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Advocacy

statement by paediatric resident physicians on the importance of


LGBTQ2SA+ safe spaces in Alberta schools

As a group of passionate, concerned, and non-partisan paediatric resident physicians, we are asking
Albertans to support the continued provision of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs)/Queer-Straight Alliances (QSAs)
in schools across Alberta. GSAs/QSAs provide safe, inclusive, and positive spaces for LGBTQ2SA+ (Lesbian, Gay,
Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Two-Spirit, and Ally) students. In light of the upcoming provincial
election on Tuesday, April 16, 2019, we request Albertans to use this opportunity to encourage their political
representatives to commit to legislation that prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of Alberta’s LGBTQ2SA+
youth.

Initiated by youth, GSAs/QSAs are supervised by a faculty advisor, and are rooted in the principles of
promoting respectful settings for students to gather and build community, while fostering strength and
resilience for youth to overcome stigma and discrimination they may face in other facets of their lives. In the
first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools, 64% of
LGBTQ2SA+ youth, and 61% of students with LGBTQ2SA+ parents, reported that they feel unsafe at school.
Research makes it clear that LGBTQ2SA+ students are more likely to feel safe in schools with GSAs/QSAs [1].
Parents/guardians, teachers, school boards, and the government each play integral roles toward ensuring that
schools are safe havens for children and youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities. There are
powerful positive impacts on the mental health, emotional health, physical health, and overall wellbeing for
youth when they feel valued and accepted for who they are.

This communication is in response to the recent announcement from the United Conservative Party
(UCP) leader Jason Kenny to bring into force the Education Act, which would replace the current School Act,
thus eliminating changes made by Rachel Notley and the National Democratic Party (NDP) under Bill 24
(established November 2017) and returning the province to the law as it was under Bill 10 (established March
2015). Although the differences in Bill 24 and Bill 10 are subtle in language, they are profound in application.
Bill 24 closed the loopholes of Bill 10 to act in support of GSAs/QSAs. Under Bill 24, should a student request a
GSA/QSA, their principal must grant one “immediately”, whereas Bill 10 had no time requirement, which
historically lead some independent schools to delay the implementation of a club [2]. Additionally, under Bill
24, private schools became subject to the same requirements as public schools with respect to the creation
and enactment of policies to affirm the rights of LGBTQ2SA+ students; Bill 10 had no such demand for private
schools.

Most notably, the fundamental change under Bill 24 was to prohibit teachers and school staff from
informing parents or guardians when a student joins a GSA/QSA. This was an essential change to ensure that
schools cannot “out” LGBTQ2SA+ kids. Although Jason Kenney said that the UCP is not proposing mandatory
parental notification, he stated it would be up to teachers to use their judgment to decide whether it is in the
best interest of a child to tell their parents that they are involved with a GSA/QSA. If Alberta were to return to
Bill 10, the confidentiality of Alberta’s LGBTQ2SA+ children and youth will be in jeopardy, which could have
significant implications for their safety and welfare and would undermine the very existence and purpose of
GSAs/QSAs.

To convey a personal perspective, Myles Nahal (18), who identifies as queer and transgender, spoke to
CBC News at a GSA/QSA support rally in Calgary, AB on March 28, 2019. He described how his involvement in
a high school GSA in Calgary helped him get to know himself without being outed to his parents. He shared:
"meeting more people who were queer and trans lightened my world for me and just really saved me." He
also revealed that: "for a lot of people in the queer community, coming out is very important and special
moment for us, and it's the one thing that we get to control--how it's done and who we come out to.” Nahal
suggests that GSAs/QSAs “empower kids to grow in their own identity so they're comfortable to come out to
their families when they are ready” [3].

As paediatric resident physicians, we are responsible for protecting and caring for one of the most
vulnerable populations in health care: children and adolescents. We believe that supporting LGBTQ2SA+ youth
is a public health imperative as evidenced by the significant and disproportional health disparities experienced
by this population in the realms of mental health, substance abuse, violence, homelessness, and suicidality.
The Canadian trans youth health survey (2013-2014) revealed that, of 114 transgender youth (ages 14-18)
surveyed in Alberta, 79% engaged in self-harm behaviour, 69% experienced sexual harassment, 41% had
attempted suicide, and 32% had run away from home [4]. A positive youth development framework can
influence a young person’s ability to overcome adversity by strengthening the protective factors in their
environment such as: supportive adults, peer groups, and engagement in school and community activities.
This survey concluded that schools and school districts should work proactively with LGBTQ2SA+ youth, their
parents/guardians, community leaders, and allied professionals to develop comprehensive policies, programs
(like GSAs/QSAs), and inclusive curriculums to create safe and welcoming school atmospheres [4].

