Bachmann’s School District Excels at Gay Bashing, Fosters Teen Suicide

By Carolyn & Jamie

In the past two years, nine teenagers in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District have committed suicide. Five students are now suing over ongoing gay bashing. The district is represented by Michele Bachmann. Coincidence? Critics think not.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is identified as a “suicide contagion” area because of the high rate of suicides and suicide attempts, involving not only students but adults.

Four of the nine incidents in the past two years were by students who were either openly gay or perceived to be. One teenager, Samantha, was involved with starting a non-school-district-approved gay-straight alliance (according to Mother Jones, her mother says she wasn’t gay herself, but wanted to create an anti-bullying environment). She was harassed and stalked and teased, and her friends have said that school staff saw it happen on more than one occasion, but didn’t do anything. Another student, Justin Aaberg, hanged himself in his room after going to a school at which the Parents Action League encouraged students to preach to gay kids and after being told, at least once, that he would go to hell for being gay.

The school district has a number of anti-gay policies. It responded to a request to create a GSA by saying that it needed to be cleared with “legal,” which is usually code for “stalling.” It had a 1990s-era policy that prohibited any and all discussion of being gay, including related information about HIV and AIDS, because it might have given people the scandalous idea it was normal or valid. The 2009 update to that policy isn’t much better, and requires teachers to be “neutral” in their responses to sexual orientation issues, including bullying, and which (in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Counsel, functions like a gag policy).

Some of the responses to issues coming from these policies have been excellent, but some have been unbelievably gross. In response to a Day of Silence held after Samantha’s suicide, some religious activists held a “Day of Truth” (since renamed the not-that-much-better “Day of Dialogue“) which essentially encourages homophobic bullying. From an “honest” and “compassionate” perspective! The Parents Action League handed out T-shirts. The head of You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International, the type of ministry that uses the phrase “homosexual indoctrination” on public radio, and that supports Bachmann, also criticized the less intolerant policy. Bachmann herself hasn’t spoken out against the district’s changes, but has gone on record several times to suggest that bullying is OK and being gay isn’t.

According to Slate, Bachmann’s critics are arguing that the combination of her nonsense-encouraged approach to bullying and her personal opposition to gay rights are what has made the Anoka-Hennepin district so deadly. Judging by their coverage of the Mother Jones article, the Washington Post blog, the Daily Mail, and NYMag, among others, support that conclusion.

However, in an interview with Salon‘s Natasha Lennary, Stuart Biegel, the author of The Right to Be Out, doesn’t agree that the district’s problems are solely Bachmann’s fault. Instead, that the problem goes beyond just one district:

“85 percent of LGBT students surveyed nationally said they’ve been bullied at school. This is not a new dynamic and not limited to what’s in Minnesota. When I was doing research for ‘The Right to Be Out,’ I came across evidence that there’s been at least 10 years of criticism of anti-bullying measures as subterfuge for gay indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, five students are actually suing the school district for ongoing gay-bashing, specifically for the “gag policy” that asks educators to delegate sexual orientation-related discussions elsewhere, regardless of context. The policy, which was adopted in early 2009, reads:

“The School District employs a diverse and talented staff committed to serving students and families from diverse backgrounds. The School District acknowledges that one aspect of that diversity regards sexual orientation. Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District-adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions. If and when staff address sexual orientation, it is important that staff do so in a respectful manner that is age-appropriate, factual, and pertinent to the relevant curriculum. Staff are encouraged to take into consideration individual student needs and refer students to the appropriate social worker or licensed school counsellor.”

The SPLC and the National Centre for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) will be in part representing the students. Kate Kendell, the executive director for NDLR, says that:

“There is something seriously wrong in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and district officials know it. In school after school, kids who are perceived as gay are harassed mercilessly until they drop out, melt down or lash back. This epidemic of harassment — unlike anything we’ve seen in neighboring districts — is plainly fueled by the district’s shameful and illegal policy singling out LGBT people and LGBT people alone for total exclusion from acknowledgement within the classroom.”

