Gay-Straight Alliances, Secrecy, and the Public Trust

The word out of Alberta about Gay-Straight Alliance clubs (GSAs) hasn’t been good of late. According to the Calgary Herald, the Alberta Court of Appeal this week heard that in at least two instances, children were taken away from school by GSA sponsors and exposed to graphic sexual material.

According to Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) and the appellant in this case, one child was taken to a GSA conference and reported that he “watched a demonstration on how to put a condom on a banana; he was given materials with a space ship shaped like a giant penis with a caption ‘explore your anus’; [and] he was given a 50-page flip book with step-by-step instructions on how to have sex, with what appears to be an older individual.”

The crucial problem being litigated here is the provision in Alberta government’s Bill 24that prohibits the school from informing parents of their child’s involvement in a GSA. But of course there are more problems coming to light. What’s the main one?

The main problem is not, in fact, that some GSA sponsors might abuse, and apparently have abused, the trust students have placed in them. Such abuse—that might well end up in actual sexual abuse—is abhorrent, of course, and it is irresponsible not to think predators won’t take advantage of these situations. Have we so quickly forgotten hockey coach Graham James and gymnastics physician Larry Nasser?

The main problem is also not that children will be see graphic sexual material, since the Internet puts it in front of them all the time—although a key difference here is that authority figures are putting it in front of them, which makes it much worse. A child might well understand that the Internet is full of unseemly and even disgusting things she should avoid. But how is she supposed to react when a teacher or other sponsor is the source? How much freedom does she have to turn away then?

Bad as these problems are, they can be remedied by the usual measures we take in public schooling. We make sure those in charge are people trained to perform this particular duty well. (We wouldn’t put a home economics teacher—no matter how sweet and no matter how good an educator—in charge of teaching kids to swim who wasn’t also a qualified lifeguard.)

And we make sure that what happens in the club or team or ensemble or troupe is thoroughly vetted in advance by stakeholding adults, including parents, so that the activity truly serves the mission of a public school serving the (whole) public.

Well, what is a GSA and what is it for? According to the website of the parent organization, GSA Network, a GSA club typically provides three services:

  • Social GSAs — Students meet and connect with other trans and queer students on campus
  • Support GSAs — Students work to create safe spaces and talk about the various issues they face in school or their broader community, such as discrimination from teachers or school administrators
  • Activist GSAs — Students take a leadership role to improve school climate through campaigns and events that raise awareness and change policies or practices in their schools.

In sum, GSAs aim to help sexually different youth, and their friends, view sexual differences right across the LGBTQ+ spectra as ethically and medically healthy and to push back against anything in the school that says otherwise.

Interestingly, however, now that GSAs are well established, they are aiming at more. Far more.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

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