Protesting what they describe as “pervasive anti-gay harassment” in Minnesota’s largest school district, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a lawsuit yesterday on behalf of five students who have “faced severe anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in school.” The lawsuit challenges the neutrality policy of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, which prevents school staff from talking openly about homosexuality or LGBT issues and from intervening when they see anti-LGBT bullying; the SPLC and NCLR say the policy is “stigmatizing LGBT students — casting them as pariahs not fit to be mentioned within the school community.”
The school district and its 40,000 students lie squarely in the congressional district of presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R), whose anti-gay rhetoric (she has likened homosexuality to “personal bondage”) and financial dependence on her husband’s pray-away-the-gay clinic have provoked a strong backlash among the LGBT community.
Bachmann has declined to offer any official statement on the Anoke-Hinnepin Schools’ approach to its LGBT students, but her position on anti-bullying measures and her campaign donations both fall into line with the district’s neutrality policy. At a 2006 Minnesota Education Committee hearing on legislation mandating anti-bullying policies in schools, Bachmann questioned just what a zero-tolerance bulling policy would look like — if it would mean we should “be expecting boys to be girls:”
“I think for all us our experience in public schools is there have always been bullies, always have been, always will be. I just don’t know how we’re ever going to get to point of zero tolerance and what does it mean? […]
One question would be, ‘what would be our definition of bullying?’ Will it get to the point where we are completely stifling free speech and expression? Will it mean that, what form of behavior will there be, will we be expecting boys to be girls? What is it exactly that we’re asking for?
I don’t say that as a sexist comment, but there are just differences with boys and with girls when they’re on the playground, when they’re in the classroom.
None of us like inappropriate behavior. None of us like sassy children. But there’s just a fact of life that as we grow up, we’re kind of little barbarians when we’re two and our process as mothers and fathers is to civilize our children. I just don’t know how we can realistically expect a zero tolerance of bullying behavior.”
Listen to Rep. Bachmann’s remarks:
She later questioned whether the definition of bullying included in the bill could be “ruled unconstitutional for vagueness.”
But not only has Bachmann refused to take action against school bullying in Minnesota, one of her top donors is actively working to keep the neutrality policy in the Anoka-Hennepin schools. Barbara Anderson and her husband, George Anderson of Crown Iron Works, have donated $13,400 and $9,200, respectively, and Crown Iron Works ranked as Bachmann’s 12th largest donor over her political career with $26,850 in total contributions.
As the head of the Parents Action Initiative, Barbara Anderson has pushed the Anoka-Hennepin school district to keep its “outstanding” neutrality policy and attacked the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (a “dangerous” and “child corruption organization”) for its “homosexual propaganda.”
In a radio interview with the director of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, Anderson even blamed the anti-gay harassment plaguing the Anoka-Hennepin schools on homosexuals and LGBT advocates, warning that “homosexual behavior is one of the most hazardous behaviors that kids could get into and start practicing.”
Given that one in five of Minnesota’s gay students “has been punched, kicked or violently injured over sexual orientation,” Bachmann’s position on school bullying and her association with Anderson warrant greater attention.