Blaming Bachmann for the state of her district is easy, because everyone likes to see someone with bigoted ideas facing evidence that they are very, very wrong. Also: she’s scary. On the other hand, earlier this month, the trial for the classmate who shot 15-year-old Larry King began. This past January, Lance Lundsten committed suicide as a result of bullying. And it will take a lot to forget about the multiple instances of gay-bullying-related suicides last fall. These things keep happening, and while any solution would be better than no solution, it’s probably time to keep criticizing Bachmann and to start criticizing other organizational levels, too.

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Carolyn is the NSFW Editor for Autostraddle.com. She is also a freelance copy editor and writer, and her work has appeared in Bitch, The Toast, Xtra!, Jezebel, and other places. Find her on twitter.

Carolyn has written 302 articles for us.

49 Comments

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    Carolyn’s laughable hit piece was was the most bizarre one of all in the ongoing anti-Bachmann jihad. Bachmann had as much to do with teen suicides anywhere as Carolyn or Obama, for that matter. Bachmann is not plagued by fabricated connections and metaphors by Team Obama media jackals like Carolyn. Just look at the polls. One wonders where Autostraddle finds these cut-and-paste “journolists” masquerading a reporters.
    7/19/11 The Public Policy Polling national poll:Bachmann 21%; Mitt Romney 20%.
    7/22/11 The Conservative Journal Poll:Bachmann 33 %; Pawlenty 13 %; Mitt Romney 12% http://www.startribune.com/politics/national/125962903.html

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    Quick correction: It’s not the Anoka-Henne district; it’s Anoka-Hennepin.

    I went to school in the neighboring district, Robbinsdale, and encountered very little anti-gay rhetoric from students, and there was a stringent anti-bullying policy. That said. The Anoka-Hennepin district has a long history of not supporting it’s queer students and GLBT student organizations. I’m so glad those five students are suing… And that I was fortuante enough to go to school elsewhere.

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      Things were good in Robbinsdale? I’m shocked. I was next door, too, in Osseo, and the one openly-gay teacher I ever had killed himself, sooo….

      I didn’t meet an openly gay student until college, except for one in high school who also killed himself. Anyone who seemed gay got the shit kicked out of them. Our one gender-ambiguous student was harassed by just about everyone–openly, in the classroom, where the teachers could hear–and no one did anything about it, as far as I knew.

      I wish I’d known more then.

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        4 investigations are underway of this school district:

        U.S. Department of Justice
        U.S. Department of Education
        Southern Poverty Law Center (hate crime experts)
        National Center for Lesbian Rights

        Sam, PLEASE contact them about the teacher and student suicides, because they need that information.

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    I went to school in that district for all 13 years of grade school. Granted, I was not out, nor aware of my soon to change sexual orientation while in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

    I was an active student in the music and theater programs in my middle and high school years, and it is safe to say that a large majority of out students were also involved in those programs. It sort of served as a GSA you could say, there was never bullying in those groups and it was more often than not celebrated. However, I do know that many of those students experienced bullying elsewhere in the school.

    To know that a place that 6 years ago I was attending has gone through such drastic changes in their GLBT support is hurtful. Not for myself, but for all of the students there who don’t feel safe. When I was at that school we won awards for our performance of the play “The Laramie Project” and had full houses in the theater full of support from teachers, students, and parents. We were also awarded for many other plays involving GLBT story lines.

    I never have voted for Michelle Bachman and am incredibly disappointed in the district for letting someone like her support them, when they have so many young lives (Many of the high schools in the district have well over 2,000 students) at stake. I hope one day someone makes her realize that she is definitely in part responsible for those students deaths, and all of the hurt going through those schools right now.

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      I spent all 13 years of my public education in the Anoka-Hennepin district.

      I am so fortunate that my experience was not as bad as it could have been. Though I wasn’t aware of my queer sexual orientation or gender identity at the time, I was still gay/trans bashed on occasion. Like you said, Chelsey, I spent a lot of time in music and arts programs, and in the Advanced Placement classes. For me, those groups weren’t like a GSA, but they didn’t harass me, either. Any time I had to mix with the rest of the school population was frustrating.

