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Why Religious People Should Be the First To Support Gay-Straight Alliances

Recently, the Alberta Legislature voted down a motion that urged the government to support students who want to set up gay straight alliances (GSAs) in their schools.

The arguments against the motion include singling out of sexual minority students at the expense of others and that there might be "better" ways to address bullying than having GSAs.

Such arguments are not only wanting but an affront to the many Abrahamic believers who uphold human dignity and justice as the cardinal values of their respective faiths.

The GSA clubs are student led initiatives that provide safe spaces for youth regardless of factors that include religion, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Studies indicate that schools with such clubs have fewer problems that include binge drinking, car crashes, arguments with family, and suicide risk among both sexual minorities and straight students.

One of the studies indicates that two thirds of the students who experience anti-gay bullying actually identify as straight. Should it then surprise us that such clubs do not function as exclusive sexual minority spaces?

Muslims are reminded of the Prophet's teaching, "Do no harm and accept no harm". Perhaps, that explains why in Ottawa, Muslim MPP Yasir Naqvi supported gay-straight alliance clubs in schools.

Notwithstanding his point on not stalling progress over whether such clubs could be called GSAs in Catholic schools, he asserted,

'If the students want a gay-straight alliance or a peer-to-peer group to support each other, it's for them to determine, not the school.'

However, many members in the Alberta Legislature apparently do not share Naqvi's view that 'the issue of protecting kids from bullying transcends all faiths'.

Education Minister Jeff Johnson expressed his concern that, "Singling out a specific group of students in legislation, potentially at the expense of other students being forgotten, is troublesome."

He further asserted that instead of legislating for "highly effective groups like GSAs that promote acceptance, build bridges, and help fight bullying", we should "endeavour to create schools and learning environments that are accepting of all students".

Similarly, Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson stated, "In a public school, a Gay-Straight Alliance might be the perfect way to deal with this, and we support that. In a faith-based school, there might be a better way ...".

It is strange that while both Johnson and Anderson concede the effectiveness of specific groups like GSAs in combating bullying and promoting acceptance, they nonetheless feel that a vague alternative might be better.

Johnson does not provide a concrete strategy as to how an "accepting" environment will be created. Likewise, Anderson does not indicate what might be a "better way" to address the issue.

However, the Calgary Catholic School Board provided a specific alternative. The Board stated, "we look at the holistic picture and educate people through awareness weeks and things like that."

It is mind boggling to note that the year round GSA, whose effectiveness has been touted by peer-reviewed studies, is being sidelined by vague alternatives that may include an occasional awareness week.

It is disconcerting to note that even the mother of a gay son, who was barred from setting up a GSA, does not feel comfortable enough to show her face on media. If this indeed is the case then we do have a problem.

Why is it that a simple issue of having a GSA should find itself so ennobled as to be discussed before the Alberta Legislature? Clearly, those against motion 503 should stop hiding behind silly arguments to openly express their real concerns.

The whole situation is reflective of the plight of Ahmadi students in Pakistan, who are targeted on "religious" pretexts. The parallels are striking.

Following the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam is viewed as a willfully wrong choice. Ahmadis are barred from identifying themselves as Muslims or from asserting their truth. In the absence of a Charter of Rights equivalent, they find themselves persecuted by the majority that not only refuses to acknowledge the persecution but also blames the Ahmadis for their plight.

As such, when some Pakistanis make vague references to general statements on the Islamic teachings on tolerance, it really reflects the inability to properly address the issue. Johnson's insistence on creating accepting environments is not very dissimilar.

Likewise, his mention of other students is akin to someone in Pakistan downplaying the plight of Ahmadi students and faculty members by pointing out the 101 ills that plague Pakistan. Such an argument is nothing short of a red herring.

When Anderson asserts that there might be a "better" way to address the issue of bullying in faith-based schools, he does not speak for all believers.

Christians inspired by Christ's teaching, "whatever you do unto the least of my brothers you do unto me", remain absolutely firm in their conviction to stand by vulnerable sexual minority youth. Likewise, Muslims inspired by the Prophet's words, "the best of people is one from whom good accrues to humanity", staunchly support GSAs without hindrance.

A day may come when GSAs would be a thing of the past, when people truly embrace each other as fellow human beings without ifs and buts. Until then, GSAs serve as an effective avenue for sexual minority youth for whom they may make a difference between life and death. If so, believers are compelled by the higher ethical dictates of their faith to be the first in supporting GSAs.

Politicians merely reflect the viewpoints of their constituents and in this case the many believers who treat faith as an exclusive club used to browbeat others into submission.

However, it is imperative for such politicians and their constituents to reflect on Dr. Khalid Abou Fadl's wise words.

Religiously inspired hatred is in itself a form of jahiliyya (ignorance) because, fundamentally, it exploits the Divine -- the embodiment of mercy, compassion, and love ... Exploiting the authority of God to degrade and devalue others is most often a product of the twin problems of lack of critical insight into the self and lack of empathetic knowledge of the other ...

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