This is what the “Black Brigade” wanted for Loudoun

The Anoka-Hennepin school district declined to comment on any specific incidences but denies any discrimination, maintaining that its broad anti-bullying policy is meant to protect all students.

Photo © Richard Tsong-Taatarii/Minneapolis Star Tribune/ZUMApress.com

This Rolling Stone article on the unfathomable disaster that is the Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota is an absolute must-read. If you care at all about our kids, stop what you are doing right now and read this. Forward it to the School Board, to the PTAs, to the counselors, and anyone else you can think of who might be inclined to think there could be such as thing as “neutrality” with regard to the presence of LGBT students in our schools.

And as you are reading, recall the School Board public comment sessions that dragged on for hours back in 2005, when then-Delegate Dick Black and his family instigated an assault on Loudoun County Public Schools drama departments. The policy that their cell of anti-gay activists demanded – and wanted to extend to all areas of school policy and the curriculum – was exactly what a similar cell of anti-gay activists in Anoka-Hennepin was able to achieve: A policy dictating that “homosexuality not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle.” They won that policy through a sustained campaign of lies and defamation – and getting their operatives appointed to a policy review committee.

That policy was later revised – once the School Board’s legal counsel advised that it would be hard to defend in court – to one reading: “Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions.” The language was designed by the legal department to both avoid potential lawsuits and “to appease the area’s evangelical activists.” As you will see, the revision only made things worse, because “no one could figure out what it meant.”

What it meant from the perspective of the kids is very clear, however.

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.

“You feel horrible about yourself,” remembers Dylon. “Like, why do these kids hate me so much? And why won’t anybody help me?” The following year, after Dylon was hit in the head with a binder and called “fag,” the associate principal told Dylon that since there was no proof of the incident she could take no action. By contrast, Dylon and others saw how the same teachers who ignored anti-gay insults were quick to reprimand kids who uttered racial slurs. It further reinforced the message resonating throughout the district: Gay kids simply didn’t deserve protection.

Below is some of the language the Minnesota anti-gay activists have used in public. If you were around Loudoun during that spring and summer of 2005, it may have a familiar ring. If not, you can review the sort of thing we heard and read under “Equality Loudoun reports” in this archive, and in our Hall of Shame. Understand that then-Delegate Black is now Senator Black. His family members and others who participated in that sustained verbal assault on Loudoun residents, people like Patricia Phillips of CWA, are still here and still involved in politics. Students from Patrick Henry College were again heavily involved in our local elections in November.

Religious conservatives have called GSAs “sex clubs,” and sure enough, the local religious right loudly objected to them. “This is an assault on moral standards,” read one recent letter to the community paper. “Let’s stop this dangerous nonsense before it’s too late and more young boys and girls are encouraged to ‘come out’ and practice their ‘gayness’ right in their own school’s homosexual club.”

And these are some of the things they said after eight Anoka-Hennepin students had committed suicide:

Anti-gay backlash was instant. Minnesota Family Council president Tom Prichard blogged that Justin’s suicide could only be blamed upon one thing: his gayness. “Youth who embrace homosexuality are at greater risk [of suicide], because they’ve embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle,” Prichard wrote. Anoka-Hennepin conservatives formally organized into the Parents Action League, declaring opposition to the “radical homosexual” agenda in schools. Its stated goals, advertised on its website, included promoting Day of Truth, providing resources for students “seeking to leave the homosexual lifestyle,” supporting the neutrality policy and targeting “pro-gay activist teachers who fail to abide by district policies.”

Asked on a radio program whether the anti-gay agenda of her ilk bore any responsibility for the bullying and suicides, Barb Anderson, co-author of the original “No Homo Promo,” held fast to her principles, blaming pro-gay groups for the tragedies. She explained that such “child corruption” agencies allow “quote-unquote gay kids” to wrongly feel legitimized. “And then these kids are locked into a lifestyle with their choices limited, and many times this can be disastrous to them as they get into the behavior which leads to disease and death,” Anderson said. She added that if LGBT kids weren’t encouraged to come out of the closet in the first place, they wouldn’t be in a position to be bullied.

This is the story of how a “suicide cluster” formed, and the criminal response to it by the School Board and administration, a response that continues to this day. But the vicious anti-gay bullying described here is not an isolated or unusual problem. It happens all across the country, and at an astonishing rate. Here’s yet another case in which a youth is having to resort to legal action, because his school district has for years ignored his reports of escalating bullying. The unusual thing is when such a case is reported and becomes known to the public. According to a 2009 national survey of LGBT youth by GLSEN, “nine out of ten reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and two-thirds said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are.”

Given the things that have gone on in Loudoun, the continuing behavior of some of our elected officials, and the fact that the very first action of the newly elected School Board was to delete this human rights concern from its Legislative program, is it any wonder that we feel the need to watch closely with regard to the climate and policies in Loudoun County Public Schools?

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11 Responses to This is what the “Black Brigade” wanted for Loudoun

  1. I know what it’s like to be a gay kid; I used to be one. Words cannot describe how impressed I am with students who are brave enough to come out these days. It’s disappointing to hear that even with the increased acceptance LGBT folks have gotten in the last 20 years, gay students are getting flak from what seems the most unlikely source—their peers.

    Back when I first realized I was gay, it was beyond terrifying. From 7th grade onward, I put a lot of energy into pretending I was something I wasn’t; I was always worried that someone would find out the truth. I didn’t dare tell anyone until after I was out of high school (staying closeted drove me to the brink of suicide before I finally realized there had to be a better solution and decided to stop hiding).

    Barb Anderson clearly doesn’t understand the situation and thinks that gay kids, and not bullying, is the problem. She would rather see kids dead than gay. Shame on her.

