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It’s really all so predictable. At some point school administrators have to act or accept the blame for their failure to do so.

Timothy Kincaid

January 17th, 2011

We’ve all seen dating ads that say, “Looking for White, Asian, Hispanic or Middle Eastern.” Those ads don’t need to tell you who they aren’t looking for, when you read the list you know exactly what is meant. You know who need not apply, who isn’t “their type”.

And when I hear the list of who is protected from harassment and discrimination and it runs merrily on with a list of everyone but the LGBT community, I know what that means as well. No one is fooled. Especially the kids.

This is from the student/parent handbook for Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Minnesota:

E. Verbal Assaults: Verbal assaults are abusive, threatening, profane, or obscene language, oral or written, toward a staff member or another student. This includes, but is not limited to, conduct which degrades people because of their race, sex, religion, ethnic background, physical or mental handicaps.

And “the majority of violations” of policy “that occur in the schools” include:

Assaults that are abusive, threatening, profane, or obscene whether oral, visual or written, toward a staff member or another student. This includes, but is not limited to, conduct which degrades people because of their race, sex, religion, ethnic background, physical or
mental handicaps.

If it’s religious, racial or sexual assault, then the Human Rights Officer is notified. But if it’s sexual orientation or gender identity then I guess no one cares at all. Or they certainly didn’t care enough to list it in their handbook.

On Saturday Jefferson High School Student Lance Lundsten committed suicide. (Dallas Voice)

According to his Facebook page, Lundsten was openly gay. On a Facebook memorial page in Lundsten’s honor, friends said that Lundsten had been bullied at school for his sexual orientation. Some students who knew Lundsten believed the bullying may have led to his suicide.

Look, this isn’t an isolated incident. In fact, I’m sick of writing this story. Over and over, changing the names but little else.

And again and again it’s the same pattern: a school that couldn’t care less, mean kids picking on the gay kid, frustrated parents and friends. And it’s not like we don’t already know what happens when you stick some gay kid in a tiny town where he or she is bullied and no one responds.

And they are all sooo surprised, sooo convinced that everything was just hunky-dory. As Principle Chad Duwenhoegger says on the school website:

We are very proud of our students. We have several leadership teams that provide a voice and an ability to create a culture and climate where all students feel comfortable and connected. Our students have taken ownership of Jefferson and strive to create an environment that is welcoming to anyone who enters our building.

I am so very sick of school administrators who do nothing or who assume that “it won’t happen here”, not with their lovely little good straight white Christian students in middle-America.

Well I have a message to the Principle Chads out there: Yes, it happens here. Right here where you made no effort to stop it. Right here where your policies said we’ll protect everyone except the queer kids. Right here where you are busy crafting a statement to release to the press which absolves yourself from any guilt over the fact that it was all so completely predictable.

Comments

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MIhangel apYrs
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Tim
we need to move on from being “sick of writing this story” to being angry, very angry that OUR children aren’t being protected.

In this case, they will weasel saying that the wording of the statement includes “is not limited to”, but that isn’t good enough. It’s just trying to keep the fundie xian parents off their backs while giving themselves wriggle room and cover for when this sh*t happens.

By not having “LGBT” in the statement it allows us to be invisible and the administration to avoid thinking about us. I truly think that something ought to be coming out from the very top (and more than an “it gets better” statement).

One day, soon, a kid will take daddy’s gun to school. There will be blood and death. And the kid will be blamed (a loner, outsider). And LGBT can be justifiably demonised.

We need to get angry, and support our kids. Encourage them to phone ACLU or help lines or whatever. And don’t give the powers a free pass because they’ve used some weasel words.

(sorry weasels)

BlackDog
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Some of us are already angry, bullying of anyone should not be tolerated, period. The fact that all these “diversity” rules seem to exclude or ignore gay kids is intolerable. High school kids already often get away with stuff that would land an adult in jail, a lot of the time with just a slap on the wrist. If you leave someone out of the “you can’t do that to them” rules then what happens should be predictable enough.

It’s disgusting, and it makes me angry.

Donny D.
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Don’t these administrators or their school districts ever get sued for this?

Or is it a matter of the parents usually being as much a part of the problem as the schools?

