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Anoka-Hennepin School District Sued Over Anti-LGBT Bullying

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One student said she suffered daily verbal and physical harassment at school after classmates found out that she is a lesbian. When on numerous occasions she reported this harassment to school officials their only response, she says, was an occasional verbal reprimand for the harassers. The student dropped out of school and she even reportedly attempted suicide.

Similarly, another student mentioned in the suit reported sustained anti-LGBT bullying that lasted over two years. His school, it is alleged, told him to leave because they said they could not protect him.

Another 14-year old student spoke up this week at the press conference announcing the suit and said, “It got so bad that every day when my bus got to school I thought about hiding under one of the seats so I wouldn’t have to go in to school: so I wouldn’t be called names or pushed around, and so I wouldn’t have to hear the rumors other kids were making up about me.”

Why has this happened? The lawsuit in part blames the district’s policy on excluding talk about LGBTs in the classroom:

The school district’s gag policy, known officially as the “Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy,” prohibits staff from offering support to LGBT students or acknowledging the existence of LGBT people. It has played a significant role in encouraging the hostile anti-LGBT climate in the district, by imposing a stigma on LGBT students as pariahs, not fit to be mentioned within the school community—a message that comes across loud and clear both to LGBT students and their harassers. It has also limited the effective responses that teachers can provide when they see anti-LGBT harassment taking place.

The lawsuit asserts that the district’s gag policy and its failure to protect these students from harassment violated these students’ rights under the United States Constitution, Title IX, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

The SPLC, NCLR, and Faegre & Benson began investigating the district’s policies in 2010 after several LGBT students from the district died by suicide.

For its part, the school district has said it is “disappointed” that the lawsuit is going ahead and that it would have preferred that the NCLR and associated groups had worked with the district to improve its anti-bullying policy. That said, the district reiterated that it fully supports the sexual orientation curriculum policy as it stands.

In addition to this lawsuit, the U.S. Justice Department made it known this week that it is investigating the district over complaints of harassment. This follows at least seven young people in the district having  taken their own lives over the past two years, with a majority of those deaths attributed, at least in part, to bullying.

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Photo used under Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to John Steven Fernandez.

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15 comments

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11:34AM PDT on Aug 3, 2011

Personally I think the administrators are guilty of manslaughter for their inaction in dealing with a known issue in their school, AND THEN implementing a discriminating policy to CoverTheirOwnA .

My reasoning for this position; "the district reiterated that it fully supports the sexual orientation curriculum policy as it stands."

A policy to ignore a problem with silence is the worst form of hate/discrimination.

11:40AM PDT on Jul 26, 2011

Why can't school authorities take the position that bullying is NOT acceptable regardless of who bullies whom over what perceived difference.

2:29PM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

Bullying has, in fact, not much to do with homophobia or whatever, but has a lot to do with (feelings of) power (of the bullier) and the weaker position of the other (the bullied).

As homosexuality is still not generally accepted, the LGBT-community is a target for bullying.

Bullying has to stop, but society could also prevent bullying of LBGTs by more openly and widely accpting the LGBT part of humanity.

And no matter what you think about homosexuality, there's no reason to bully someone because of his or her sexual feelings.

RESPECT, and treat the other on terms of equality. If everybody does this, there'll be no more bullying.

10:18PM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Can someone PLEASE tell me why Hetero people are so afraid of Homo people? Well looky there even the dictionary likes Homo but not Hetero !!!Very interesting, anyway back to topic. Homophobic people are afraid someone will sneak up behind them and bugger them. Now how stupid is that? No self respecting Homo would bother with Heterosexual people! So where is this hate really coming from? Bible punchers peeking in bathrooms and bedrooms? Why bother people who are in charge of their own lives and souls? If you worry about souls I say tend to your own and leave the rest to God where it belongs.

9:27PM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

You don't have to condone homosexuality to insist that bullying be stopped.

5:55PM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Unfortunately, I've seen cases of this in my school. If this was outside of school and between adults, it would almost certainly be called harassment. The administrators and teachers, while we are advised to go to them for help, do absolutely nothing to help LGBTs who are the victims of bullying. If we can't trust our teachers, who can we trust?

2:51PM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Okay, here's the deal. If you are perceived as weak, too smart, wearing glasses, not the right color, too light or too dark within your race, short or too tall, the wrong religion, gay, etc., you are a target. And really it isn't any of those things, we are all different no matter what we believe or look like. Its about cliques - a small group of "friends" usually led by some insecure brat. Cliques always find someone or some other group to "pick on." It's the ignorant mob mentality. If the parents of these kids don't care about what they are doing, it is perceived as okay by their running amuck kids. Being gay is not the issue, it's just an excuse and a reason for them to act like every other mob (case in point, the KKK). It is up to adults, even if those adults are teachers, principals, the whole school system, to monitor this situation and stop it before it goes too far. Does Columbine sound familiar?! Who out there hasn't been bullied, punched or beat up? I grew up in the '60s, and I was chased, pushed, punched, ridiculed and for what?! Because I was tall and not the right shade, not even for my own race. I wished some adult would had helped me or a teacher who could see what was going on would stop it. How can we who have been down this road, continue to allow this to happen to, not just our children, but to children in general. This breaks my heart.

12:31PM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

@Gemma M.: "You can have different opinions on homosexuality, but bullying is simply WRONG, and it has to be fight." Couldn't have put it better myself!!

8:10AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

You can have different opinions on homosexuality, but bullying is simply WRONG, and it has to be fight.

7:40AM PDT on Jul 23, 2011

Schools are not safe and caring for anybody unless they are safe and caring for everybody -- students, teachers, other school workers and parents. Unfortunately, ignoring homophobic bullying and even blaming the victim has been an epidemic in many school systems. These students are doing all schools a favour by suing and demanding schools and school systems deal with homophobic bullying.

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