The Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota is in the process of overhauling its bullying policies after a Department of Justice investigation found that it had allowed anti-LGBT harassment to persist. Despite the model plan the district has agreed to implement, it still faces the demands made by the newly anointed conservative hate group the Parents Action League (PAL), which has been largely responsible for influencing the school’s history of anti-LGBT policies. School Board Chairman Tom Heidemann responded to PAL this weekend, and though he did reject most of the group’s demands, he did not condemn them for their factual inaccuracy or offensive intent:
- SPECIAL RECOGNITION FOR BULLIES: PAL wanted a special set of resources and outreach created for “students of faith, moral conviction, ex-homosexuals, and ex-transgenders.” Heidemann responded that advocating religious points of view “would be a violation of state and federal laws,” but that the superintendent is “open to any invitations from classes or students groups that want to meet with him.”
- ACCESS FOR ANTI-GAY GROUPS: PAL wanted “pro-family” and ex-gay groups access to train the district’s counselors and other service personnel. While these groups often use religious-based pseudoscience to promote harmful “therapy” that does not effect change, Heidemann simply said the school board accepts “all students as they come to us” and listed the mental health specialists that counselors refer.
- QUESTION GLBT ADVOCACY: The conservatives at PAL want students to learn that being gay could be bad, and Heidemann pointed out that the staff development program included the resource Homosexuality (Opposing Viewpoints), a book that “provides many alternative points of view.”
- TEACH HOMOSEXUALITY AS A ‘DISORDER': Perhaps Heidemann’s strongest response to PAL: “We accept all students and we do not consider them to have a disorder if they identify as gay or support their gay friends.”
- TEACH AIDS AS “GAY-RELATED IMMUNE DEFICIENCY (GRID)”: This was undoubtedly PAL’s most despicable request, and unfortunately Heidemann does not sufficiently manage the offense. He explained that because the district’s sex education curriculum is abstinence-based, “it does not focus on specific sex acts” in discussions about sexually transmitted diseases, adding that “Anoka-Hennepin health classes address homosexuality.” PAL’s obvious anti-gay animus remains unaddressed.
The Star Tribune has provided a full copy of Heidemann’s response. While it is promising that the school is finally showing its capacity to withstand PAL’s influence, Heidemann’s reluctance to defend gay students and object to PAL’s smears suggests the process of creating an LGBT-welcoming environment in the district will be a slow one.