Is it possible that anyone other then parents or guardians could sue on behalf of these young people?

andrewb
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

At the risk of being contrary:

I find that too often, when something seems to fit a familiar pattern, I assume the pattern holds.

Just for sanity check — beyond him being gay & hassled, do we know anything more about the background of the suicide? Was gay & hassled truly the root of this specific case? Just saying, each case requires checking.

And yes, REGARDLESS of the specifics of THIS case, I wholeheartedly agree with the thrust of your article.

A.
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

bullying prevention is the topic in wv schools this month, as we had a recent suicide locally (bullying for being overweight) and in talking to my daughter about it,
it appears they are skirting around the lgbt issue here as well.
no mention of it whatsoever. students are to simply assume they mean gay kids too.

Emily K
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

A., as a parent, you have an immense amount of power in the public school system. I would advise, if you are as affected by this injustice as we are, that you bring this up with the school board, PTA, and most importantly, administrators.

Priya Lynn
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Donny said “Don’t these administrators or their school districts ever get sued for this?”.

Sometimes, but apparently not often enough.

Andrew said “Just for sanity check — beyond him being gay & hassled, do we know anything more about the background of the suicide? Was gay & hassled truly the root of this specific case?”.

Well, it sure didn’t help in any event. If being gay and hassled was the straw that broke the camel’s back would that make it any better?

R
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

I knew someone who went to that school (a long, long time ago). I’m really disappointed with my home state.

IamPosterity
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

I would like to know more about the correlation between the social networking (dating) sites and the number of suicides of these children that have been on them.

These sites should offer some sort of outreach because we do have bullies in our own community!

It seems to me that we as a community should be extra vigilant and take some responsibility to how we in the LGBT community treat each other.

Although this is upsetting this should be considered everyone’s fault not just the school districts’. We need a stronger and stable outreach to make up where the institution has failed.

Paul in Canada
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

andrewb: I had the same reaction as you – we presume there is a direct corrolation but, in fact, is there? Teens have tons of angst about myriad things including rejection by a ‘crush’, parental abuse, poor grades, etc., etc.

Let’s not jump to conclusions. However, more needs to be done for our children who experience so much pressure in these developmental years!

customartist
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Was this or any other incident of bullying reported by or concerning a Gay Student? Does anyone know? What about his friends on Facebook?

Regardless of whether it was or not, in the year 2011, with the national notariety of a string of suicides, there is really no excuse for any Public School to not have protections for LGBT students in their Policy Handsbooks, other than plain and clear Negligence.

Karel
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

When Canada adopted its Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, the grounds listed as unacceptable bases for public discrimination were “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” I couldn’t say whether or not an official decision was made to deliberately exclude “sexual orientation” from this list at the time it was written, but if I had to guess, I would guess that there was no such decision. Oversight, especially oversight in the context of a particular cultural environment, is just as plausible an explanation for such an omission as malevolence.

But the fact is that, in a series of cases beginning in 1995, sexual orientation was read into the Charter as an “analagous ground” by Canada’s Supreme Court; full gay equality in marriage and in all matters of public policy is now accepted as normal and unremarkable in Canada. This is the power of culture. The face that the student/parent handbooks you cite do not specifically refer to sexual orientation or gender identity is not in-and-of itself proof of homophobia or bigotry; but the fact that they have clearly been applied in such a narrow, legalistic, petty and discriminatory way certainly is. That, too, is the power of culture, and Alexandria, Minnesota appears to have a rather backward and unwelcoming one.

Priya Lynn
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Karel, in 1982 there was discussion about including sexual orientation in the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms and because no consensus could be reached it was left out. When it was subsequently read into the charter the same people who opposed including it in 1982 were outraged because a decision had been made to exclude it and they felt the judges had no business reading it intot the charter.

JohnInGa
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

As a gay man, I agree that school anti-bullying policies need to clearly and unambiguously protect LGBT students. But as a question of logic, it seems the wrong approach to enumerate classes of people who are affirmatively protected under such policies; rather, the policies should simply state that bullying of ANY person, for ANY reason, will not be tolerated and will be handled swiftly and surely. Otherwise, how does one keep up? If Mr. Lundsten had been bullied because he was overweight, or mentally disabled, or red-headed, or left-handed, or for any other characteristic, would we be advocating for one of that specific characteristic to be added to the policy?

