Conservative Christian parents showed up in droves at Monday night’s meeting of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board to protest a recommendation by the district’s anti-bullying task force to increase LGBT-inclusion in the learning environment.
Anoka-Hennepin is no stranger to controversy over the well-being of LGBT students. The district had a gag order on discussing LGBT topics in the learning environment for much of the 1990s and 2000s. In 2009 and 2010, the district saw a string of suicides of LGBT students and multiple allegations of bullying and harassment against LGBT students.
Multiple LGBT students filed suit alleging a hostile learning environment, and eventually the U.S. Department of Justice joined the suit. In 2012, the district entered into a consent decree in order to settle lawsuits. The U.S. Department of Justice joined that suit and has provided oversight to the district’s anti-bullying plans which includes an anti-bullying task force made up of staff, students, and parents.
That task force has made several recommendations for the board to consider, including Recommendation #3 which calls for LGBT-inclusion. That recommendation states in part:
“Honor and celebrate the contributions of diverse people and families in our community, country and world, including the LGBT community. Recognize, affirm and assess specific LGBT activities….Continue to support student-led Gay Straight Alliance clubs…Host school-related family nights for our diverse populations … Create public displays honoring LGBT history month each October.”
But many parents called on the school board to reject the recommendation and wondered why LGBT students were being included but God, Christmas, Easter, and Jesus were not.
Jeff Kosman wondered “If we’re going to honor these [LGBT] people then we need to honor everybody
these displays that they have; very cute,” he said pointing to an example of an LGBT history month display. “But Christians, would they be able to use the displays for Christmas? With Mary, Jesus, and Joseph? On Easter would they be able to put up a cross with Jesus on the cross?”
Roger Lee wondered the same: “The LGBT grouping at best only represents less than 5 percent but in reality closer to 2 percent of the community,” he said. “78.4 percent of Americans consider themselves Christians but we cannot even speak of Christmas or Easter in the school system. Even more shocking the LGBT group is almost totally focused on issues related to sexuality and sexual orientation, a potentially dangerous topic since we are out to protect our youth. Is this wise?”
(The Column has put together a mashup of those statements here:)
Laurie Thompson, past president of the now defunct “hate group,” the Parents Action League, told the board to reject the recommendation.
“Please analyze and examine what it is this recommendation is requiring students and staff to do. It is not the school district’s role to force teachers and students to honor, celebrate, recognize, or affirm anybody whose lifestyle choices they don’t agree with no matter what they have done for society.”
Thompson complained of the “liberal assumptions on the nature of volitional homosexual practice.”
But, parents and district members did come out to support the recommendation.
Dan Rebek noted that the district still treats LGBT students and issues differently.
“From the first day of classes in this district teachers have been allowed to say that heterosexuality is good, that heterosexuals should be able to marry and that they should be able to raise children, but tomorrow in this public school district if a teacher said homosexuality is good and that homosexuals should be able to marry or have children, he or she would be disciplined.”
District parent, Melissa Thompson, told the board that it appeared to be giving preference to conservative Christian parents.
“You tell LGBT students and those with LGBT families that they are still not worthy of equality here in Anoka-Hennepin, that there is something so wrong with them that they must be hidden or not acknowledged… This fight for inclusion has been going on for decades and its being fought by many of the same folks here tonight demanding that you reject this recommendation based solely on their religious beliefs. What you don’t realize is that by buying into their fear, you deny students the opportunity to learn from one another and grow socially.”
It was the second time the board heard Recommendation #3. The first time, the board sent it to an administrative group for further discussion. Again on Tuesday, the board declined to take action instead noting that district already does everything outlined in Recommendation #3, a point testifiers on both sides disagreed with.