  2. Ann Robinson says:

    Ok. This nonsense has to stop… tell me what to do.

  3. Anon says:

    Barb Anderson
    [personal information removed by moderator]

  4. David says:

    I don’t know what the intent was in posting this street address – but I can’t help thinking that if the people in Minnesota who are living through this nightmare couldn’t get through to this woman, how likely is it that we can? It’s the responsibility of the school administrators and Board to dismiss the input of someone who, let’s face it, actually thinks that people are better off dead than gay. Harassing her in some way isn’t a good idea either, as tempting as that might be. That sort of thing only confirms in the twisted mind of such a person that they are the “victim” rather than the perpetrator.

    What we can do is to educate our own School Board members, since at least some of them have demonstrated through their actions that they don’t fully grasp this issue. Some of their talking points about “singling out” certain kinds of students for protection sound as if they came directly from anti-gay activist organizations, which we should assume are providing input with the intent of excluding LGBT students from anti-bullying protection. At minimum, each School Board member should be asked to read this article and discuss it with a knowledgeable constituent.

    One of the chilling things revealed here is that these policies were actually implemented in secret. No one could have gone to the public school website and found this “neutrality” policy in writing. Except for its mention within a single instance of meeting minutes, it was not published or announced. And that lack of transparency is a problem in Loudoun also, to what extent we don’t even know.

    In the Family Life curriculum (this is mandated by state law, and ours was created and adopted in the 1980s) that is available for parent preview every year, you won’t find in writing the policy that some educators will share in private: they were told that there are three things that they are not allowed to discuss with students, even if a student asks: Homosexuality, abortion, and masturbation. I kid you not. Educators are supposed to tell students that those issues are things they need to discuss with their parents. Many of them probably ignore this rule, but surely some do not.

    When the decision was made to remove the children’s book And Tango Makes Three from an elementary school library, librarians and administrators were told not to tell anyone about it. (More here.) We only learned of it because someone anonymously reported it to a local reporter. You have to wonder how many other unwritten policies and incidents like these have slipped under the radar, because someone wasn’t willing to take the risk of reporting them. Individual principals have a lot of autonomy, so we’ve seen both negative things like assemblies on abstinence by biased and unqualified presenters, and students being told, unlawfully, that they can’t have a Gay-Straight Alliance, and positive things like the support for Offsides by the Stone Bridge administration.

    What I would recommend is 1) Share this article. 2) Meet with your School Board member to discuss this, or at least let them know in writing that you are concerned and will be watching closely with regard to these issues. 3) Be vigilant and talk to other people in your school community; if you learn of anything happening that doesn’t sound right, report it so it will be known publicly and not just within that isolated school. 4) Attend committee meetings that discuss curriculum and legal issues. These are public meetings, but what goes on there isn’t necessarily reported.

  5. TMDREG says:

    I don’t know what the intent was in posting this street address [….] Harassing her in some way isn’t a good idea either, as tempting as that might be.

    @David,
    I believe the intent of posting the street address is harassment, not an attempt to get through to her. It is a common tactic of a group of internet sociopaths called Anonymous, who feel harassing someone offline (e.g., late night prank phone calls, having pizzas sent to her house, &c.) to “teach them a lesson” proves their point better than rational debate and discussion. All it really accomplishes is prove that Anonymous has zero tolerance for free speech and is no better (and in many cases even worse) than the people they are criticizing.

    Not that I am in any way excusing or agree with the reprehensible things Barb Anderson says. We live in a free country where people are allowed to say whatever they want, no matter how unpopular, but you can be sure the cowards posting this woman’s address would hypocritically cry foul if it were their home address posted and they were being harassed.

    I guess my point is that people should treat others the way they’d want to be treated, and our viewpoints are strong enough to stand on their own without engaging in Anonymous’ cowardly intimidation tactics.

  6. David says:

    I guess my point is that people should treat others the way they’d want to be treated..

    I agree wholeheartedly, and want to discourage in the strongest possible terms the criminal harassment of this woman. I don’t believe that vengeance fixes anything.

    But the commenter “Anon” doesn’t encourage anyone to do that, and doesn’t express a specific intent. I’m not going to remove the address (although I’ve thought about it), I’m going to trust people to do the right thing. Redemption is never an impossibility, and I don’t want to get in the way of a genuine miracle.

  7. TMDREG says:

    David,

    Out of curiosity, would you have left Vivianne Rutkowski’s address up if someone had posted it?

    If it’s not posted with specific intent (either reasoning with or harassing someone), then I’m confused as to what purpose leaving the information there serves.

  8. David says:

    TMDREG, that’s a good question. I think the answer would be no, because there was already a means of contacting her via her website, so posting her street address would have been obviously, to me, intended for the purpose of harassment, not communication.

    Your question also made me realize this: I was hoping this discussion might prompt Anon to come back and share with us what his or her intention was. I take it that your view is I should remove it.

  9. TMDREG says:

    David: My view is that it’s very bad form for people to go “dropping dox” on others; it shows they can’t win a online discussion based on the merits of sound reasoning and debate and instead need to bring the battle offline into meatspace. No good can come of it. Just my $0.02.

  10. David says:

    It is bad form. And although the address is public domain, I haven’t even been able to confirm that this is the same Barb Anderson. Sorry Anon, but I’m taking it down in the absence of more information.

    One thing that’s clear is that the Minnesota Family Council really doesn’t want to be contacted or examined too closely. There are no names or contact information on their website, at least not that I could see. Their contact page is disabled. So it’s unfortunate that there isn’t some other way to contact Ms. Anderson. Saying defamatory crap about other people and then hiding is also bad form, and cowardly.

  11. Elder Berry says:

    We all have to be visible and vocal for basic human rights. We can’t imitate the tactics of the other side, but we can’t let just those voices be heard.

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