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Posts for October, 2012

Anoka continues its war against gay teens

Timothy Kincaid

October 9th, 2012

Once again, Anoka Minnnesota is in the news. And once again it’s due to absurdly anti-gay behavior.

You may recall that until 2009 the Anoka-Hennepin School District had a policy which banned teachers from referring to homosexuality “as a normal, valid lifestyle.” And you may know that in 2009 the policy was changed to require that teachers “remain neutral” (actually an improvement). The result of the ban was that teachers were afraid to protect gay kids from bullying, lest any defense be deemed un-neutral. In 2010 Justin Aaberg, a 15 year old student, was tormented daily to the point where he finally took his own life. He was one of nine such students that year.

In response, the school board denied that there was a problem with bullying and refused to change the policy. They said that parents who complained that their kids were being bullied were liars.

After teachers began abusing gay students in class, the Minnesota State Department of Human Rights rebuked the school and the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights held an investigation. Rolling Stone magazine wrote about “One Town’s War on Gay Teens”, and Justin Aaberg’s mother Tammy plead for her representative, Republican Michelle Bachmann, to take action.

But it seems that Anoka has no problems with dead gay teens. The Parents Action League, one of only 26 certified anti-gay hate groups in the US, fought to keep anti-gay animus present on the campus. At one point they demanded that rather than be free from bullying, gay kids should be offered ex-gay therapy. Rep. Bachmann, who shares the views of the hate group and whose flamboyantly effeminate husband runs an ex-gay counseling center, refused to assist the kids who were being bullied.

It wasn’t until the Southern Poverty Law Center sued that things changed. In March of this year, the school board settled the lawsuit and agreed to establish anti-bullying programs specifically addressed to meet the needs of gay youth.

But that was the school, not the community. And anti-gay hostility in Anoka rages on.

In response, some in the community stepped up and tried to provide a safe space for LGBT youth. Supported by First Congregational UCC, last August Tammy Aaberg took her pain and turned it into power by creating a non-profit called Justin’s Gift to “help fill the following needs: belonging, self-esteem, self-respect, and ultimately a realization of their importance in the world.”

It seems inconceivable that a group which was created for no other purpose than to help kids in crisis would have opponents. Who wants to dismiss, harm, or cause grief to a kid in crisis?

But as inhumane as that may seem to us, Anoka Minnesota is home to just that mindset. (Minnesota Public Radio)

Organizers of an annual Halloween parade in Anoka denied a request from a gay youth group to walk in this year’s parade.

Justin’s Gift, a nonprofit group created to support gay youth after several suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, received a letter dated Sept. 25 denying their request to walk in the Oct. 27 parade. The letter is signed by the parade chair, who included only her first name, Liz.

“At this time we are unable to accept your application for the parade,” the letter said. “We have reached our maximum for walking units.”

No, they weren’t “pushing the HomoSEXshull Agenda”. As far as I can tell, they had no plans to advocate for opposition to Minnesota’s propose anti-gay marriage ban. They just wanted to march down the street as their favorite fairy tale character. And this is a big deal in Anoka, which imagines itself to be the Halloween Capital of the World. (Conveniently ignoring that half a million people – gay and straight – pack the streets for West Hollywood’s Halloween Carnival.)

Although there is room for “units from all over the midwest“, there’s no place in Anoka for 30 gay kids.

“The kids are pretty upset,” Fietek said. “We’re trying to show these kids that they’re part of the community and unfortunately it backfired and sent a completely different message.”

I have no problem calling this one like I see it. Anoka has yet again shown itself to be a haven for bigots and the enemy of their own LGBT children. If you agree, there is a petition on Change.org

No, Anoka will not change its mind. They will continue to bar the gay kids. But at least they will do so knowing that they do so with the contempt of decent people across the country and the world.

