Progress? Anoka-Hennepin Slightly Changes Policy on Homosexuality
After 18 years of doing nothing to stop the bullying and suicides of Anoka-Hennepin school district middle and high school students, the Minnesota district has belatedly replaced its so-called “neutrality” policy, which, along with prohibiting any discussion of the existence of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, effectively prevented teachers from addressing the bullying of LGBT students.
Unfortunately, this change comes far too late for some of the district’s students, such as 15-year-old Justin Aaberg, who hung himself in his room when the anti-gay bullying and harassment became too much. The harassment of LGBT students took place frequently and sometimes even in front of teachers. When it was reported, school officials brushed it off and ignored it. As Rolling Stone reported:
The silence of adults was deafening. At Blaine High School, says alum Justin Anderson, “I would hear people calling people ‘fags’ all the time without it being addressed. Teachers just didn’t respond.” In Andover High School, when 10th-grader Sam Pinilla was pushed to the ground by three kids calling him a “faggot,” he saw a teacher nearby who did nothing to stop the assault. At Anoka High School, a 10th-grade girl became so upset at being mocked as a “lesbo” and a “sinner” – in earshot of teachers – that she complained to an associate principal, who counseled her to “lay low”; the girl would later attempt suicide. At Anoka Middle School for the Arts, after Kyle Rooker was urinated upon from above in a boys’ bathroom stall, an associate principal told him, “It was probably water.” Jackson Middle School seventh-grader Dylon Frei was passed notes saying, “Get out of this town, fag”; when a teacher intercepted one such note, she simply threw it away.
It is little wonder, then, that in such an environment, nine teenagers took their own lives within a span of two years. In the wake of this collective tragedy, we have to ask: Why did this policy exist in the first place?
In a conservative district – one that elected Michele Bachmann (whose husband runs an “ex-gay” “therapy” clinic) – anti-gay crusaders had the power to force their culture war into the schools. There, under the guise of keeping “homosexual propaganda” out of schools, they excised any validation of LGBT students while simultaneously encouraging celebrations of hate such as the so-called “Day of Truth” in which students were told to preach in schools about the “evils” of the “homosexual lifestyle.” On top of this was piled the incredible silence of school officials as both physical and verbal attacks on LGBT students took place daily.
The replacement for the “neutrality policy,” though marginally better, is questionable. According to the Associated Press: “The new policy says when contentious political, religious, social matters or economic issues come up — it does not specifically cite sexuality issues — teachers shouldn’t try to persuade students to adopt a particular viewpoint. It calls for teachers to foster respectful exchanges of views. It also says in such discussions, staff should affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”
Jezebel summarized the policy thus: “So basically teachers are supposed to uphold everybody’s ‘dignity and self-worth,’ but when debates come up about whether or not being gay is an abomination and gay relationships should be discouraged for the protection of society, they’re still not supposed to take a position.”
It is further worth noting that the Anoka-Hennepin school district still lacks an anti-bullying policy that explicitly protects LGBT students.
Surely there must have been other factors at work to prompt students to take such drastic and horrible measures to escape their suffering, but what is clear is this: The Anoka-Hennepin school board could, and should, have done more to stop bullying and harassment. School board members, administrators, and teachers have an obligation to protect the students entrusted to their care. Yet, for nearly two decades, they instead watched as children were bullied to death merely for being themselves.
They utterly failed the students of Anoka-Hennepin.
Changing the policy is not enough—in their words and actions, school officials, school board members, parents, and students have a moral obligation to undo the anti-gay climate they played a hand in creating.
Image courtesy of MSNBC.com