Jason Kenney and the Secret Gay-Straight Alliance Agenda

Despite pledging to build a big tent conservative party, Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party MLAs appear to be doing their best this week to define themselves as the voice of social conservatism in Alberta. While I was convinced this new Conservative party would be disciplined enough to avoid being caught in the trap they found themselves in 2014 and again earlier this year, their actions this week suggest otherwise.

Mike Ellis MLA Calgary-West United Conservative Party

Mike Ellis

UCP opposition to Bill 24: An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, has caught the party on the wrong side of public opinion and on the wrong side of history. The bill would protect the privacy of students who decide to participate in a student-organized Gay-Straight Alliance and prevent those students to be outed to their parents by teachers or school administrators.

While introducing an amendment to Bill 24, Calgary-West UCP MLA Mike Ellis suggested GSAs could be a cover for the teaching of a covert sexual education curriculum. Ellis told the Assembly that his party “unequivocally support GSAs” but he believed the bill “deliberately or unwittingly erodes parental rights.”

“…it’s deeply disappointing that the members opposite continue to peddle dangerous conspiracy theories instead of accepting the simple fact that this is about protecting kids,” said Calgary-Hawkwood NDP MLA Michael Connolly in response to Ellis’ proposed amendment.

While Ellis did not actually use the words ‘secret gay agenda’ when suggesting GSAs could have a covert sexual education curriculum (which they do not), one of Kenney’s prominent supporters is actually saying just that.

Ted Byfield Alberta United Conservative Party

Ted Byfield

Conservative commentator and former Alberta Report publisher Ted Byfield, age 88, shared some pretty disgusting opinions  about GSAs on his blog, referring to the student-organized anti-bullying clubs as “sex clubs” designed to push a homosexual agenda.

“If my son or daughter, having reached, say, the age of ten or eleven, is lured into a school sex club, is persuaded that he or she must be homosexual, acts accordingly, acquires HIV and then AIDS and remains crippled for life, whom do I sue?” wrote Byfield. “The government, or the minister that helped bring this tragedy upon us?”

Byfield’s blog post made a powerful argument for why Bill 24 is necessary to protect LGBTQ students, wrote Postmedia columnist Graham Thomson.

I was surprised to discover the recent announcement that Byfield will be awarded a Senate 150 Medal by Edmonton Conservative Party Senator Betty Unger. The medal recipients were chosen “in recognition of their significant contributions to their communities.” According to a message on Unger’s Facebook page, the medals will be presented in a ceremony on November 14.

Michael Connolly NDP MLA Calgary Hawkwood

Michael Connolly

Despite the opposition of the UCP and some outdated conservative commentators, educators and school board trustees continue to voice their support for the NDP’s Bill 24.

Cheryl Low, chair of the Calgary Catholic School District, told the Calgary Herald that the changes included in Bill 24 align with the school division’s current procedures.

David Keohane, superintendent of the Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, told the St. Albert Gazette that his board appears to be in compliance with the new bill. “Job number one is ensuring the safety and well-being of a child while they’re at school,” Keohane told the Gazette, noting that outing a child before he or she is ready can harm them.

John Lehners, chair of the Grande Prairie Public School District, told the Grande Prairie Daily Herald Tribune that “I don’t think we’d have a lot of problems adhering to (the new requirement) because I think a lot of our policies reflect that.”

Despite school trustees from across the province voicing their support for Bill 24, Kenney argues that teachers should be allowed to decide when to inform parents when a student joins a GSA.

“We trust highly trained educators to use their professional judgment to make decisions in the best interests of children, particularly given that this policy applies to children as young as five years of age,” Kenney said in a press conference on November 2. It is unclear where Kenney found evidence that five year olds have been organizing GSAs, which seems like a fairly silly and weird claim.

The president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Greg Jeffery, says his organization supports Bill 24. Jeffery also says a lack of response by Kenney is the reason he has been unable to arrange a meeting to discuss education issues with the new UCP leader.

Perhaps the most convincing argument I have heard this week in response to Kenney’s opposition to Bill 24 came in the form of a comment on Facebook:

“I’m frustrated by the way he is using the “teachers know better than politicians” line. Actually, as a teacher, we don’t. The point of the legislation is that the student gets to decide when and to whom they come out, because that is best for the mental health of the student. I feel like he is trying to frame the issue to make himself appear that he is on the side of the teachers, when in reality, many support this bill because it supports the mental health of some of our most vulnerable students. He says he doesn’t want to out LGBTQ+ students, when mere months ago he was saying exactly that to pander to his social conservative base. So frustrating.”

Kenney’s reaction to Bill 24 this week actually surprised me. I did not expect the UCP leader to embrace a progressive agenda, but I believed a 20-year veteran of Ottawa politics would at a bare minimum take a reasonable approach to creating safe school environments for students, not, as Postmedia columnist Paula Simons tweeted this week, sound an “air raid siren of homophobia.”