The Eleven New Additions to the SPLC’s Anti-Gay Hate Groups List

Jim Burroway

March 8th, 2012

The revision came out this morning, but at the time I didn’t know who was new and who wasn’t among the now 26 hate anti-gay hate groups. Based on this cache from archive.org, these are the additions:

  • United Families International, Gilbert, AZ. (Carol Soelberg)
  • Save California, Sacramento, CA. (Randy Thomasson)
  • SonsOfThundr / Faith Baptist Church, Primrose, GA (Billy and Sandra Ball)
  • You Can Run, But You Cannot Hide, Annandale, MN (Bradlee Dean)
  • Parents Action League, Champlin, MN (Note, this is the group that fought anti-bullying programs at the Anoka-Hennepin Independent School District)
  • Jewish Political Action Committee, Brooklyn, NY.
  • Windsor Hills Baptist Church, Oklahoma City (Tom Vinyard)
  • Misson: America, Columbus, OH (Linda Harvey)
  • True Light Pentecost Church, Spartanburg, SC (H. Walker)
  • Tom Brown Ministries, El Paso, TX.
  • Public Advocate of the United States, Falls Church, VA (Eugene Delgaudio)

The San Diego-based Biblical Family Associates is no longer on the list this year. It appears to be inactive. Sandy, Utah-based America Forever has also been dropped after reportedly disbanding in 2010.

Anoka-Hennepin School District Agrees To Anti-Bullying Settlement

Jim Burroway

March 6th, 2012

A school district outside of Minneapolis agreed last night to a settlement in which the district will implement specific anti-bullying measures to address a rash of suicides at the school district over the past few year. In a 5-1 vote, the Anoka-Hennepin School District agreed to settle a Justice Department civil rights investigation and a lawsuit filed by six former and current students.

The settlement creates a five year partnership between the school district, the Justice Department and the Department of Education to establish new policies and programs to address school bullying generally and anti-LGBT bullying in particular. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the settlement will:

  • Retain a consultant on sex-based harassment to review its policies and procedures.
  • Develop and implement a plan for preventing and addressing sex-based harassment of students in middle and high school.
  • Enhance training of staff and students on the issue.
  • Retain a mental health consultant to address needs of students victimized by harassment.

“This partnership will strengthen the support that the district provides to all students, including students who are gay or perceived to be gay,” said school board Chairman Tom Heidemann. He added that the consent decree builds upon the work the district already has done to step up its anti-bullying efforts, including staff training.

The settlement comes after more than a year of controversy in which the school board initially denied there was a problem despite nine suicides taking place over the previous two years. Not only that, but the board also instituted a policy backed by Focus On the Family and a local conservative parents group requiring teachers to remain “neutral” in any discussions on sexual orientation, a policy which effectively prevented teachers from adequately addressing anti-gay bullying in particular. At one point, the Parents Action League demanded that ex-gay therapy be presented to students as a means of making what they thought the real problem was — the existence of gay kids — go away.

The lone dissenter in last night’s vote, school board member Kathy Tingelstad, resigned after casting her no vote.

Rolling Stone takes on Anoka-Hennepin

Timothy Kincaid

February 2nd, 2012

Those who read here know the name Anoka-Hennepin School District. You know that this district, Michele Bachmann’s home turf, has the worst record in the nation for anti-gay bullying and for student suicides. You know that the school board is determined not to notice the connection or do anything which will lessen the terror for the gay students forced to attend their schools. You know that I personally believe that the members of the school board along with a few principals should be brought up on conspiracy charges and jailed for torture.

Rolling Stone investigates Anoka-Hennepin. When you are done reading you just may agree with me.

Mother of Suicide Victim Urges Bachmann To Stand Aganst Anti-Gay Bullying

Jim Burroway

September 16th, 2011

Tammy Aaberg, mother of the Justin Aaberg who hanged himself after the Anoka-Hennepin, Minnesota school district failed to intervene against persistent anti-gay bullying, met for an hour yesterday with a staffer for GOP Presidential candidate and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann. Aaberg and five other students and parents met with staffer Deb Steiskal, who reportedly took notes and asked questions and promised to relay their concerns to the congresswoman, along with more than 130,000 petition signatures calling on Bachman to condemn harassment of gay students in her district.