It’s simple: ALL BULLYING MUST STOP! Anti-bullying policies should name NO individual groups, and must unambiguously state that they protect everyone, regardless of any personal characteristic.

Priya Lynn
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

John said “If Mr. Lundsten had been bullied because he was overweight, or mentally disabled, or red-headed, or left-handed, or for any other characteristic, would we be advocating for one of that specific characteristic to be added to the policy?”.

I would.

John, anti-bullying programs that don’t specify LGBT children have been tried and found ineffective at preventing such bullying. Children are dumb and if they aren’t told specifically who it is wrong to bully they won’t get the message.

Guy Lafond
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Join to http://www.change.org/lgbt_youth_suicide_prevention

Van in San Diego
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Does anyone know if this school is in that infamous Anoka-Hennepin school district?

Van in San Diego

Timothy Kincaid
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Van,

No. Anoka is a suburb of Minneapolis / St. Paul. Alexandria is about half way to Fargo.

Soren456
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

An update: 1/18/11 9:45pm EST.

The kid’s dad now says the death was not a suicide. An autopsy reveals an enlarged heart and attributes death to coronary edema.

No alcohol or drugs are apparently involved.

JohnInGa
January 18th, 2011 | LINK

Priya said “I would. [...] Children are dumb and if they aren’t told specifically who it is wrong to bully they won’t get the message.”

I’m sorry, but to me that sounds like the TSA–chasing the last threat. We need to teach children that *all* bullying is wrong, no matter what perceived characteristic motivated it in the first place. Children, even at a young age, understand the Golden Rule. It’s no more complicated than that.

Also, anti-bullying policies are aimed at more than just the students–they also provide guidance for school staff, parents, and the community at large. Tim’s general contention here seems to be that omission equals permission; if you agree with that, then what’s needed is a blanket prohibition against all bullying.

MIhangel apYrs
January 19th, 2011 | LINK

@Soren

I read that too. “Good” from the point of view of it not being due to bullying, but my heart still goes out to his parents. They’ve lost a beautiful boy, and no parent should suffer that, not even the worst of people.

Priya Lynn
January 19th, 2011 | LINK

John said “We need to teach children that *all* bullying is wrong, no matter what perceived characteristic motivated it in the first place.”

There’s nothing stopping us from doing that and pointing out some of the specific categories that includes.

John said “Children, even at a young age, understand the Golden Rule. It’s no more complicated than that.”.

What you’re ignoring John is that non-specific bullying policies have been tried in many places and have repeatedly been shown to fail to stop LGBT bullying. It just doesn’t work to say “ALL bullying is prohibited”.

John said “Also, anti-bullying policies are aimed at more than just the students–they also provide guidance for school staff, parents, and the community at large.”.

Yes, and once again, in schools with non-specific anti-bullying policies school staff have frequently been known to look the other way when anti-gay bullying went on. By failing to include sexual orientation and gender expression in anti-bullying policies people don’t get the message that its not wrong to be LGBT and when they think its wrong to be LGBT they often allow bullying of such students.

Soren456
January 19th, 2011 | LINK

@MIhangel apYrs:

His parents have lost a point of beauty in their lives, I agree.

I’m unsure of the sentiment to express, but I guess I’m glad that the death wasn’t by his own hand.

But I do think it’s worth noting, and remembering, that the misery of bullying was apparently so present in his life that his associates immediately believed that he’d killed himself because of it.

They knew of it, and that is what came first to mind when he died. That’s important.

Timothy Kincaid
January 19th, 2011 | LINK

Invariably, those who have an objection to having their kids told, “don’t bully gay kids” will say “don’t set up homosexuality for special protection, just say ‘no bullying of anyone’”.

I’ve yet to hear them object to specifically teaching not to bully based on race or gender or religion. Their desire to avoid specifics only seems to arise when gay folks are added to the list.

My perspective is this: you seek to cure the problem you have. If there is bullying directed towards kids with big ears, you name it and address it.

And it is abundantly clear that most schools in American have a problem with anti-gay bullying. I can only assume that those who don’t address it have no desire to cure it.

Van in San Diego
January 19th, 2011 | LINK

Which is why I immediately thought of Anoka!

I agree! If the anti-bullying policy is not specific about Gay people, it’s not effective.

My heart goes out to his family!

Van in San Diego

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