11 thoughts on “Jason Kenney and the Secret Gay-Straight Alliance Agenda

  1. Kristine

    I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to read the ATA’s Guide for GSAs and QSAs in Alberta Schools. It shows why there is some concern from parents about the age of children involved as well as the educational tools that would be used. According to the Guide –

    “Although once thought of as a club for high schools only, GSAs and QSAs are quickly becoming
    more common in both junior high and elementary schools.” (Page 39)

    “Work with your GSA to develop an action plan that will help make your group an active and
    sustainable presence in your school. Your action plan might include long- and short-range goals
    and priorities. Possible activities include:

    • Genderbread Person—http://
    itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/03
    /the-genderbread-person-v2-0,

    • education on gay history and terminology
    à LGBTQ terminology—
    http://itspronouncedmetrosexual
    .com/2013/01/a-comprehensive-list-of

    -lgbtq-term-definitions
    à flag lesson—http://mashable
    .com/2014/06/13/lgbt-pride-symbols

    à history lesson—www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/
    resources/history.aspx; www
    .magazine.utoronto.ca/summer-2009/
    history-gay-lesbian-rights” (Page 35)

    https://www.teachers.ab.ca/…/PD-80-6%20GSA-QSA%20Guide…

    Reply
    1. Catherine

      And the problem with this is…?
      Learning accepted and appropriate terms for describe ones identity? Learning about a specific branch of human rights? I fail to see an issue here. I suggest you substitute a different minority for GSA. How about PoCWA (person of colour-white alliance) and then have the same lessons. Do you still object to the history and terminology activities?

      Reply
      1. Val Jobson

        Kristine is quoting bit from the teacher’s guide; the list of resources is from page 35 which does not apply specifically to elementary school age.

        Here is the actual guide dated 2016 (may have been updated since) https://www.teachers.ab.ca/SiteCollectionDocuments/ATA/Publications/Human-Rights-Issues/PD-80-6%20GSA-QSA%20Guide%202016.pdf

        From page 39
        “In primary grades students need to learn about gender stereotypes, family diversity, and acceptance of difference and the celebration of diversity. The ATA’s PRISM toolkit is an excellent resource for addressing these topics. The PRISM toolkit provides lesson plans and suggested resources with curricular links for Grades 1–6. It encourages safe and caring discussions about sexual and gender minorities. The PRISM toolkit for elementary grades is available at http://www.teachers.ab.ca. Complimentary hard copies are available upon request by calling 1-800-232-7208. ”

        On page 57ff Appendix B talks about what is age-appropriate. Did you read it, Kristine?

        Reply
  2. Fred Saub

    Ahhh, the old ‘secret agenda’. Perfect for when you’ve run out of ways to logically criticize someone’s position. Interestingly, there’s a technical term for this: a straw man.

    Reply
  3. Kyle H

    It baffles me how Kenney and the UCP managed to stumble into what is, let’s be honest, a political trap set by the NDP – though it’s still good policy.

    All they had to do was go with what Cooper said – free vote, MLAs can do vote how they wish according to their principles. You’ll get some boneheads who still vote against, and we can all point them out, but the subject will move on and be forgotten quicker than if you make a point of opposing it as a party.

    But in steps in Kenney, big wig strategist and political mastermind or whatever, who announces the party was against the bill because of reasons that don’t make a whole lot of sense if you spend a minute thinking about it. Good job, Jason! Now it’s basically in the headlines, and you ensured it would be there.

    The final mockery made out of this issue was the fact that most of the caucus members failed to vote on the bill! The UCP, after arriving at Kenney’s preferred stance on GSAs as a caucus, wink, then showed zero interest in actually taking a stand on the issue that their leader has made a fuss about. Absolute sideshow circus. NDP are laughing!

    Reply
  4. David

    Kenney is more of a social conservative than Jean or his mentor Harper (who I think didn’t feel as strongly on these issues, but looked at the social conservative vote as more of a political calculation and benefit). Kenney’s support base also seems more socially conservative, so his positions here are not entirely surprising to me. Remember, this is the guy who also avoided all major Pride Parades last year while even other PC’s and Wildrose MLA’s were going.

    Neither is Mr. Byfields statement that surprising. He is the grandfather or godfather of social conservatism in Alberta and his disciples include Kenney. Byfield spent many years in a crusade against gay rights in Alberta and Canada. At 88 while not as vocal as he was a decade or two ago, I doubt his positions and views have changed much in recent years. Of course his kids went probably finished school in the 1970’s and 1980’s, so he has no personal stake in this and probably no first hand knowledge of GSA’s either. Over the years he has been prone to extreme exaggeration in his statements, so again I am not surprised he sees “sex clubs” everywhere. I am not sure if he really believes what he says or it is just a cynical way to try and convince those who don’t know better.

    In any event, this is not our grandfathers Alberta any more and I think we have moved on even if Byfield and Kenney have not. This is exactly what some PC’s feared about Kenney. He might be very good at organizing, but with his strong base of support being social conservatives, the UCP party will tilt in that direction, whether some other Conservatives really want this or not.

    Reply

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