Bachmann was out of state on the presidential campaign trail. Steiskal promised to bring the groups concerns to the congresswoman, but Aaberg said she doubted Bachmann would take a stand. Aaberg emerged from the meeting saying she was “hopeful that Bachmann will either reach out or come up with a positive response for the country.”  The congresswoman’s press secretary later said that Bachmann would respond after reviewing Aaberg’s request and the petitions.

In the past two years, eight students in the Anoka-Hennepin school district have killed themselves. The school district is currently being sued over the school board’s failure to address anti-gay bullying. Bachmann represents the Anoka-Hennepin School District area in Congress.

Anoka-Hennepin School District sued. Finally!

Timothy Kincaid

July 21st, 2011

The Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota has a “neutrality” policy on the subject of homosexuality.

    Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions.

But while “neutrality” may sound like a fair and balanced approach, in this school district it is little more than implicit permission to torture. Because in addition to neutrality on student led discussions, the district is neutral about anti-gay bullying.

That’s not “neutrality”.

Neutrality presumes that rather than takes sides, one stays out of conflicts that really aren’t one’s business. It implies that there is no real victim and oppressor, just a difference of opinion. And neutrality is only ever a virtue when there is no clear moral imperative to act.

But when there is an open environment of consistent bullying of gay kids, you have a moral imperative. I don’t care what faith or code of ethics you live by, all good and decent people agree that adults have an obligation to protect children in their care from torture. There is no “neutral” position on that.

But when it comes to anti-gay bullying in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the teachers are afraid to act. They know that anything that suggests an opinion on matters “best addressed” by the local preacher can result in reprimand. And it is common understanding that even acknowledging that gay people exist is a violation of policy.

And lest there be any uncertainty, until overwhelming pressure forced a change, the anti-bullying policy excluded any mention of sexual orientation. So there’s little for a teacher to gain by saying, for example, “stop picking on gay kids, they are no different than you” and there are no words that discourage using slurs that don’t also take a non-neutral position on whether gay people deserve public contempt and humiliation.

So teachers ask themselves if it’s worth it. And wouldn’t it just make it worse if the bullies saw that the teacher was punished for trying to stop bullying? So those teachers who want to care are paralyzed and do nothing.

And the student being tormented can’t complain because while there is no policy to punish anti-gay bullies, if you report being picked on for being gay, you get sent to a psychiatrist. Lucky you, now in the hallways not only are you a “fag” but “crazy” one as well.

And this culture of homophobia didn’t just serve to restrict support or protection. Two teachers decided that not only would they not restrict anti-gay bullying, but they would join in. They mocked a student they thought was gay and “joked” that he dressed in women’s clothes and had a thing for older men. (And when they got a soft slap on the wrist, they sued claiming they had been maligned and their reputation tarnished.)

By now, those who are not familiar with this story may be starting to be suspicious. Surely it isn’t that bad; this has to by hyperbole, right?

No. The Anoka-Hennepin School District really is that bad.

And they must know it. How could they not?

But they are determined to ignore the problem.

The Minnesota State Department of Human Rights stepped in over the abusive teacher issue and did an investigation. But although they rebuked the School Board, this did not seem to influence their position.

And after nine suicides in one year, they still saw no evidence of a problem. It wasn’t until one student’s death caught national attention that the School Board felt a need to respond and the response illustrated their determination to do nothing to stop the bullying of gay students.

“None of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying,” said Supt. Dennis Carlson

“As we all try to heal from the pain of these deaths the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful,” he said. “Once again we have no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our students deaths. In a few instances, people told the school board and district leaders that employees stood by while a student was bullied. These statements are also not true. We have no evidence of that occurring.”

And as for the distraught parents, the horrified friends, and the concerned teachers who reported that their these kids had been subjected to abuse until it became unbearable? Oh, they “weren’t truthful.”

