A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Anoka-Henepin School District

Anti-Gay Bullying: A Matter of Life and Death

By Meghan Lalonde

Adolescence can be tough. Realizing you’re gay makes those years even tougher. It stands to reason that growing up as a gay or lesbian teenager in a conservative area that shuns homosexuals would be even harder.

It is. I know from firsthand experience.

Jamey Rodemayer. Justin Aaberg. Samantha Johnson. These are just a few names on the growing list of high school teenagers who have committed suicide due to anti-gay bullying.

For many students, teachers are a source of comfort and refuge from the daily insults in locker rooms, hallways, and cafeterias. They were for me.

But in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District – the state’s largest – four teenage students committed suicide directly due to anti-gay bullying that their teachers ignored. The teachers weren’t necessarily callous or even unkind. They were just following school policy.

The  “Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy” in effect in that school district –prohibited teachers from discussing sexual orientation with their students. Referred to unofficially as the “No Homo Promo” policy, it stated that teachers and staff must “remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.”  Teachers who violated this policy would face disciplinary action, or could even be fired.

And so gay (or suspected of being gay) students in this school district were often demeaned, ostracized, called “fags”, “dykes”, or worse. Complaints about the behavior were ignored, as teachers and school officials looked the other way or told students to deal with it on their own.

Last July, the Southern Poverty Law Center and National Center for Lesbian Rights sued on behalf of six Anoka-Hennepin students, claiming that the so-called “neutrality” policy created a hostile environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and failed to provide teachers and staff with clear guidelines regarding appropriate responses to sex and gender-based harassment.

School officials settled the lawsuit in Minneapolis on March 5 by a 5-1 vote of the board of education.

There has been some terrific coverage of the bullying (see especially this Rolling Stone article) but LASIS looks inside the situation through the prism of the law.   (more…)

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