Lacombe students walk out to rise up against proposed changes with regards to GSAs

About 45 students from Lacombe Composite High School walked out of their classes Friday morning as part of a province-wide, student-led movement protesting potential changes to GSAs by the new Alberta government. (Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

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About 45 Lacombe Composite High School students walked out of their classes Friday morning, protesting possible changes regarding rules for gay-straight alliances.

The students joined thousands of others in what was a 20-minute province-wide walk out that began at 9:30 a.m. and ended promptly at 9:50 a.m.

Braving cool temperatures and weather on the verge of rain and snow, they lined the sidewalk in front of the school. They were a more subdued group than others across the province, not holding signs or breaking out into large group chants – there was just one rainbow flag – but their message was the same as their fellow students:

Don’t make changes to GSAs.

“There’s a lot of us out here that want to support GSAs and are aware GSAs save lives and as soon as we start trying to interfere with (them), there’s a lot of people that will be at risk,” said Grade 12 student Will Langille, 17. “A lot of us are trying to stand up for the people that are marginalized a little bit.”

The allowance of GSAs was first brought in through the Progressive Conservatives’ 2014 Education Act. The NDP drafted a new education law during their reign aimed at strengthening protections for LGBTQ students, which included a complete ban on informing parents of their child joining a GSA.

During the recent election campaign, Premier Jason Kenney said his party would repeal Bill 24, An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances, and replace it with Bill 10, an older, unproclaimed legislation, that would reverse the ban on parental notification which caused students concern.

“People go to GSAs as a safe place – a lot of them feel like their parents, houses aren’t a safe place where they can (show) that part of themselves and GSAs are the place where they can be themselves,” Langille said.

About 45 students from Lacombe Composite High School walked out of their classes Friday morning as part of a province-wide, student-led movement protesting potential changes to GSAs by the new Alberta government. Here, they gather together for a group photo prior to heading back to class.(Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe)

During the election campaign, Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, said the UCP’s plans weren’t going to involve “outing” gay children to parents, and confirmed they would not legislate notification, but said they did support notifying parents in such cases where a child’s safety may be at risk.

Langille said he didn’t necessarily believe that would be required in most cases.

“I think there needs to be some communication – maybe in an extreme case there can be some sort of solution worked out, but I think the majority of cases don’t call for intervention,” he said.

Red Deer-North MLA and new Education Minister Adriana LaGrange issued a statement on May 3 over the walkouts reaffirming the government’s stance.

“Our government has been very clear: we do not support mandatory parental notification or ‘outing’ of any student,” she said.

“We do strongly support efforts to make out schools in Alberta free from bullying, by providing peer support, counseling and safe spaces for all students in out province, especially those subject to bullying or prejudice because of their sexual identity.

“As minister, I do want to meet with passionate, young Albertans to understand their concerns and clarify any misunderstandings about our position. I believe  that we share the same values in wanting a strong, vibrant and inclusive education system that protects students against discrimination and bullying.”

Kenney has also said in recent media interviews that his priority will be on the economy, but students say they will keep an eye on the government and its actions in case changes to GSAs arise.

“I’ll stay informed with the decisions being made and the second I feel more action needs to be taken, I’ll definitely try and sit down in-person with Ron Orr and see what his perspective is and how to move forward  and get our (the students) voice heard,” Langille said.

Overall, he said he was pleased with the amount of students that chose to participate in the walk out.

“There was part of me that didn’t know if anyone was going to be out here, because no one explicitly said that was their intent, but maybe that’s a sign of just how sensitive this topic is,” he said. “A lot of people, maybe, don’t even feel safe saying they’re going to be partaking in this walkout.

“We’ve all come together with a common cause that even though some of us can’t vote and sometimes out voices aren’t heard, we’re taking a stand and trying, in some tangible way, to have people notice what we’re standing for and believing in.”