Opinion: Gay-Straight Alliance privacy in schools needs no debate

A school can be many things. An institution of higher learning, an environment of peer socialization, and the building(s) where more than half the youths’ waking hours are spent. And there is one major thing a school should not be; the potential catalyst to thoughtlessly force a student into a best case scenario awkward or, worst case scenario dangerous home life.

It should unequivocally state within the School Act that a school nor any of its staff may release to parents or other guardians the information of if a student joins their school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club.

Edmonton Public School trustees recently debated the matter at one of their meetings. But due to a non-unanimous vote to waive a notice of motion the topic will not be brought back to the table until after the Oct. 16 civic election.

In this day and age how is this event still a debate? And how can the trustees who voted to wait to speak to the matter hold their conscience clear? There’s no telling what’s really going on inside their heads but a skeptic may say they’re waiting to be re-elected before taking on such a controversial subject. It’s nice to know a career can come before the needs and safety of the students.

Students, for the most part, may still be minors but that in no way should signify their right to feel safe both at school and at home is secondary and inferior to their parents right to that knowledge.

With this potential threat of being “outed” by their school hanging over the heads of students all the good and purpose of GSAs will no longer hold any effect, as they will no longer have the potential to be the refuge or support network to those who need them most.

In less severe cases this breach of privacy could rob a child of their right to come out to family as they see fit.

More seriously it could leave students vulnerable, isolated, homeless or in danger of child abuse.

According to the Edmonton Sun article, Edmonton Public School trustee Bridget Stirling’s motion also proposed preventing school staff from referring students to any services meant to change or repair their sexual orientation or gender identity.

If schools choose to ignore these issues and act against the best interests of their young charges they had better brace themselves for the consequences.

While schools may think that by allowing parents access to GSA information is step in the right direction for LGBTQA advocacy and awareness (or they’re simply not thinking at all) the reality is even those with good intentions may sometimes actually be feeding oppression.

Schools need to take care that their policies and actions are survivor-centred by ensuring the students are not put at risk. This includes treating the wishes of the students with respect, trusting them to make their own choices, and putting their needs before the parents when it comes to GSAs.

Ignoring a student’s privacy regarding their sexual orientation, gender identity or GSA participation sends the message their needs are being invalidated and that as people they are not worthy of privacy and safety.

Schools need to carefully consider, that by opening this dialogue with the parents who, in turn, will they be silencing. The answer is those with a voice that is already systematically and consistently diminished.

And this especially needs to be taken into account given the traditional power imbalance between parents and children.

Oppression works though a top-down system, creating conditions that give more power to the oppressor and allow that power to continue to grow as the needs of victims are continually abused.

Through ambiguity, pressure and indecision, schools, which are meant to provide value and enrichment to students’ lives, cannot allow themselves to continue feeding an oppressive, harmful and dehumanizing system.

amelia.naismith@pipestoneflyer.ca