics; 21 were operated by the Church of England / Anglican Church of Canada; 13 were operated by the United Church of Canada, and 2 were operated by Presbyterians.[20]:682 The approach of using established school facilities set up by missionaries was employed by the federal government for economic expedience: the government provided facilities and maintenance, while the churches provided teachers and their own lesson-planning.[21] As a result, the number of schools per denomination was less a reflection of their presence in the general population, but rather their legacy of missionary work.[20]:683”

  8. jerrymacgp says:

    Parents with just such homophobic beliefs are the very ones from whom their children’s sexual or gender identity must be withheld. If a parent is loving and accepting of their child, unconditionally as any real parent should, then there is no need for the school to tell them anything: the young person will tell them themselves, because they will feel safe doing so.

    • Agreed jerrymacgp. I wonder how much of the parents’ insistence they must be told springs from (1) the parents being unwilling to accept they can’t control what their kids are doing and/or (2) their fear they’ll be confronted in the coffee shop by a nosy neighbour who says “hey I didn’t know little Johnny is gay”. The coffee shop example is real. When the GSA issue was being debated in the Legislature, an MLA said a young person told him she was very worried about confidentiality because she’s told her guidance counselor she was gay and the next day it was all over the coffee shop.
      As you said, kids will tell their parents they’re gay when they feel safe doing so and no one should force them into this conversation before they’re ready.

  9. Bob Raynard says:

    Susan, may I tap into your legal expertise, please?

    The JCCF exists to engage in lawsuits to forward a socially conservative agenda, and presumable raise funds to fight these law suits. My question is, who pays to defend them? My assumption is the government. Can the court they are fought in dictate the JCCF to pay the government’s court cost? Do they usually do so? If not, how much are taxpayers paying to defend these lawsuits?

    Remember when conservatives used to complain about judicial activism?

  10. Carlos Beca says:

    Having the word Justice in the name of this organization is like Trump being a synonym of ethics.
    I can only imagine what is like to deal with this institution at any level. I met John Carpay once and it is a mind bending experience. He makes Jason Kenney look like a socialist.

    • Interesting comment Carlos. I note that JCCF’s donor page lists the Donner Canadian Foundations (founded by an American steel industrialist to support conservative think tanks and organizations), the Aurea Foundation (founded by Peter Munk and supports the political and economic foundations of freedom and the free market system), and the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation (supports alternative cancer treatments and an economic education that promotes the principles of the free market). This focus on “economic freedom” as a principle of democratic government fits right in with Jason Kenney’s promise to revive the conservative movement. One day I’m going to have to put together a glossary of terms so we can all understand what “economic freedom” etc really means.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        The word Freedom is not definable – for example Stephen Harper tweeted this

        ‘Congratulations to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Hungary’s Fidesz for winning a decisive fourth term! The IDU and I are looking forward to working with you.’

        Yes he is now the CEO of the ‘The International Democratic Union’ – The Freedom fighters for Democracy. 🙂

        What a darn charade this all is.

        To top it off we have the CEO of the US basically challenging the CEO of Russia to try to shoot down the missiles he intends to shower Syria with soon. The two most powerful politicians on the planet playing Russian roulette with missiles.

  11. Hi Susan, thanks for speaking to this issue in a pluralistic society. You have certainly cranked up the Alarm-O-Meter yourself with this one (nice phrase by the way). You land on one salient question: “If [the Applicants] truly believe their children have a constitutional right to be protected and supported shouldn’t they focus less on outing the kids who want to join a GSA and more on supporting them if they do?”
    Who can argue with that?
    But I do think the issue include more questions about the nature of family, state, and culture. I would offer some discordant notes to the choir that so readily sings along with you; I just think the issue is not as cut and dried as people on either side want us to believe. In contrast to your article, some of your guests descend to ad hominem arguments and prejudice against the misunderstood concerns of some parents. Thus I write about being Q in an age of discovery:

    • Rusty, I enjoyed reading your post on questioning but at points you discuss the issue in an either/or context which doesn’t apply to GSAs. For example, you note: “…some would have us think that when a child questions what gender or sexuality they are, this is to be done entirely on their own, apart from the wisdom & care of the family and village.” (I agree a child shouldn’t have to travel this journey alone. That’s why I like GSAs. They provide support in addition to, not instead of, that provided by a child’s family and village). You continue by saying “Or, conversely, if a community is to be involved, these questions are to be answered only in the context of others who have self identified in the LGBTQ communities”. (GSAs by definition include gay and straight kids).
      You mentioned this issue includes questions about the nature of family, state, and culture, I agree and like Carlos I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

      • Hi Susan, I am amused that my use of the choir metaphor might be the most offensive thing I’ve said. Not sure I can effectively say in a short space other than to note you frame your article with the notion that there is an “attack” on GSAs (for the record, I am for GSAs). The JCCF is proof of your assertion (all I know about this org is based on your article). But there is little space given to the legitimate responsibility and concern of parents. I don’t hold it against some parents to feel as if the family us under “attack”. Some comments to your article jump to label otherwise legitimate concerns as “homophobic” or dismissive of alleged religious beliefs. If different sides of this issue feel attacked, I suspect they’re in defensive posture, rather than a listening posture. I understand name-calling and prejudice that comes out of defensiveness; I just don’t think this lends itself to listening to opinions different from our own.

