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United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney speaks to reporters the day after being elected leader of the new party in Calgary on October 29, 2017.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Alberta's United Conservatives say they won't support a proposed law that leaves it to students to decide whether to tell their parents if they join a gay-straight alliance.

Leader Jason Kenney says parents have the ultimate responsibility for their child's education, and teachers need flexibility to keep them in the loop if necessary on issues like gay-straight alliances.

Kenney, who does not have a seat in the legislature, said that stance does not effectively out gay kids to their parents.

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"Neither I nor anyone in our caucus has proposed, quote 'outing' gay kids," Kenney said Tuesday. "To suggest otherwise is offensive and dishonest."

Premier Rachel Notley said Kenney isn't prepared to stand up for the most vulnerable kids in Alberta's school system.

"I think Jason Kenney had an opportunity to show Albertans that he had changed and that he would not be trying to drag the province backwards, but he's not taking that opportunity," she said.

Gay-straight alliances are peer support clubs set up by students in schools to promote understanding and help prevent LGBTQ students from being abused or bullied.

They have become a contentious issue in Alberta given they involve religion, education, and human rights.

The former Progressive Conservative government passed a law in 2015 mandating that alliances can be created in a school if students want one.

Kenney said this past spring he believes school officials should be allowed to tell parents if their child joins a gay-straight alliance unless doing so puts a child at risk.

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Advocates say there is no way to be sure that telling a parent won't put a child at risk of family ostracism or worse.

Kris Wells, with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, said the preference is to have the family involved. It's much harder for a child to cope without the support of their family, Wells said.

"But sadly, we still know that many families continue to reject their LGBTQ children, so we have to put safety first, and that's what this bill is ultimately about."

NDP backbencher Michael Connolly, who is openly gay, told the legislature Tuesday he came out in Grade 11 to his schoolmates, but wasn't ready to tell his family.

He said it was a time of fear — that people would not accept him, that he would be ostracized.

"I really needed support," he said. "I turned to depression and thoughts of suicide.

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"This is why GSAs are important. It provides a safe place for kids to go to talk about who they are and what they're feeling."

Kenney noted that gay-straight alliances have a variety of mandates, from supporting students to engaging in social, political and learning activities. He said that means the alliances have an educational component and therefore parents are entitled to stay informed.

United Conservative education critic Mark Smith said education can happen outside the classroom — before the bell and after the bell — so parents need to be involved. He also suggested the bill is a red herring.

"I'm concerned the NDP is introducing this bill at this time as a political ploy by the government to divert attention from their disastrous economic record and ever-decreasing polling numbers," Smith told the legislature.

Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark said he will support the bill, calling it a reflection of "modern Alberta."

Liberal member David Swann said children should get to decide to whom they disclose their sexual identity but urged the two sides to work together to form a "win-win" solution for everyone.

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