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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.

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Andy Birkey

Andy Birkey has written for a number of Minnesota and national publications. He founded Eleventh Avenue South which ran from 2002-2011, wrote for the Minnesota Independent from 2006-2011, the American Independent from 2010-2013. His writing has appeared in The Advocate, The Star Tribune, The Huffington Post, Salon, Cagle News Service, Twin Cities Daily Planet, TheUptake, Vita.mn and much more. His writing on LGBT issues, the religious right and social justice has won awards including Best Beat Reporting by the Online News Association, Best Series by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and an honorable mention by the Sex-Positive Journalism awards.

4 COMMENTS

  1. “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?” The short answer: no, never, and it’s not debatable. Prefer your kids to have a Christian influenced education, then there are institutions that do that.

    ““The LGBT grouping at best only represents less than 5 percent but in reality closer to 2 percent of the community,” [Roger Lee] said.” So then for such a small population acknowledging the contributions of the GLBTQ community is better left untold, silenced, and probably even better erased. What is amazing is that Roger Lee has an even more astonishing reason to perpetuate non-inclusivity and diversity…

    ““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?”” Probably not. The district may then have to educate about the biological risks of sex in public school. Well that is a dangerous topic isn’t it. HIV, Trich, Chlamydia, Hepatitis; why should a school ever discuss such real PUBLIC health issues? Because it’s better to have the ability to express the jolly season’s holidays of a religion that perpetuates the silencing women (and Blacks, heretics, gays, and trans folk who are nuclear bombs), and slavery; and one that incites religious upheavals like the murderous Inquisition.

    The rhetorical hypocrisy and delusion in the arguments of these folks is astonishing. Their fear is unfortunately a manifestation of an inability for acceptance. Public schools are for just that, the public. In that sphere there are people of all kinds: diversity. It should be embraced, and at the least acknowledged and defended: integrity. When kids come home with bruised self-esteem (or bodies), a new hate word learned, and an image that the bullying is acceptable- then there’s a paradoxical message emanating from the institution.

  2. Are Christian kids bullied at school to the point of self-harm or suicide because they are Christian? Are they ridiculed and made fun of because they celebrate Christmas?

  3. As an actual student of the Anoka-Hennepin school district, I have to say how truly disgusted I am by this. I thought we, as a district, as a community, as part of the human race, were better than this. Did the district NOT learn its lesson three years ago when Rolling Stone featured an article about how ungodly terrible our district is against the LGBTQ community? Just because someone is different than you DOES NOT change the fact that they are equally important and respectable in our society.

    Christianity does NOT belong in our school district or any public school district in the United States. You want your child to grow up in a Christian environment? Fine, send them to a religious school. Don’t want to pay for private schooling? Fine, but do not think just because you associate with a religious group that you are above everyone else and deserve more than any other young person. You cannot project religious affiliation into any public school beyond a club/activity/youth group. If you would like to have Easter and Christmas celebrated to its fullest, please feel free to send your child to a private school or feel free to attend a Christmas/Easter church service. Your religion does not apply to everyone, and, coincidentally, we already have Christmas and Good Friday off of school here in District 11, so I really don’t see how that applies to a school setting in the first place. Jeff Kosman’s argument about being able to display Gay History Month posters and being unable to hang religious posters is the weakest possible argument I have heard and is actually laughable. Religious projections of any kind aren’t allowed and they should not be. They haven’t been for a long time. And if he really wants posters of Jesus around the school(that he does not attend and will never attend), he would also have to accept the hanging of Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, etc displays, which I’m sure he would go ahead and complain about as well. If you do not want your children to grow up gay and refuse to acknowledge and accept that they could grow up to be gay, you should not be a parent. Plain and simple. If your ignorance and hate is so strong that you would disown your own child, please, get your life in check and get over yourself.

    “78.4% of the population” being Christian has nothing to do with schools. That’s leaving out an enormous chunk of the population and basically saying the last quarter of Americans are not worthy of being noted or of being celebrated. And actually, “white mainline Protestants (62%), white Catholics (58%), and Hispanic Catholics (56%) all favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. A majority (83%) of Jewish Americans also favor legalizing same-sex marriage” (publicreligion.org). Even more than that is the generation of young people this applies to(myself, as a junior included) are almost all completely for gay equality; this, stunningly, applies to schools as well. These people who are so caught up in their out-of-date ideas, and who, might I add, are all quite old and will never be a part of the public school district again are trying to tell us how to live? People who will never have to deal with the consequences of their actions such as these should NOT be trying to make the rules.

    I find it amusing how Elizabeth Pass open up with how we have a “diversity of families,” but then goes on to slam all of kinds of families that are not hers. “Not all family structures should be honored”? What kind of horrible person says that? A family is a family no matter what. “Not all family structures are created equal”? I’m sorry, but we are all created equal, and while some families are at a disadvantage, we are all created equal no matter what race, wealth, job, religion or sexuality you are. “Not the best arrangements for children”? Neither is being raised by hate. Neither is getting a divorce/getting remarried. Are YOU a perfect human being? No? Then I suppose you should not be honored or accepted because you are not equal. I only have one parent, and I love my dad with all my heart. It isn’t his fault that my mom is dead. We are still a big, happy family and it infuriates me that because he is a single parent, he is not honorable. He is the most honorable man in the world because he does it all on his own, just like someone with a spouse in prison or a bail-out partner might have to. As long as there is love, compassion and understanding in a family, who the parents are should not and will not ever matter.

    Your religious views have no bearing on elementary, middle and high school students. I, as a current student, refuse to be forced into any religion and its beliefs. It is unhealthy for a developing mind to be told that it’s “just a choice,” “get over it,” “you’re an abomination of my God”. Why would you scar and hurt an innocent human being that way? Getting through school is hard enough as it is without being told you’re going to Hell for simply existing. “God not Gays” is a hate crime against people whose feelings are not their fault and are not a choice. Why would someone choose to face hatred every day, ever place? Young people do not deserve to be the victims of your blind hatred and ignorance. We all deserve equality, love and protection from our schools.

    It is not a dangerous topic. Gay youth are not dangerous. Hate is dangerous. Ignorance is dangerous.

    We are all equal and we are all beautiful.

  4. […] The Anoka-Hennepin School District is no stranger to controversy over its handling of issues affecting LGBTQ students. Dating back to the early 1990s, the district — the state’s largest — has bowed to pressure from social conservatives. It implemented a policy that stated that LGBTQ issues could not be addressed by district staff. That “No Promo Homo” policy was replaced by a “neutrality policy” in the 2000s. In the early 2010s, the district found itself the target of a federal investigation and a lawsuit after several LGBTQ students sued over unsafe conditions. That resulted in a consent decree that put the district under Department of Justice oversight, yet conservative Christians still managed to steer the board away from LGBTQ equity by derailing proposed anti-bullying protections for LGBTQ students. […]

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