The controversy of whether LGBT students should even exist in the Anoka-Hennepin School District has roots extending as far back as 1992. And it seems that after multiple suicides of LGBT youth, a high-profile lawsuit by 6 bullied LGBT students, a takeover by the Departments of Justice and Eduction, conservative Christians are still trying to gain ground and root out all mentions of LGBT people from the classroom and anti-bullying policies.
On Monday night, that controversy continued with conservative Christian parents claiming that Matthew Shepard was a drug-dealer whose sexual orientation had no factor in his torture and murder, and that Harvey Milk was a sexual predator who approved of mass suicide. At the heart of the latest controversy is a set of recommendations by an anti-bullying task force — put into place by the Departments of Justice and Education — that came up with 5 recommendations for creating a safe school environment.
Those recommendations included: Increase messages of kindness in the Anoka-Hennepin community, provide comprehensive communication about safety and inclusiveness for all people in our schools, increase adult presence in unstructured common places in middle schools through the use of volunteer school ambassadors, and increase awareness and acknowledgement of the variety of family structures & characteristics.
But it was Recommendation 3 that has caused outrage amongst Anoka-Hennepin’s conservative Christians. That recommendation reads:
Recommendation 3: Honor and celebrate the contributions of diverse people and families in our community, country, and world, including the LGBT community. In an effort to affirm and celebrate the diversity represented by district students, families, and employees, the Task Force recommends Anoka-Hennepin Schools recognize, affirm, and assess specific LGBT activities including, but not limited to, continuing to support student-led Gay Straight Alliance clubs; hosting school-related family nights for our diverse populations, including LGBT families and LGBT students and their parents; and creating public displays honoring LGBT history month each October beginning in 2014.
A testifier identified as “Dr. Luck,” said that “we will have to give an account to God some day,” over homosexuality.
“There is a difference of between affirming the worth of whatever family models may be present versus affirming and celebrating specific sexual behaviors. Affirming and celebrating specific sexual behaviors require making moral judgements for which we will give an account to God someday,” he said. “Recommendation 3 appears to be an immediate rush into a program designed to selectively celebrate the LGBT family model to affirm the personal worth of individuals but the school board should not feel obligated to make moral judgements on sexual orientation either for or against.”
Tim Distel, a resident of Champlin, claimed that LGBT students shouldn’t see representations of LGBT history or other positive portrayals because gay people can simply become straight:
“I’ve had a great deal of experience working with families whose children are caught up in sexual confusion. This is an area best addressed by families, churches, and counselors who are trained to advise families how to have compassion and a standard regarding sexuality. You don’t have to have one without the other. Compassion is important but you can also have standards. If this school district decided to have a policy to honor, affirm, and celebrate homosexuality, it would undermine the parental rights and the values of the majority in the school district who hold a traditional family standard regarding human sexuality. You will force teachers to honor and celebrate the homosexual lifestyle even if it conflicts with their own personal beliefs. Homosexuality is not immutable I have seen many people come out homosexuality. Janet Boynes, a good friend of mine and a former teacher in this district, lived in the lesbian lifestyle for 14 years. She walked away from homosexuality many years ago continues to
counsel and help others who are struggling and looking for help regarding their sexuality.
Recommendation number three will remove from students the choice to find a way out of homosexuality. There are many things in a young person’s early childhood that can cause same-sex attraction later on in life. Again this is something that should be addressed in the family with the assistance of those whom they choose. Please reject recommendation number three and keep this controversial social issue out of the schools. Nobody condones bullying of any kind yet I believe this, I believe this recommendation goes far beyond dealing with that topic and gets into areas it should be getting into.”
Brenda Look was concerned about an agenda:
“This is a strong demand. You are no longer settling for respect, compassion, kindness, and tolerance when you start to demand that students, staff, teachers, and administrators to honor and to celebrate, you are forcing allegiance to political and social agenda.”
Tiffany Strabala made some startling claims about Harvey Milk and Matthew Shepard:
[Jimenez’ book has been widely panned as historically inaccurate and he used literary devices not accepted in historical circles.
In the recommendation number three, it states: ‘honor and celebrate the contribution of diverse people and families on our community, country, and world including the LGBT community. I feel that we already do. The difference is that we recognize men and women of their talents and accomplishments not their sexual behavior.
Point number two: Words like affirm and celebrate. Referring to the LGBT diversity is a decision that should be left up to individuals. Why must the school district take a stand that mandates that everyone affirm and celebrate homosexuality. This discriminates against people of many faiths including the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith that believe homosexual acts are immoral. Has the anti-bullying task force conducted a survey to see if the majority of citizens in the school district wish to honor, affirm, and celebrate homosexuality and cross-dressing. Compelling citizens in this school district to
embrace immorality goes against sincerely held religious beliefs. This is coercion. It forces everyone to be advocates for the LGBT agenda.
Point number three: Continuing to support student led gay-straight alliance clubs. The school district should not emphasize support for any one club over any other club. The GSAs are to be student-led,
not supported and affirmed by the school district.
Point number four: Hosting school-related family nights for our diverse populations including
and LGBT families and LGBT students and their parents. This is an activity that should be hosted by outside groups not our school district. How many diverse family situations will we recognize
to be inclusive? Must we recognize every family arrangement even if it is not in the best interest and welfare of the children.
Lastly, point number five: Creating public displays honoring LGBT history month each October beginning in 2014. LGBT history month often teaches a twisted view of historical figures and presents false heroes to students like Matthew Shepard. His death was a tragedy but as revealed in the ‘Book of Matt’ by homosexual writer Steven Jimenez. Shepard was not a martyr for hatred against gays but instead was killed by one of his gay lovers over a drug deal gone bad.
