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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Minnesota's Largest School District Still Fails LGBT Youth

By Michael Jones -

For months, the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota has faced a bevy of criticism for a policy they keep on the books that prevents discussion about LGBT issues in the classroom. The policy has been colloquially dubbed "the neutrality policy," but make no mistake -- this policy is anything but neutral. Instead it sends the message that LGBT issues should be silenced, and it ties the hands of teachers and educators to effectively deal with issues related to sexual orientation or gender identity.
And the end result has been a toxic climate for LGBT students in the district.
A number of stories have come out of Anoka-Hennepin this past year. There was a high school same-sex couple, for instance, told that they couldn't enter a dance procession together even though they received an overwhelming number of votes from their classmates. (The couple eventually had the decision reversed, thanks to the help of local activists and groups like the National Center for Lesbian Rights. They entered their dance to thunderous cheers from their classmates.)
And of course, there have been a number of suicides in the district over the past two years, with a number of those students identifying as LGBT. For its part, the school district says they've determined that none of those suicides had anything to do with bullying or harassment.
But tell that to mothers like Tammy Aaberg, whose 15-year-old openly gay son Justin took his life in July 2010. Tammy contends that the school district has bullied LGBT kids into silence, and said last month on the podcast A Thousand Moms Talk that the school district's "neutrality" policy "puts in place a bad climate for gay students."
Last night, the Anoka-Hennepin School District's policy was in the hot seat again, as a number of parents, educators, students and community members testified about the harmful effects of squashing talk about sexual orientation and gender identity. The debate grew heated at one moment, when a conservative parent took to the floor to speak, and warn Anoka-Hennepin school board members that homosexuals will take over the school system if the "neutrality" policy is removed. For realz.
"There is a huge debate whether homosexuality is on the same plane as heterosexuality. Many, including myself, believe homosexuality is a lifestyle choice," said Laurie Thompson. "I am well aware of the national homosexual agenda to come after our kids."
Yes, this is exactly the type of sentiment that the "neutrality" policy caters to. And it's time for the policy to go.
That was a point made last month by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in an excellent piece looking at Anoka-Hennepin schools. Written by SPLC President Richard Cohen, the piece takes the school district to task for saying that they prioritize curbing bullying and harassment, while silencing and censoring LGBT students in the classroom.
"The district’s curriculum policy instructs teachers to remain 'neutral' on matters regarding sexual orientation, but that’s not what’s been happening. In reality, the fear of being at odds with this policy has prevented teachers from standing firm against bullying, regardless of the anti-bullying policies in place," Cohen writes. "Quite simply, this 'neutrality' policy is neutral in theory, one-sided in fact and dangerous in practice."
Exactly. That's why an overwhelming number of community members, students and educators appeared in person last night to tell the Anoka-Hennepin School Board that it's time for this policy to go. And that's why people continue to write the school board via email, and encourage the school board to abandon a policy that tries to define LGBT students out of existence. Add your name to this petition here, and send that very message to the Anoka-Hennepin school system.
And check out this great local coverage from CBS about last night's meeting.


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