Even an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights can’t persuade this school board to adopt the homosexual agenda. (You know, the one which says that public school should not be a place of officially sanctioned torture for gay kids.)

So finally the Southern Poverty Law Center has had enough. (SPLC)

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) today sued the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, challenging the pervasive anti-gay harassment in the district’s schools as well as a “gag policy” that prevents teachers from discussing issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five students who have faced severe anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in school. It charges that the district’s gag policy perpetuates the abuses suffered by these students and others.

I think that a positive outcome is almost a foregone conclusion. Considering the death count, the testimony, and the evidence that the policy and attitude of this School Board contributes to a culture of abuse, I can’t imagine that even a socially conservative judge would side with this school board. It’s hard to convince a judge that things are just fine when you have nine teenage suicides on your watch.

So I’m pretty confident that the district will be forced to change its policy. And some teachers will feel free to step in and protect bullied gay kids, knowing that the federal judicial system can protect them if they suffer reprisal. It will get better.

But it will be a long long time before things are good for gay kids in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Teachers who engaged in anti-gay bullying now suing school district

Timothy Kincaid

December 29th, 2010

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board is that lovely group in Minnesota that continues to have a policy that any mention of homosexuality be “neutral” – that is, non-existent – even though they have had nine student suicides in the past year, four of which were believe to be attributable to anti-gay bullying. Teachers, fearing that opposing anti-gay bullying would be a punishable violation of the policy, simply did nothing to intervene when presumed gay kids were tormented.

But now in some perverse irony, the school board is being sued by some of those to whom they had given implicit permission. (Minn Ind)

An Anoka-Hennepin School District teacher who was accused of harassing a student he thought was gay is suing the state because the Department of Human Rights disclosed his name in a report about the investigation. Walter Filson filed suit against the state of Minnesota late last week. Filson was one of two teachers accused of harassing Alex Merritt, who is not gay. Merritt got a $25,000 settlement from the school district in 2009.

Filson’s suit comes after a similar one filed by Diane Cleveland, whom the Department of Human Rights claimed conspired with Filson to harass Merritt. Earlier this year Cleveland won her lawsuit against the state. A judge ruled that the department should not have disclosed her name because she was not a defendant or plaintiff in the complaint; the department did not actually lodge any penalty against Cleveland or Filson but simply reported the accusations and the department’s conclusions.

Filson and Cleveland have denied repeatedly that they harassed Merritt.

The complaint filed by Filson last week said, “The harm caused to (Filson’s) reputation and privacy interests are irreparable.”

Yep. These teachers are being rewarded for bullying a student. Because, you see, you should be able to torment children under your care without anyone ever finding out.

Interestingly, Merritt doesn’t identify as gay. But he was subjected to deliberate, intentional, homophobic bullying in an institutional environment by those who were entrusted by the state with power over him. He was the victim of long-term anti-gay abuse.

Just for some perspective, here are a few of the claims:

Beginning with the start of the 2007-2008 school year, Alex Merritt, a male high school student in the Anoka-Hennepin School District began to experience harassment from two of the respondent’s teachers, who perceived that the student was gay. Diane Cleveland singled him out on nearly a daily basis by making jokes, comments and innuendos about her perception of his sexual orientation. “Merritt’s fence swings both ways,” “Merritt’s boat floats in a different direction than the rest of the guys in the class” and “Would you like to have [another allegedly gay student] go with you so he can sit in the stall next to you and stomp his foot?” were among the female teacher’s comments. Cleveland made her comments in front of other students and allowed them to laugh, and would share her comments with Walter Filson, another teacher. The male teacher would repeat, add his own jokes, and allow other students in the class to joke about the boy’s perceived sexual orientation.

