14 September 2011

How Many Will Be Too Many?

The Anoka-Hennepin school district in Minnesota got a name for itself in Fall 2010 when Dan Savage founded the It Gets Better Project partly in response to the suicide of Justin Aaberg, who hanged himself at age 15 after suffering ongoing bullying because he was gay.

But that’s not all: the school has had eight student suicides in the past two years. That’s not a typo--eight student suicides in the past two years. While authorities dispute that they are related to sexual orientation, friends and family report that at least four of the students were gay.

The school district is now the subject of a civil rights lawsuit, brought by six students who say that staff and faculty fostered a hostile environment, looked the other way when bullying occurred, and that the district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” regarding sexual orientation has put the blame on victims and hampered any effort to change the bullies’ behavior.

The federal Department of Justice has also now opened a civil rights investigation into complaints about harassment of gay students.

Much of the district is represented in Congress by Michelle Bachmann, the presidential contender who says you can “pray the gay away” and whose husband has been involved in a “re-orienting” clinic, that works to convert homosexuals to heterosexuals by means of prayer and self-hatred.

The school superintendent feels caught in the middle between Democrats and Republicans, and is trying to find some common ground that everyone can agree on.

“Keeping kids safe is common ground,” he said. Tellingly, Bachmann has said that she’s skeptical about anti-bullying programs.

Among the students who brought the lawsuit, one has been urinated on in a school bathroom. Another has been bullied for having two dads. A third is called “dyke” every time the teacher turns around, and the teacher has done little or nothing to address this disruption in his or her class. Technically, he or she can’t, because of the policy of “neutrality” regarding gay sexuality. Preventing teachers and staff from correcting aggressive and hateful behavior because of the sexual orientation of the victims is really protecting the bullies.

A group of Christian parents in the district have united to form a coalition called the Minnesota Family Council, which is supported by Bachmann. They oppose any attempts to portray gay victims of bullying in a sympathetic or positive way, even though this could change the culture of bullying at the school. That would run counter to their values. Their website even states that gay rights advocates are the cause of suicidal depression in gay teens. “When a child has been deliberately misinformed about the causes of homosexuality and told that homosexual acts are normal and natural, all hope for recovery is taken away.”

Contrast that with the sad words of Justin Aaberg’s mom, who said that she didn’t know that her seemingly happy son was suffering at the hands of bullies until after he died. Because Justin never mentioned the bullying, she asks herself now if that was “because he thought he deserved it.”

Breaks my heart that so-called God-loving folks can inflict this pain on a child.

-Maura McGurk

Maura makes artwork about issues related to the LGBT/queer/gay experience, especially gay bullying. Take a stand against gay bullying by checking out her work, liking it on Facebook, or commenting on her blog.

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