As the contentious Bill 44 entered final reading in the Alberta Legislature, Culture Minister Lindsey Blackett was quoted saying, “This will come to pass — you guys will forget about this in another month.”
More than three months have passed and members of the Queer Allied Network (QAN) organized a protest on Sep 1, the day before school started across much of the province, to prove Blackett wrong — people have not forgotten. Bill 44 contains a provision — Section 9 — that enshrines the “parental right” to pull children from class discussions on sex, sexual orientation or religion.
Queer Albertans have been among the strongest opponents of Section 9, even though, at first glance, Bill 44 was supposed to benefit them. In a separate section within Bill 44, the Alberta government was finally fully enshrining sexual orientation into Alberta’s Human Rights Act.
Posing the question “What will students learn?” the QAN-organized protest aimed at fuelling the anger and outrage about Bill 44 says co-organizer Tam Gorzalka.
“As people are getting ready for back-to-school they are being reminded that Bill 44 affects them,” she says.
Gorzalka hopes that while activists put pressure on the Progressive Conservative government to consider repealing Section 9, the Tories can also be made responsible to provide clarity and details. “What is affected here?” asks Gorzalka about the specifics and scope of the controversial provision. “Does it refer only to curriculum or anything that the teacher says?”
Gorzalka says she has spoken to high school students across the province and many are concerned about the fate of Gay Straight Alliances, which are typically run and supervised by teachers. When Section 9 is fully implemented, Gorzalka wonders if some teachers will be too afraid to keep GSAs up and running.
The news of the protest coincided last week with Education Minister Dave Hancock publicly asking Blackett to delay Section 9 for a year so that “protocols” could be put in place to implement the changes. Just before the school year was set to begin, according to the Edmonton Journal, Blackett agreed.
“The school boards need time to streamline their process and make sure that the process that they go through is uniform,” said Blackett. “Our intention was never to create any undue hardship on them, so I think it’s a reasonable accommodation.” Blackett pledged that the bill would become law this fall, with Section 9 going into effect on Sep 1, 2010.
The protest won endorsements from prominent Albertans, including Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley, human rights lawyer Julie Lloyd, social worker and Edmonton City Council candidate Brendan Van Alstine, and transgender teacher Jan Buterman.