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.

Jay Cameron, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) and the appellant in this case, claimed tthat 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 24 that 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.