      I recognize now that I had one teacher who must either be queer or an ally, and I have such respect for the fact that she’s been able to stay in the district for as long as she has. I’m thinking about going into education, and I can hardly tolerate the idea of the Anoka-Hennepin district as a work environment.

      I had no clue until I got to college that GSAs are so common in other schools…

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        I am so glad that you also had a more positive experience as well! I had many teachers who seemed to be allies though I don’t know how many are still there. I went to Anoka High School and graduated in 2006. I just hope that the families and students get the support they need to fight this battle.

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    I just looked at the Day of Dialogue website. The homepage states, “In contrast to the whole idea of silence, this is a day that encourages open dialogue.” Missing the point?
    Day of Silence: where people are silent to bring attention to LGBT silencing.
    Day of Dialogue: where privileged people talk more from their privileged stance, and again silence LGBT students.

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      Well also, preaching at someone, which seems to be what this day is about, isn’t “dialogue.” That kind of getting words wrong reminds me of when really fundamentalist religious people talk about re-affirming their current beliefs as their “spiritual journey.” You have to be going somewhere to be on a journey! Digging in your feet is not a journey. And there has to be an exchange of ideas and questions for it to be a dialogue; one person doing all the talking and none of the listening is not a dialogue.

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      Also, it looks like that school district is being sued for homophobic policies (I haven’t done a lot of research on this yet, and the information I have right now isn’t too clear). Does anyone know of anything else being done to help the students there? I’d like to help them if I could.

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    “According to Slate, Bachmann’s critics are arguing that the combination of her nonsense-encouraged approach to bullying and her personal opposition to gay rights are what has made the Anoka-Hennepin district so deadly.”

    Honestly, I think blaming Michele Bachmann for all of the bullying and anti-LGBT bullshit happening in this district is giving her too much credit. She has certainly contributed to the homophobia and hatred but I would say it’s more important to look at the parents in this school district since they are the ones placing so much pressure on the district to stay silent and/or hostile in the face of bullying and suicide attempts. Additionally, these parents are Michele’s constituents and are the one who have kept her in office for all these years. Her district includes some very white, wealthy, privileged suburbs. That being said, it’s a very large and diverse area so there are definitely many underprivileged students at these schools.

    My brother-in-law is going to begin working as a teacher at one of the high schools in the Anoka-Hennepin district this fall and we have had many discussions about the district’s anti-LGBT policies. He wants very badly to help students there who are being bullied but faces the same confusion and fear about how far teachers can go without violating school policy. On one hand, he believes the policy is despicable and knows his duty is to help students who need it, but on the other hand, he realizes that not all teachers at this school are as open-minded, compassionate, and logical as he is. If he gets fired, he wouldn’t be able to help anyone. It’s a difficult and terrible position for a teacher to be in.

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      I agree entirely that this isn’t Bachmann’s work. I went to school in a neighboring district and shit is just as bad there, or at least it was when I was there through the ’90s and into the early 2000s. This is the bible belt, and the Anoka-Hennepin district is a mix of rural folks (enraged that the suburbs are creeping into their towns, socially and politically reactionary–that is, freakishly conservative of late) and, not just wealthy suburbs, but new-wealth suburbs where bourgeois normativity is of utmost value. Social reaching is awkward business at best, dangerous at worst.

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    I resent the subtext of this article.

    We have to encourage kids to live in spite of the bullying, at all costs. Their lives were precious. They were worth so much more than the cheap anti-Bachmann spin being peddled here.

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    hey steve, with all due respect…i don’t think its fair to take this particular article, and its aim to point out some of Bachmann’s politics, in a vacuum against the larger issue and problem of gay bullying and suicide. if you have read some of the many other articles that this website has written regarding this (and maybe you have), i don’t think anyone could claim that there is a lack of regard and focus on the enormous problem of bullying and suicide at hand.

