The Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota is in trouble again for it’s policy to “remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.” A new lawsuit is being brought by a group of six students who say they experienced severe bullying at school and that staff did nothing to help them. It joins a lawsuit filed in July by five current and former students who say they were harassed because of their sexual orientation and a companion suit filed last week on behalf of a lesbian student who attended a middle school in Champlin.
The lawsuit and the school’s policy is getting national attention because a certain Tea Party presidential-hopeful with a homophobic history happens to be the representative of that section of Minnesota. Michele Bachmann, deeply conservative, has made numerous anti-gay statements over the years and pushed an agenda that refuses to acknowledge LGBT rights. As recently as a few days ago, she refused to answer questions about gay rights by saying, “I’m not involved with light, frivolous matters,” continuing on with, “I’m not involved in fringe or side issues. I’m involved in serious issues.”
I am sure the LGBT students living in your district would beg to differ, Ms. Bachmann. Per the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
The earlier suit alleges that students endured slurs, getting stabbed with pencils, pushed in to walls, shoved into lockers, even being urinated on by classmates because of real or perceived sexual orientation. It claims that district and school officials’ response to such harrassment was “grossly inadequate,” and that administrators told the students in some cases to “lay low,” “ignore” the harrassment, and “stay our of people’s way.”
The Minnesota school policy stating that staff are to remain neutral on matters of sexual orientation “including but not limited to student led discussion,” is similar to policies in eight other states. Studies by the Lesbian and Straight Education Network reveal that students in those states report hearing more homophobic comments while educators do less to help. The group’s director, Eliza Byard, says, “These policies are clearly standing in the way of adults doing their job when it comes to protecting students.”
I find it deeply disturbing that teens anywhere should have to turn to the legal system to disrupt a pattern of abuse perpetrated by ignorant and intolerant classmates because school staff are actively barred via policy from promoting tolerance and understanding on the subject of sexual orientation. Especially in an area of the country that has been found to have a higher number of suicides and suicide attempts than average and a large percentage of that group is made up of gay teens. A study from 2009, via Reuters, reveals that 84% of gay, lesbian, and transgender students in Minnesota said they had been harassed or assaulted in the past year.
The district’s line has been that their anti-bullying policy is there to protect and has protected their LGBT students. But with a policy barring staff from speaking out specifically against anti-gay violence or actively leading discussions with their students to promote understanding of LGBT issues standing in direct conflict to the anti-bullying policy, it seems like ripe territory for staff to turn a blind eye.
With Bachmann’s well-known track record on the issue, I am confused how she managed to pull a win in the Straw Poll just conducted in Iowa, the only state in the Midwest that legalizes same-sex marriage. I am sure the parents of bullied LGBT teens across the country are wondering the same thing and hoping that this lawsuit will make states that employ a policy of “neutrality” on LGBT issues in public schools, and nothing more, to re-think this issue and put policies in place that will actively protect their students who often need the most help.
Photo via: © Piotr Marcinski – Fotolia.com
Disclaimer: Any opinions, political or otherwise, are solely those of the author.
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