Why GSAs matter and why Alberta’s right has it wrong

Jason Kenney has stepped into the GSA controversy in Alberta again, and is predictably facing another backlash. He just doesn’t seem to be able to restrain himself when it comes to his desire to out kids.

This is a deeply personal matter for me as a member of the LGBTQ community. I grew up listening to my father say things along the lines of “no fags would be living in this household” and “I hope you don’t turn out like your uncle Mickey.”

I knew from the age of 3 that I had same sex attraction, in fact it is the second thing I remember in my life, after receiving a red and white tricycle for my third birthday and riding it up and down the hallways of my mom’s condo.

So, in high school I pretended to be straight, cutting out the Sunshine Girl from the Edmonton Sun and dating a girl for the better part of Grade 12 (after I was threatened by co-workers that they would out me if I didn’t date her). I had a very real fear of facing backlash from friends and family about my sexuality.

It wasn’t until I was 21 and self sufficient that I finally felt comfortable to tell my parents that I was gay. Luckily my mom was phenomenal about it, and my dad had some time to mature. He didn’t talk to me about it for several months, but finally was able to come to terms with it, and is now a very accepting and involved parent, which is good because he has two gay sons. I don’t think he realizes/realized the impact his homophobia had on us as young children, even to this day.

The statistics are clear on LGBTQ youth. A study by the Williams Institute validates estimates that 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Family rejection is the leading cause of that homelessness.

There are elevated risks of suicide attempts by members of the LGB community. With several studies showing elevated risks between two and seven times the suicide attempts of straight peers:

Since the early 1990s, population-based surveys of U.S. adolescents that have included questions about sexual orientation have consistently found rates of reported suicide attempts to be two to seven times higher in high school students who identify as LGB, compared to those who describe themselves as heterosexual.


Those who face rejection from their parents also face greater odds of a suicide attempt:

Several nonrandom studies have found an association between parental rejection because of sexual orientation and higher risk of suicide attempts among LGB youth (D’Augelli, Grossman, Salter, et al., 2005D’Augelli, A. R., Grossman, A. H., Salter, N. P., Vasey, J. J., Starks, M. T.and Sinclair, K. O. 2005. Predicting the suicide attempts of lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 35(6): 646660. [Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; D’Augelli, Hershberger, & Pilkington, 2001D’Augelli, A. R., Hershberger, S. L.and Pilkington, N. W. 2001. Suicidality patterns and sexual orientation-related factors among lesbian, gay and bisexual youths. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, 31(3): 250264. [Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Remafedi et al., 1991Remafedi, G., Farrow, J. and Deisher, R.W. 1991. Risk factors for attempted suicide in gay and bisexual youth. Pediatrics, 87(6): 869875. [PubMed], [Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. and Sanchez, J. 2009. Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in White and Latino LGB young adults. Pediatrics, 123: 346352. [Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]). One study of White and Latino LGB young adults aged 21–25 (Ryan et al., 2009Ryan, C., Huebner, D., Diaz, R. and Sanchez, J. 2009. Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in White and Latino LGB young adults. Pediatrics, 123: 346352. [Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]) found that those who experienced frequent rejecting behaviors by their parents or caregivers during adolescence were over eight times more likely to report making a suicide attempt than those with accepting parents.

What all this adds up to, is that there is greater risk of homelessness, rejection, and suicide attempts for youth who are LGBTQ and who face rejection from their families.

Let me be clear; the majority of parents are wonderful, loving, supportive, and caring. But not all. And this means there is inherent risk in LGBTQ youth not being able to own and consent to the timeline for their coming out to parents.

The good parents out there will make it clear to their children that it is ok to be LGBTQ, that they will support them, and when they are ready – if they are LGBTQ – that they can disclose being so without fear. Anyone with solid parenting skills who would nurture a fragile young soul doesn’t have to have a teacher do their parenting work for them at the behest of a political decision.

One homeless, abused, or dead youth created by having their disclosure completed by a teacher, principal, or counsellor is one too many.

Having lived the fear and anxiety of watching my every word, action, and mannerisms as a young teen – I can say this was among my greatest fears as an adolescent.

If I’d had a peer support group in high school that would have given me the knowledge that I could be myself, without fear of losing my shelter and family, I would have had a much happier adolescence. This is what GSAs provide to these vulnerable youth.

And so when right wing supporters state that parents have a role to play, they are right. But when they say teachers, principals, and counsellors should be required to disclose, they are simply wrong.


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2 replies »

  1. I don’t think this was intentional, I think it was just an artifact of the source you used, but given the elevated risk of suicide among trans people, the line

    “There are elevated risks of suicide attempts by members of the LGB community. ”

    feels like the “T” is conspicuously absent in a time where many factions are seeking to erase trans people from the discourse.

    • You’re absolutely right. This study I’ve cited did not include the trans community, and so in the interest of accuracy I didn’t have them listed, and the expectation of course would be that it would be even higher.

      Not a slight or intent to erase trans voices or representation, just a function of the scope of the study I had access to.