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    This is difficult for me. I am no fan of Michelle Bachmann (and oh, do I resent the fact that she represents my state in any capacity!) but I feel like all vocally anti-gay Republican leaders are just as much to blame as Michelle Bachmann for the bullying and discrimination against GLBTQ students. Yes, Bachmann is the representative for Anoka-Hennepin, but the district’s awful policies are just as much (if not more) the fault of school principals, the district superintendent, parents, and our toxic culture of intolerance than one lone, crazy politician. I think there are much bigger issues at hand here, and blaming them all on Bachmann is giving her too much credit. I hate the woman with a passion, but I feel like the connection between her and the district’s policies isn’t quite what the article insinuates.

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      This is really true. I went to three different high schools in Minnesota’s ISD 196 and even though I wasn’t out, I don’t think that I would have experienced harassment and I never saw it being done to other kids.
      What I think is really telling is that before Bachmann was a crazy lady running for president, she was a crazy lady that represented the 52nd and the 56th districts in Minnesota’s state Senate. It’s certainly no coincidence that Anoka-Hennepin has this problem; they vote for crazy people. It’s difficult for me because I love Minnesota and I grew up here and think it’s an awesome state, but the only publicity we’ve been getting is all about Pawlenty, Bachmann and that one day it was like 120 degrees.

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    Across Minnesota for 8 years, Michele and Marcus Bachmann dehumanized, dismissed, derided, and disgraced LGBT people overall, and LGBT teens in particular.

    Anti-LGBT crusading is the foundation of Michele’s political career, and quack “ex-gay” therapy is a pillar of Marcus’ business career. It’s no surprise that they would preach in churches, speak at schools, and broadcast over the airwaves their profoundly ignorant and hateful rhetoric about LGBT people being ill, possessed, dangerous, and in need of curing. It’s no coincidence that they own and operate convenient Christian counseling clinics, ready to take in the people that they call deranged during their free, anti-LGBT marketing seminars.

    The Bachmanns’ profits are derived from the anti-LGBT industry, which they’ve cleverly harnessed for their own benefit. They know a good deal when they see one, and they seized it long ago. For years, taxpayer dollars have poured into: Michele’s legislator pay and expenses, the Bachmann’s government-sponsored home mortgage, their federally-funded farm income, and the federal and state subsidies to their quack Christian counseling clinics.

    A person is either a qualified medical/mental health professional following the latest science, or else is a spiritual advisor preaching about a religious sect’s views on the supernatural, but no person can simultaneously be beholden to both, because the scientific knowledge of the mental health profession contradicts the religious beliefs of the Christian sects. Reconciliation or compromise is impossible.

    Marcus Bachmann claims a career as a “Christian counselor” when, in fact, there is no such thing. Counseling patients while preaching Christianity is no more effective than trading stocks based on dice rolls, researching chemicals based on alchemy, navigating space travel based on a deck of astrology cards, or curing ailments based on magic spells. In fact, posing as a “Christian counselor” is both consumer fraud and medical/mental malpractice.

    For the public good, voters should replace Michele Bachmann, taxpayers should require the Bachmanns pay market mortgage rates, and taxpayers should cease paying for the profits of their farm and clinics. And state agencies should shut down every health practitioner selling “ex-gay” therapy, because the scientific record proved that it does not work, and it causes long-term harm to both patients and their families.

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    Anyone who wants a fortune told should see a clairvoyant. Anyone who wants to gamble should visit a casino. Anyone who hopes to be deceived should buy a ticket to a magic show. Anyone who wants spiritual advice should contact a religious sect. Finally, anyone wanting quality mental health care should visit a qualified, licensed, regulated, supervised professional, not a quack who pollutes the science of health with the alchemy of religion.

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      Minnesota, specifically Minneapolis actually has a HUGE Pride Parade every year. It also has one of the largest percentages by population of LGBT in the entire country! It is not the entire state! Anoka-Hennepin is also fairly close to Minneapolis/St. Paul it is in the northern suburbs :)

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