We feel that we can contribute a valuable perspective to this conversation as, akin to teachers, we are
mandated reporters of child maltreatment and are duty bound to be the first responders to speak out and
advocate for youth when their identity and human rights are being threatened, including by the electoral
platform of any given political party. In our profession, the only grounds for breaching the circle of
confidentiality that exists within the patient-physician relationship would be if child or adolescent indicates
intent to harm themselves or others, or if there is a suspected case of abuse or neglect. It is not within our
rights to disclose a youth’s defined sexual orientation or gender identity unless the youth has provided clear
and informed consent for us to share this information. Thus, the notion of placing this responsibility onto the
shoulders of teachers could be seen as immensely problematic.

To truly do all we can to advance and protect the health and wellness of Alberta’s children and youth,
we are cognizant that our involvement transcends medical expertise and is not limited to the four walls of a
hospital or clinic. The social determinants of health are far-reaching and originate in the school and home
environments. It is in recognizing this reality that we are issuing this advocacy statement in support of a young
person’s right to privacy and confidentiality. This is aligned with the Alberta Human Rights Act, which explicitly
states that protected areas and grounds against discrimination for minors under the age of 18 include: gender
identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation [5].

We are continually inspired by the compassion, courage, and bravery of young Albertans who initiate
and participate in GSAs/QSAs. At the Calgary GSA rally on March 28, 2019, it was extremely poignant to see a
youth group (ages 8-10) holding up colourful hand-drawn signs that read: “Protect our Safe Spaces”. We urge
Alberta voters to consider the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQ2SA+ youth when voting on Tuesday, April 16th.
To the incredible children and youth of Alberta whom we are honoured and humbled to work with every day:
we see you, we support you, we respect you, we learn from you, we celebrate you, and we will stand with
you, always. Thank you for being your authentic, amazing, and vibrant selves!


Jazmyn Balfour-Boehm, HBSc, MD
Paediatric Resident, PGY-2
*Media enquiries can be directed to:
Jazmyn.Balfour-Boehm@albertahealthservices.ca (1-807-627-8360)



Ceilidh Kinlin, MD Chris Novak, MD Simone Kortbeek, MD
Paediatric Resident, PGY-1 Paediatric Resident, PGY-3 Paediatric Resident, PGY-4


Lundy Day, MD Phillip Quon, MD Jovana Milenkovic, MD
Paediatric Resident, PGY-4 Paediatric Resident, PGY-4 Paediatric Resident, PGY-1



Roopa Suppiah, MD Krystyna Ediger, MD Ellery Cunan, MD
Paediatric Resident, PGY-1 Paediatric Resident, PGY-4 Paediatric Resident, PGY-2




Robyn Buna, MD Chelsea Morin, MD Gaya Narendran, MD
Paediatric Emergency Med Fellow, PGY-4 Paediatric Resident, PGY-2 Paediatric Resident, PGY-1



Donovan Duncan, MD Dylan Ginter, MD
Meagan Roy, MD
Paediatric Resident, PGY-1 Paediatric Resident, PGY-4 Paediatric Resident, PGY-1




Stephanie Hammond, MD Sarah MacEachern, MD, PhD Alexa Geddes, MD
Paediatric Neurology Resident, PGY-1 Paediatric Resident, PGY-3 Paediatric Resident, PGY-1


Louise Ing, MD
Paediatric Resident, PGY-2

References:

[1] Taylor, C. & Peter, T., with McMinn, T.L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., Paquin, S., & Schachter,
K. (2011). p. 94. Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and
transphobia in Canadian schools. Final report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

[2] Huncar, A. “Two private schools won't comply with Alberta LGBTQ policy, says pastor” (accessed April 2,
2019).
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/two-private-schools-won-t-comply-with-alberta-lgbtq-
policy-says-pastor-1.3740138

[3] Ward, R. “Calgary LGBT advocates protest UCP plan they say would 'out' kids” (accessed March 30, 2019).
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/gay-straight-alliance-march-calgary-1.5076411
*Permission was obtained by Myles Nahal to use his story as an illustrative example in this advocacy letter

[4] Wells, K., Frohard-Dourlent H., Saewyc E., Ferguson, M., Veale J., & the Canadian Trans Youth Health
Survey Research Group. (2017). Being Safe, Being Me in Alberta: Results of the Canadian Trans Youth
Health Survey.

[5] “Protected areas and grounds under the Alberta Human Rights Act” (accessed April 1, 2019)
https://www.albertahumanrights.ab.ca/publications/bulletins_sheets_booklets/sheets/history_and_in
fo/Pages/protected_areas_grounds.aspx