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.
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?