Bradlee Dean doesn’t seem to be at all interested in playing down his status as a “controversial anti-gay preacher.” He made headlines last year when House Republicans in Minnesota, Michelle Bachmann’s home state and the site of a gay marriage ban battle, invited him to give the morning prayer at their session. Even aside from Dean’s past history of problematic comments, like advocating jail sentences for gays and claiming that “gay men molest an average of 117 children before they get caught,” reports at the time said that “the prayer was so offensive to many legislators that House leadership brought in the chaplain to redo the prayer.” Head of the pointedly named “You Can Run But You Cannot Hide” Ministry, which is categorized as a hate group, Dean has implied that Barack Obama isn’t a Christian, and has also argued that Muslim nations that have a death penalty for out gays are more moral than the American Christian community.
None of this is difficult information to come by, which is why it’s surprising that the administration of Iowa’s Dunkerton High School seemed to have no idea what they were getting into when they invited Dean’s Christian heavy metal band, the Junkyard Prophets, to perform at their school.
In the aftermath of the apparently horrific “performance,” the school is now scrambling to not only recover the money paid to the Junkyard Prophets but provide counseling to the students who attended it. Portions of the performance/lecture/”assembly message” have been brought forward by Jeremy Hooper of Good As You. It seems to mostly contain wildly irresponsible and unfounded “facts” about homosexuality, such as claiming that the average life span of a gay man is 42. There was also reportedly some very upsetting rhetoric around premarital sex, the correct role for a wife in a marriage, and images of aborted fetuses displayed for the audience.
A number of attendees were reported to have walked out of the program, and were jeered and mocked. A number of others left crying. A petition from students is now circulating asking that this group and ones like it be banned from the school; another petition is allegedly circulating “asking the school’s gay community to stop complaining.” It is apparent that Dean and his group have performed at Dunkerton before, but “the message was mellower then.”
Dunkerton’s administration is now looking to “move forward,” and is developing an “action plan” to that end: “…a committee of students, teachers, administration staff and parents that will screen all performers before they are welcomed to the school. The school is offering counseling for students. And the district is trying to recover the money it paid the band.” Dean and the spokesman for his ministry, Jake MacAulay, are scheduled to react to the controversy on Monday night in a “community conversation.” MacAulay told Talking Points Memo that the negative reaction has been a “shocking surprise,” which is itself a shocking surprise.
The school appears to be deeply apologetic that this event was allowed to proceed, as they should be. It’s hard to know what to take away from this story other than that some people are deeply hateful and yet bizarrely positioned with some level of sociocultural agency, and that part of a school’s (or anyone involved in caring for children’s) job is to protect kids from those people. Maybe this can serve as a lesson to people who don’t understand what all the fuss is about when it comes to safe environments in schools and the gay suicide crisis: one way to tell there’s a problem is when you can’t even invite a mediocre band to perform at your high school assembly without first having to Google its band members to make sure that none of them have ever stood in front a state legislative body and suggest that gays be incarcerated or murdered.
And it’s not just about gay students, either — it’s about the right of all students to show up to a required school assembly and still leave feeling like an inherently okay person who is safe and worthwhile, without being told that “they would have mud on their wedding dresses if they weren’t virgins.” Because what those who want the “school’s gay community to stop complaining” should remember is that unhinged, hateful rhetoric is harmful and indefensible to expose all kids to, regardless of sexual orientation. The bottom line — and what Dunkerton hopefully has a newfound understanding of — is that we owe all children better than that.