Specifically, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights verified

  • When Cleveland learned that the student was doing a report on Ben Franklin for her class, she made comments in front of the class that implied that the student had a “thing for older men”;
  • When Cleveland’s class was watching the 1989 film, Christmas Vacation, she covered the screen during a swimming pool/bathing suit scene and commented, “It’s OK if Merritt watches this because he isn’t into that sort of thing anyway… maybe if it was a guy.”
  • When another student presented a report in Filson’s class regarding a deer that had been molested, a student said, “Hey, Mr. Filson, doesn’t that sound like something Alex Merritt would do?” The male teacher allegedly agreed and laughed.
  • After students came to Filson’s classroom seeking male participates for a fashion show, he stated, “Take Merritt because he enjoys wearing woman’s clothes… he would love to be in the show.”

The School Board investigated, found the complaint to be true… and did virtually nothing. Cleveland was required to do one day of “reflecting on equality and diversity in the classroom” and was given a two-day suspension. Had the state not intervened, neither they nor the school board would have experienced much discomfort as consequence of tormenting a child. Only after the State Department of Human Rights rebuked the School Board, did they settle with Merrit’s family for $25,000.

It is important to note that the facts were confirmed by separate witnesses and are now incontrovertible. Two separate investigations reveal that Cleveland and Filson said and did exactly what they are accused of; they willfully engaged in bullying a child over his perceived sexual orientation.

In my opinion, these teachers should have been fired upon conclusion of the first investigation. They should have been stripped of any licenses or credentials they carry. They have violated the trust of the community in a most horrific way and should never be in a position where they supervise children again.

And, yes, they deserve to have their “reputation and privacy interests” harmed. People of good character should point at them and condemn them on the street. Jail time is not even out of the question, in my mind.

Instead they are suing, claiming that they “didn’t harass anyone” and their reputations have been damaged by the disclosure of what they did and said. And I’m sure that this School Board will happily give them money.

Evil, evil people.

Anoka-Hennepin School Board to parents concerned about bullying: You’re all liars

Timothy Kincaid

December 16th, 2010

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board has a unique approach to the rather serious problem of bullying and suicide in their district: deny that it exists. Although there have been nine student suicides in the past year and significant media coverage of first-hand reports of bullying, the School Board has chosen to set aside testimony from parents and students and instead rely on their paperwork to “discover” that none of the bullied students that killed themselves were bullied.

Monday night’s meeting of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board was a contentious one as the issue of bullying and suicide in the district again came up. The state’s largest school district opened an investigation into the suicides of nine students over the past year — some by students who were allegedly bullied for their sexual orientation — and said that it found no evidence that any of the nine were bullied. Students and parents criticized the district for its statement — at times the conversation devolved to shouting — while district officials said there’s not much they can do if students and parents don’t report incidents to the schools.

No one – not one living person affiliated with these schools who has even the slightest smidgen of honesty and decency – is unaware of the fact that gay kids are being tormented in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. But the School Board seems determined not to know about it. (Minnesota Independent)

Over the last 18 months, the district has been at the heart of the debate over LGBT-bullying. In late 2009, a high-profile investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found that two teachers in the district conspired to harass a student they thought was gay. The teachers went on leave, and the district paid $25,000 to the student.

Then, in July, the suicide death of gay 15-year-old Anoka student Justin Aaberg sparked an uproar. Parents, teachers and students held a series of press events and gave testimonials before the school board where advocates said that as many of four students took their lives at least in part because of bullying.

Carlson said that these statements by students, staff and parents at school board meetings weren’t truthful based on data from the district’s student services department.

“None of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying,” said Supt. Dennis Carlson

“As we all try to heal from the pain of these deaths the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful,” he said. “Once again we have no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our students deaths. In a few instances, people told the school board and district leaders that employees stood by while a student was bullied. These statements are also not true. We have no evidence of that occurring.”

Superintendent Dennis Carlson

Nor are they likely to get “evidence.” Because a policy actively discourages students from reporting bullying based on sexual orientation and teachers from discussing it.

