Friday, April 06, 2018

About Carpay's Bill 24 Lawsuit

So, apparently John Carpay has managed to persuade a bunch of fear-filled people to participate in an attempt to quash GSAs in Alberta schools.

Carpay runs a Canadian version of the American ADF under the guise of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). Although the JCCF bills itself as "defending constitutional rights", it has a long history of taking up what are fundamentally defending religiously driven discrimination (which mysteriously overwhelmingly seems to affect Canada's LGBTQ citizens).

So, let's take a bit of a deeper look at the statement of claim the JCCF just filed in the Medicine Hat Court of Queens Bench, shall we?

Part 1:  The Applicants

Applicants As of April 6, 2018

There is a small handful of individuals, identified only by their initials, and a great long list of obviously religious organizations.  Overwhelmingly they appear to represent "Christian" schools.  This is not particularly surprising, since the loudest opposition to anything which involves LGBTQ issues is inevitably religious in its origins.  

Part 2: The Allegations

(AKA "Grounds of Application")

The first paragraph sets out a proposition regarding sexual abuse and exploitation that is only partially true, and implies that a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) is a place where such things would take place.  A GSA is a support group - a place where peers can discuss matters such as their developing sexual identity, and what it means for them as an individual.  To imply that such an environment is "open season for predators" is little more than playing on old claims of LGBTQ people being predators in the first place.  

Referring to a GSA as an "ideological sex club" is similarly intellectually dishonest, and presents the fundamental biases of the people who wrote this statement of claim.  This is emotional language, not objective, nor can it even be reasonably rendered objective.  Just what "ideology" are they claiming this is rooted in?  Is this ideology inherently pernicious?  ... and, of course, upon what basis do they make such claims?  

Oh look!  Here it comes.  The "but we're _good_ parents" argument.   Let's be absolutely clear about something here:  all parents see themselves as "good parents" - and I'm certain they believe that they are.  But, we also know from long, hard experience in the LGBTQ community that when it comes to a child having a non-heterosexual sexual orientation, or a non-cisgender identity, that these "good parents" can very quickly become very bad parents - as evidenced by the significant percentage of LGBTQ youth who are homeless.  

The second aspect of this which the parents fail to acknowledge is that their child is a developing human being capable of exercising an increasing level of autonomy as they grow.  This includes a right to reasonable levels of privacy.  GSAs are not part of the school curriculum - they are an extracurricular club.  Parents have no "right" to know what clubs their kids are participating in outside of the curricular activities.  It doesn't work that way for a good reason.  (among the reasons being the child's right to grow in safety).  

... and here we have it - the "look, there's actual harm" claim.  Except that it's not actual harm.  This claim rests on a couple of deeply problematic arguments.  First is the attempt to link autism with transgender identity.  Let's consider this for a few minutes.  Yes, there is an interesting correlation between autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and Gender Dysphoria (GD) diagnoses.  We have to remember that being autistic does not necessarily remove someone's autonomy, or ability to know their own gender identity. Correlation does not equal causation.  As noted in Turban (2018), the research in this area is far from conclusive.  
Source:  Turban, 2018 - See References

There are a good number of reasons to be deeply skeptical of what the parents are relaying in this claim.  We do not have the child's side of the story, nor do we have any indication of the nature and severity of the child's autistic symptoms or their expression of gender dysphoria.  

What we do know is that children are very sensitive to the implicit and explicit messages in the home.  If the child was unwilling to express their concerns to their parents, chances are they had reasons for it.  

The Organizational Applicants

This is perhaps the more interesting part of the claims made, and it forms much more of the basis upon which the constitutionality claims are made. 

They are free to _believe_ this all they want.  Just as they are free to believe that the earth is 6,000 years old.  These kinds of beliefs do not trump the science.  Where GSAs are concerned, the science is clear:  they are beneficial for the mental health of the students (Poteat, Calzo, & Yoshikawa, 2016; Corbitt, 2016).

Again, it is vitally important to understand that these are _beliefs_, not facts that the school organizations are pushing.  If they wish to teach these in the context of a religious studies course, I have no particular problem with it (however much I may personally disagree with the belief itself), but to use this as an argument against the changes made by Alberta's Bill 24 is deeply problematic, as it arbitrarily creates a hierarchy of rights that places the parents' religious rights above the autonomy and safety of their children.  

Objections Raised

Carpay's filing raises a laundry list of objections.  Most of which are predictable:  Bill 24 undermines parents' rights regarding their children; it creates a burden of imposition that violates religious rights and freedoms; yada yada yada ... Let's take a closer look at a few of these claims, though.  

Both of these claims are straight up nonsense.  A GSA in an elementary school is unlikely to deal with more than helping students understand and support an early transitioning child. Let's be honest, does anybody think that a 6 year old is thinking about sex - at all - unless they have been molested? (in which case, child safety comes into the mix).  The language of "inappropriate sexual and ideological" nature is the usual fear-mongering that the political right wing has engaged in regarding GSAs.  

I think it remains very important to recognize in both cases that a GSA is a student organization.  It is not part of any curriculum, nor should it be equated with sex education, for it is not part of that process either.  The right for parents to withdraw their children from sex education still remains in place.  A voluntary club is up to the student to attend (or not) as they see fit. 

Oh yes, the "resources issue".  The far right had an absolute meltdown over GSA related resources which were clearly aimed at high school age students.  The fact is that in high school is about the time that students will actually encounter some of these terms - especially LGBTQ students who may be starting to engage with the gender and sexual minority communities.  While I'm sure that some communities would be shocked by the language and descriptions, these are hardly unusual features in human sexuality.  Far better to address these kinds of topics directly with appropriate information and language that might come up rather than trying to bury it.  Someone facilitating a GSA should be prepared to deal with this kind of language - especially in high schools.  Again, it is important to remember that in lower grades, these topics are much less likely to emerge at all. 

Uhm ... no.  Again, this presupposes that the purpose of a GSA is sexual in nature.  It is not.  It is a support group.  Further, there is nothing preventing the school from creating age-specific GSAs.  At issue in Bill 24 is whether the school has the right (or power) to notify parents of a child's participation in a GSA.  

Regarding the issue of students with developmental issues, I think it is important to reflect on the comments in Turban (2018), where the discussion of an appropriate and supportive approach is fairly clear.  Just because someone has these types of issues does not change their sexuality or gender identity.  They need a safe place to discuss their feelings and experiences too.  

... and as predictable, we get the "poor, persecuted Christian" line of argument.  Here's the thing.  Being LGBTQ is not a choice, it is not something which we can magically change.  Religion, on the other hand, is a choice.  One might wonder what would happen if the children of these parents were to sue them later in life for violating their individual liberty by forcing the parents' religion on the children.  

I doubt very much that this case will go much further than perhaps a first hearing, and possibly an appeal at the provincial court level.  It seems to me that the language of the statement of claim is sufficiently vague and emotional as to render it devoid of merit.  The claims of actual harm are debatable in the extreme, and not substantiated by appropriate levels of expert content that would support them.  When the clinical literature is showing a very different picture to what is being proposed, it seems unlikely that the courts would find merit in those claims either.  


Corbitt, B. J. (2016). A qualitative exploration of schools with gay-straight alliances as learning environments for LGBTQ students

Poteat, V. P., Calzo, J. P., & Yoshikawa, H. (2016). Promoting youth agency through dimensions of Gay–Straight alliance involvement and conditions that maximize associations.Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(7), 1438-1451. doi:10.1007/s10964-016-0421-6

Turban, Jack L (2018). ""Gender Dysphoria" and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Is the Link Real?". Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (0890-8567), 57 (1), 8.

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