From Think Progress: “Instead, The Book Of Matt isn’t really about Shepard at all. Rather, it’s an exceptionally shoddy attempt to prove that Shepard was killed because he was a major methamphetamine distributor who Aaron McKinney, one of the two men convicted in his death, intended to rob to pay drug debts and to feed his own habit. And most distastefully, it’s an opportunity for Jimenez to portray himself as a hero who’s stood up to political correctness.”
Strabala then claimed that Harvey Milk was a sexual predator who backed mass suicide:
“Harvey Milk is another person who is often celebrated in LGBT history month. He is held up as a hero to
young sexually confused boys. The truth however is hidden from students. Harvey milk was a
reported sexual predator of teenage boys as well as promoter of Jim Jones the man who led the massacre of hundreds in Jonestown. LGBT history is not reliable it will lead to LGBT indoctrination and undermine any true study of history.”
Aside from the controversial statements made by conservative Christians in the district, many district residents who support safe and supportive Anoka-Hennepin schools showed up to testify.
District employee Julie Blaha urged the board to support the anti-bullying task force recommendations.
“With recommendation three you have a unique opportunity to show what we have learned from our years of struggle over LGBT issues in our district.
Your ‘yes’ vote on recommendation three will demonstrate that you took our challenges and turned them into lessons that truly improve our students lives. I hope you seize this opportunity.”
District parent Melissa Thompson asked the board not to take the side of religious bigotry.
I’m here again to speak against bullying and religious bigotry in the district. I do so not just for my own kids, but for all kids who, despite all the PR and claims of progress, are still dealing with bullying and religious bigotry on an ongoing basis in our schools,” she said. “Hearing all this outrage over the recommendations that promote kindness and acceptance is really upsetting. Seeing these values attacked as bad things boggles the mind. Seeing them attacked by a member of the the very task force that drafted them is concerning.”
Thompson was referring to Parents Action League member Bryan Lindquist who also sits on the anti-bullying task force. Lindquist and PAL had previously advocated the inclusion of “ex-gay” therapists on school grounds.
Melissa Thompson continued, “The idea that a sitting task force member formed specifically to combat bullying and LGBT bias would publicly ask the school board to exclude or leave out this tiny little group of people simply because their existence is in conflict with his religious beliefs is by definition itself bullying at least according to district policy 514 sec 3 subs 2.”
“This bullying is not only being done by someone on the task force but also a current staff member with direct access to kids who wrote an awful letter to the editor in the ABC Newspapers just last Friday.”
Thompson was referring to a letter by Laurie Thompson, who frequently pens letters to the editor that condemn LGBT people. In one case saying, “Homosexual activists and their allies are aggressively targeting younger and younger children through ‘anti-bullying’ laws, policies and curricula.”
And in another, writing that LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies “violate children with sexually explicit curriculum.”
Melissa Thompson concluded, “How can you expect this community to take you at your word when you claim that you respect all kids and families when you allow bullying by your own representatives and employees. If you give into the mindset that teaching respect, acceptance, and kindness are somehow bad things by rejecting them and rejecting all of the recommendations, then you are telling bullied students in your district, you are saying, ‘Sorry kid, you can’t vote but they can.’ When is enough going to be enough. Please accept and adopt and implement all five recommendations.”
Tammy Aaberg, whose son took his own life 4 years ago after being bullied because he is gay, told the board that change in the district has been too slow.
“I’ve come before this board multiple times since my son’s death to advocate on behalf kids who are still being bullied in our schools. As a matter of fact it’s been exactly 4 years since my son died that I first came before you asking to make things better for youth. To my disappointment, I’m here again — having just rushed here from my old foster daughter’s wake who also took her life on Friday — to speak to you again.”
Aaberg noted student survey data that still shows high levels of bullying in the district.
“Bullying is still a pervasive issue in our schools and kids are suffering because of it. I’ve recently been getting an increasing number of calls from parents in the district whose kids are being targeted asking me for help since they are not getting enough support from the district,” she said. “I’ve had so many calls recently, I’ve been thinking of starting a support group for parents of bullied kids in Anoka-Hennepin because the effects are long lasting and far reaching. These parents and students have no idea what to do anymore since they aren’t getting support from the district. When a kid is being targeted it changes them and in turn affects the whole family. No one knows this better than i do.”
“I ask you to accept and adopt all five recommendation of the task force.”
Dale Davitt addressed the board children are still being bullied. “I want you guys to support all of it, 1 through 5… You really do have to do something about the bullying… These are kids! They should not have to go through the hell they go through!”
Nathan Black told stories of children he knows that have been bullied. L.A. Jones talked about his struggle coming out as a gay man and how important positive portrayals of LGBT people is to students’ mental health.
Beth Hentges, a member of the anti-bullying task force who was speaking on her own behalf, tried to dispel the misinformation and myths being spread by conservative Christian parents.
“There seems to be a lot of confusion tonight about sexual orientation or gender identity or sexual activity. Theres nothing in recommendations that say anything about sexual activity. Nothing.”
She said the recommendations mention LGBT students and families, but that’s used as an example of diversity. The recommendations apply to all students. “Many people here tonight are missing maybe the most important word in the sentence, and that’s the word ‘including.'” All we want to do is give kids — I would hope that the board would want all kids in the district to see someone that looks like them or represents them on a classroom wall, maybe not all the time but sometimes.”
The board did not vote on the recommendations, instead directing them to an administrative board for further deliberation.