From 1995 until February 2009 (yes, last year), the School Board policy was to ban teachers – including health staff – from referring to homosexuality “as a normal, valid lifestyle.” In 2009, this policy was changed for the better:

“Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions.”

However, this is still well understood by teachers to continue to mean “don’t talk about this.” Any mention that Michelangelo was homosexual, or Alan Turing, or Harvey Milk, for that matter, was not “neutral.” So rather than risk punishment, teachers are forced to pretend that gay people don’t exist.

But worse, teachers assumed that stepping to stop anti-gay bullying – or even saying that such bullying was bad – was not “neutral” position. And, as Focus on the Family and other anti-gay activist groups have made clear, any opposition to anti-gay bullying is labeled “the homosexual agenda.” Nor did the district’s anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies include any mention of sexual orientation.

All of the discussion about not tormenting gay kids was “best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations” like the Parents Action League where it can be augmented with such messages as gay people choose to be gay, are pedophiles, are rife with horrible diseases, and die 20 years before good wholesome real people. And besides, the blame for the suicides is “a continuous onslaught of pro-homosexual diversity”, anyway.

So bullying is rampant. And teachers were left with no message from the School Board that they should stop it and a more than subtle hint that they should not get involved.

Nor are students likely to report it themselves. As one teacher told the Independent “any mention of homosexuality is supposed to cause the teacher to make a referral to the counselor or school psychologist.” Rather than be protected, the kid is presumed to need mental health advice.

Finally in October of this year, after fiery denunciations of the Board from the parents of dead children, the Board revised their anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies to list protected classes, including sexual orientation. But they angrily refuse to change the “neutrality” policy that silences any reference to gay people at all.

And the Board has dug in its heels and is absolutely refusing to acknowledge that anti-gay bullying really exists or that it is part of the problem of suicide in their district. The bullied children didn’t fill our the right paperwork, you see, so therefore it didn’t happen.

And that is enough for the Anoka-Hennepin School Board.

When Does Opposition to Suicide Prevention Equal Murder?

Jim Burroway

September 1st, 2010

Three teens at a Minnesota school district have committed suicide over the past year after enduring anti-gay bullying. The Anoka-Hennepin School Board claims that they take bullying seriously, but they’ve refused to implement anti-bullying education programs aimed specifically at anti-gay bullying — which is precisely the issue that has led to three deaths this year. A group of anti-gay parents have formed a pressure group to support the board’s anti-gay stance, and they have the full backing of Focus On the Family:

Focus supports bullying prevention,[Focus On the Family education “expert”Candi] Cushman said. “But this issue is being hijacked by activists. They shouldn’t be politicizing or sexualizing the issue of bully prevention.”

Cushman founded TrueTolerance.org, which says it helps Christian parents “confront the gay agenda,” which she said includes homosexual-themed curricula, books with sexually graphic content and anti-religion stereotypes, assemblies and celebrations.

Nobody is “sexualizing” bullying prevention — there won’t be skimpy outfits or go-go dancers or suggestive poses involved with talking about anti-gay violence — and if anyone is politicizing bullying prevention, it’s people who, for some strange reason, don’t appear interested in ending anti-gay bullying which led to these three deaths.

The best way not to solve a problem is not to talk about the problem. And since Focus’ position is that we should not talk about the problem, at some point you have to wonder if, in some unspoken dark corner of their collective souls, they see these suicides as serving their purposes. Focus consistently portrays the “homosexual lifestyle” as synonymous with abject misery — rampant drug abuse, STDs, depression and suicide. And, coincidentally or not, they consistently oppose efforts to constructively address drug abuse, STDs, depression and suicide among gay youth. After all, if we really were to address drug abuse, STDs, depression and suicide among gay youth by actually talking about drug abuse, STDs, depression and suicide among gay youth with an eye toward identifying solutions to these problems instead of using those problems as a hammer, then drug abuse, ST’s, depression and suicide among gay youth might actually go down. And the “homosexual lifestyle” won’t seem so full of misery, will it?