        I don’t believe there’s been a good (or healthy) discussion in Alberta (or the nation) about how far the state goes to influence or “intrude” on the rights/responsibilities of the family. It’s as if – on this topic especially – parents are neither welcomed to speak or to have a voice. In the mean time, I am confident the JCCF will not succeed anyways.
        Thanks, as usual, for engaging in discussion.

  12. Carlos Beca says:

    Whatever your opinion is about the issue, just say it and discuss it. You do not need to use the current tactics of ‘either with me or against me’.
    We are all done with that.

    This sentence
    ‘I would offer some discordant notes to the choir that so readily sings along with you’
    is totally unnecessary and in my opinion disrespectful. Just because you have a different opinion does not mean the rest of us are sheep.

    We all have our own minds and opinions and we do not need to sing along with Susan.

    Thank you

    • Carlos, I am saying the same thing as you re: “not being either with or against me” – that is essentially the point. I do not suggest anything remotely disrespectful to being concordant with Susan’s fine article (for those who are). That I am saying there is more to the issue in this cultural climate is not always welcomed. Further, I do not remotely suggest “the rest of anyone is sheep” – just like those with whom you might disagree. I am not entirely sure to what you are taking offence? I am attempting dialogue without subterfuge. I get it that you don’t know me or trust me, but I encourage you not to jump to conclusions I am not suggesting. Thanks.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Ok I may be jumping to conclusions and if I did I apologize but can you explain to me what you mean by

        ‘But I do think the issue include more questions about the nature of family, state, and culture. I would offer some discordant notes to the choir that so readily sings along with you’

        Thank you

    • Carlos, you made me smile, of all my readers you’re the one most likely not to sing along with Susan. That was a clever phrase by the way 🙂

  13. Sammy says:

    One of the things that this left-wing blog fails to mention is the issue of tolerance. Tolerance is an important notion in society but it goes both ways, just like free speech. It isn’t just for what we or the public as a whole agree with but what we disagree with. In this case, if parents don’t want their children joining the chess club, the track and field team, or a GSA, it’s no different and parents should never be excluded from the situation. Do we want the state raising our kids? No thanks, that’s communism.

    • Sammy, tolerance is indeed an important characteristic in civil society. Given that the status quo in the Applicant schools is no GSAs, one would think the creation of a GSA would be a non-issue for a tolerant parent like the 99% the JCCF says “love and support their children unconditionally”. It is my understanding that parents are not automatically notified by the school when their kids join the chess club or the track and field team, they sign up and tell their parents (or not) after the fact. The only reason the legislation includes a provision to protect a kid’s confidentiality is because some teachers decided they had the right to tell parents their kids were gay even if the kids didn’t want them to do so. Lastly with respect to the state raising our kids and the comparison to communism, GSAs are voluntary clubs, not a compulsory part of the curriculum, kids are not prohibited from telling their parents they’ve joined and are free to do so (or not) depending on how safe they feel about coming out.
      People need to use caution when throwing around words like “communism”. My parents lived under a communist regime and there is absolutely nothing this government is doing in this or any other legislation that can be characterized as communist.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      It does not stop amazing me how people get so excited about communism.
      Everything outside of what people think to be normal is now socialism or communism. My goodness.

      When the indigenous people were forced to be raised by state/religious schools no one in Alberta complained about it – I wonder why?

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Sammy I am sorry but I fail to understand in what way there is no tolerance in this bill.
      If a gay kid joins a GSA to get support from his colleagues and does not tell his/her parents because of being afraid of doing so, what is wrong about that? Would you prefer the kid to be spanked or even thrown out of the house because the parents do not accept him/her? I am not sure I understand in what way protecting the kid from that situation is less tolerance? Just because they are parents they do not have the right to do whatever they want. It is not a question of kids being raised by the state – it has nothing to do with that.

    • GinRummy says:

      Sammy, what you fail to understand is we are in no way going to tolerate your intolerance.

      You are trying to tell us we should ‘tolerate’ your hate, your racism, and your bigotry. You are wrong.

      You also seem to think you have to ‘tolerate’ the fact you are expected to allow other people their constitutional rights, but you are wrong again. You don’t have to tolerate the constitution, you are free to face the consequences of breaking the laws written therein.

      Finally, the fact that you compared a GSA to a chess club would seem to indicate either your moral compass is in need of tuning, or your intellect is so low you are incapable of creating an ‘informed’ opinion.

  14. GoinFawr says:

    Sammy, claiming
    “your justified intolerance of my unjustified intolerance makes you equally intolerant”
    is a ‘doublethought’, not a valid argument.

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