Editorial Comment

GSA Exceptionalism

It is interesting, and not entirely unamusing, to watch Laurie Blakeman turn the right wing Alberta PC’s and their righter wing Wildrose counterparts on their heads, with her bill to support Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs in schools. Unfortunately, her approach, although savagely effective, politically, in the short term, is the completely wrong way to deal with the issue in the long term. What may actually be the best approach of all is the much vilified Wildrose response to simply say, “All Albertans; no exceptions.”

That view was widely ridiculed as being something from the Cretaceous Period and even caused some of their MLAs and a riding association president to leave the party. Still, if one scrutinizes the damaging effects of making a segment of society special and exceptional, it is the only one that makes sense. No group needs to be identified as exceptional. ALL Albertans means all of us. Listing who is covered seems rather redundant, really. It’s like saying, “Everyone in Alberta, including people with hazel eyes.”

The point is that every time we bestow exceptionalism to a group, it invariably seems to do the group more harm than good. I respect these people in the public eye that ‘come out’ and courageously share their sexual orientation, but it is the same sort of mind set. A person’s sexual preferences should be irrelevant, not something to be discussed on talk shows. Only when orientation is irrelevant and not exceptional, can we say there is no homophobia. How can we forget about people’s sexual orientation when they keep talking about it?

I am aware there are statistics showing a societal benefit to these contentious GSA organizations, according to a study done by a team from the University of BC. The results of their research appear to suggest a strong correlation between the establishment of GSA organizations and  reductions in suicidal thoughts and actions amongst the school population where they exist. There was even a drop in the instances of heterosexual boys having fewer suicidal thoughts in GSA schools.

This sounds very promising and I salute those individuals and groups who are making the effort to establish these GSA clubs. My concern is that it appears we are forcing people into a situation where a person’s sexual identity becomes the focus of who they are, not all the other tidbits that, combined, make up their whole person. It is like focusing on a person’s race and making a big deal of that. The road to true acceptance of all is for all to be treated exactly the same way. No parades for them, no special days. Make one’s sexual orientation not a secret, but simply not anything worthy of discussion, much like the eye colour issue. Unfortunately, GSA’s do not do this.

An additional issue GSAs don’t address is that bullying comes in many forms. Is it bad to bully gay kids but okay if they’re heterosexual but are fat or short or have a handicap? Is it any less painful for the person being bullied if it is because of a non-sexual orientation reason?

Bullying has always been with us according to socio-anthropologists. Some suggest it is hard-wired to our psyche as a way of establishing a pecking order. That doesn’t mean we can’t try and minimize it, but let’s minimize it for all forms of bullying, no matter what the difference that is being picked on.

Another facet of the misgivings I feel about this whole GSA tempest is that I think it is a sad day when the government has to start passing legislation with regard to student clubs in our school system. Is this really the appropriate place for it?

We vote for school boards to set policies for our district’s education and we would hope they have a better sense of what is appropriate for their students than MLA’s do. If a school board applies resources to a global-anti-bullying initiative that also includes the gay community in their school, do they really need a special group just for sexual orientation? The more universal scope to general anti-bullying would be more helpful for a lot more children than those focused on only certain special groups. The message must be clear. Every human is worthy of a certain amount of respect that includes not being harassed for any perceived differences they may exhibit. This must be the goal. Being treated with dignity should be for all Albertans. Period.

Creating pockets of special Albertans spawns a number of problems on both sides of the bargain. Let’s look at how exceptionalism is working in other parts of our society. Many would suggest the First Nation community has a position of exceptionalism in our province. Everyone in Alberta has to pay taxes, except aboriginals. Everyone in our province can only hunt and fish at certain times and with certain limitations, except natives.

Exceptionalism creates a two-tiered society of the resentful on one side and the seemingly entitled on the other. This resentment regarding the entitlements does not help foster understanding between the groups. Instead it gives rise to distrust and disrespect, like suspecting someone is somehow cheating at the poker game you’re in. It also appears that giving a special interest group entitlements only fosters demands for more entitlements. Being born into a special class becomes a tool of separation of that class from the rest of society than acceptance from that society.

It seems pretty straight forward that if you want an inclusive society, it is imperative to include everyone. Singling out this group or that for special privilege is counterproductive. It creates more divisions than it tears down. Let’s tear them all down.

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