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Alberta activists demand action on queer issues

Queer Allied Network takes on Bill 44 & GRS funding cuts

BAD LAW. Activists protested the passage of Bill 44 outside the Alberta Legislature on Jun 1, 2009. Credit: Ted Kerr photo

The Edmonton-based Queer Allied Network (QAN) has given the Alberta Progressive Conservative government a “work list” of demands.

The activist group’s list highlights three issues that they say need to be “properly and respectfully dealt with for the betterment of all Albertans”:

  1. Repeal Bill 44 and introduce a new bill to revise the Alberta Human Rights Code;
  2. Reinstate gender reassignment surgery as a provincially-funded medical procedure;
  3. Revise the Education Act in a fair and equitable way.

QAN’s work list comes on the heels of what has been a tumultuous year between the Alberta government and the province’s queer community. In April the government, citing budgetary concerns, delisted funding for gender reassignment surgery.

In June the province passed Bill 44, which explicitly adds sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. However, the bill also contains Section 9 (dubbed the “opt out clause”) which allows parents to remove their children from classes on sexuality, sexual orientation or religion. Queer activists, teachers’ groups and civil libertarians opposed the clause, but the bill passed with Section 9 intact.

QAN hopes that the work list will reignite the conversation on GRS delisting and Bill 44.

“Ideally, we would love for the Alberta Legislature to seriously look at the work list and realize that it is their duty to represent and protect all citizens,” says Bethany Padfield, QAN media relations officer.

“Being a bit more realistic, knowing that the Alberta government is much more likely to ignore anything coming from the queer community, we simply want them and the larger population to be aware that we haven’t forgotten what the issues are,” she adds.

Though Bill 44 was passed into law in June, Section 9 will not come into effect until the 2010 school year, after teachers’ groups demanded more time to prepare for the changes.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Iris Evans told the Edmonton Sun that the province has no plans to re-instate GRS funding. “I have not been privy to any conversations that would change the government’s position on that,” she said.

Liberal MLA for Edmonton Center Laurie Blakemen is not surprised by Evan’s comments.

“Once a bill has been passed there is little likelihood that it will be withdrawn,” she says.

Blakeman applauds the work of QAN yet she says they might want to refocus their tactics.

“As social activists you need to pace yourself,” says Blakeman, suggesting the group could be “thinking in a broader way about how we influence public policy.”

Agreeing that media campaigns have an important place in democracy, Blakeman urges QAN to consider working on multiple levels. She suggests supporting and continuing to work with people in power who are queer-friendly.

“All forms of advocacy are legit — only when they are all are engaged does change happen,” says Blakeman. She says that advocacy done at the provincial level is best when activists know how the system works inside and out.

Melisa Brittain also thinks QAN is doing important work, but she urges them to think broadly. Brittain is one of the filmmakers behind a satirical short film that pokes fun at Bill 44. She urges QAN to consider how their work will help the homeless, the disenfranchised and those living below the poverty line.

“How can we begin to imagine changing things for those who are the most vulnerable?” asks Brittain, suggesting that policy and legislation changes have excluded some, including trans people.

Queeralliednetwork.