A group of students in Alberta are walking out of their classes Friday — three days after Jason Kenney assumes office as the province’s new premier — to protest the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) stance on Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs).
In March, Kenney announced his party’s plans for the provincial education system, which included rolling back some protections for LGBTQ2 students. In his proposal, Kenney said a UCP government will still allow students to set up GSAs, but if teachers feel a student’s health or safety is at risk, they have the option to tell parents that their child has joined.
In response, the hashtag #QueerKidsAB made waves on social media and became Canada’s top trending topic on Twitter last month. The announcement was also met with a protest outside of the Alberta legislature. Now, a group of students in Calgary have organized a province-wide walkout in an effort to stop the new UCP government from making changes to the current system that protects LGBTQ2 students and GSAs.
We talked to Aimee, one of the organizers of Alberta School Walkout.
Walkout for awareness
Aimee, who requested that we use her first name only to avoid personal attacks and backlash on social media, says students will exit their classes, gather in front of their schools for half an hour, then return to their classes.
“At our high school, I will be making a speech that we will livestream on our Instagram account and share on our [Instagram] story highlight. All the [other] schools are welcome to make speeches if they want to,” the 16-year-old student says.
Currently, Alberta School Walkout has more than 3,000 Instagram followers. Aimee says they expect a few hundred participants.
The Alberta School Act originally required schools to inform parents when topics related to religion and sexuality were to be discussed in class, and allowed parents to pull their children from those classes. But, in 2017, former Alberta premier Rachel Notley’s government passed Bill 24, which amended parts of the Act and barred school officials from informing parents of their child’s participation in a GSA unless the student was in danger. If Kenney’s proposed plan is implemented, the province will revert to pre-2017 policies.
According to Aimee, discussions about the protest began even before the UCP’s election.
“We were discussing it and we weren’t really sure if we were serious or not,” she says. “Then on the night of the election, when the UCP was actually elected, we decided, ‘You know what, we’re actually going to [protest] and we’re going to try to make a change.’”
Why should other students support the walkout?
Aimee says people should participate if this issue is something they’re passionate about.
“If you believe that people have the right to choose when to come out and that they have the right to be safe, then this is definitely something [worth] coming out and participating in,” she says. “It’s a way to get your voice heard.”
Aimee says their group’s main motivation is keeping LGBTQ2 kids safe.
“My friends and I organized the walkout. A lot of it was for the safety of [LGBTQ2] kids because we’re not sure if they’re actually going to be in a safe situation if their parents find out [about their sexuality],” Aimee says.
“Some of our organizers are part of [LGBTQ2] communities, some of us are just allies. But either way, we know that we can never imagine having our friends put into that situation or ourselves.”