Administrators at Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District are none too pleased about Rolling Stone’s in-depth look at the school’s anti-gay reputation, the role of conservative Christians in fostering that reputation, and the several student suicides that exemplify it. Superintendent Dennis Carlson denounced the profile as a “brutal and distorted attack” that didn’t recognize any of the “immediate steps” that were part of the school’s response to the suicides. He also claimed that the district did not find any connection between the suicides and bullying, a sentiment also echoed in the official response offered by the district:
The article in Rolling Stone presents a grossly distorted portrayal of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, its schools, and its communities. [...]
When we learned that some teachers were confused over whether or not to intervene when witnessing bullying and harassment, the School Board and superintendent went on record stating that staff are required to intervene in all instances of bullying or harassment, if they do not they face discipline.
The district’s anti-bullying policy specifically protects sexual orientation.
None of the points made in the district’s response address the root of its problem: the “neutrality” curriculum policy that prevents teachers from discussing issues of sexual orientation. Given that most bullying is verbal, the policy makes it quite difficult for teachers and staff to interrupt homophobic harassment without talking about homosexuality, nor can any education take place about why comments like “dyke,” “faggot,” and “that’s so gay” are inappropriate. According to Tammy Aaberg, whose gay son Justin was among the students who committed suicide after experiencing severe bullying, the Rolling Stone article is “accurate,” and many students have reached out to her to echo its legitimacy.
Fortunately, the district will likely soon replace that provision with a new “Respectful Learning Environment” curriculum policy, which the teachers union has endorsed. In the meantime, Anoka-Hennepin serves as a model for how dangerous it can be when policies restrict staff from talking to students about LGBT issues or using education about those issues to help prevent bullying. As Andy Birkey points out at The American Independent, six states (Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah) have similar “No Promo Homo” laws that restrict LGBT outreach in schools, and Tennessee’s proposed “Don’t Say Gay” bill, compounded by a bill that would protect religious bullies, represents the possible expansion of harm against LGBT students.
It does not bode well for future LGBT students in Anoka-Hennepin School District that administrators are still not taking responsibility for their harmful policies and are calling exposure of that harm an “attack.”