Two national civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit against Anoka-Hennepin School District for what they say is a failure to properly address bullying aimed at LGBT pupils due to a “gag policy” on LGBT subjects.
The Southern Poverty Law Center together with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and legal firm Faegre & Benson, LLP, has launched the suit on behalf of five students who claim they suffered severe anti-LGBT bullying and harassment while at school in the district.
The district has a unique policy relating to LGBT topics in that it instructs teachers to remain “neutral” on the subject of LGBTs, that is to say they cannot appear to affirm that being gay or trans is normal or acceptable but at the same time should not be seen to condemn pupils.
This may sound a reasonable compromise on the face of it, but while the policy does not in fact exclude mention of LGBTs in the classroom it has led to teachers remaining silent on the issue and in turn, the suit says, has meant the district has ignored pervasive and systemic anti-LGBT bullying.
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota after the school district failed to address the persistent abuse or repeal its discriminatory policy.
“There is something seriously wrong in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and district officials know it,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq. “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.”
The lawsuit charges that LGBT students and students perceived as LGBT were subjected to anti-LGBT slurs on a daily basis and were physically threatened or attacked by peers. While many of these abuses occurred in front of teachers or were reported to school officials, school personnel almost always took insufficient action to stop the abuse.
The lawsuit comes a day after Anoka-Hennepin School District officials denied any responsibility for the severe and pervasive harassment suffered by LGBT students. It was also reported on Wednesday that the district is at the center of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights because of reports of anti-gay bullying.
The lawsuit also describes numerous incidents of harassment that children are said to have suffered in the district.
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