Anoka-Hennepin School District Agrees To Anti-Bullying Settlement
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.
Rick Rolls Romney
February 8th, 2012
It was a huge night for Sen. Rick Santorum, whose triple-play win last night seems to show that Republican primary voters and caucus voters are still looking for that anybody-but-Mitt candidate. And it was that dissatisfaction with the presumptive nominee that allowed Santorum to dominate the field like a man on a dog.
In Missouri’s primary, Santorum captured his biggest win with 55% of the vote, more than twice as much as Gov. Mitt Romney’s 25% showing. Rep. Ron Paul came in at 12%, and 4% selected “uncommitted,” which can be read either as a Newt Gingrich vote (Gingrich failed to qualify for Missouri’s ballot) or as “none of the above.” Santorum scored a total shutout in Missouri, winning every single county in the state.
Missouri’s primary election is an oddity. There are no delegates up for grabs. In fact, the voting there is largely meaningless because the delegates won’t be selected until the state party convention on April 21, and there is no relationship between last nights votes and how the party’s state delegates are ultimately chosen. Missouri GOP leaders are free to heed or ignore last night’s vote altogether. So how well last night’s results will translate into delegates remains an open question.
But in the Minnesota and Colorado caucuses, the fight for delegates was real, and Santorum had a similarly spectacular night there as well. In Minnesota, Santorum pulled in 45% of the vote and six delegates. Paul came in second with 27% of the vote (3 delegates), followed by Romney at 17% (2 delegates) and Gingrich at 11% (1 delegate). Yes, you read that right: Paul beat Romney in Minnesota. And like in Missouri, Romney didn’t win a single county in Minnesota either.
But the real surprise was Colorado, where Romney was expected to do well. Instead, Santorum took the state with 40% of caucus voters (earning 5 delegates) against Romney’s 35% (4 delegates), followed by Gingrich’s 13% (2 delegates) and Paul’s 12% (1 delegate).
The worst loser of the night would have to be Gingrich. He had a terrible showing, which is bound to have an impact to his already troubled fundraising. Santorum, on the other hand, may be able to use these wins to convince Republican voters to give him another look — and GOP anybody-but-Mitt donors somewhere else to put their money.
But speaking of money, Romney’s drubbing shows that there are limits to how far nearly-unlimited financial resources can go. Romney’s win last week in Florida had pundits believing that it was now his election to lose. It now looks like Midwesterners are thinking maybe he should. Lose, that is.
Minnesota poll: anti-equality amendment close
January 31st, 2012
Public Policy Polling found:
Q2 Should the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide that only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Minnesota?
8% Not sure
Q3 Which of the following best describes your opinion on gay marriage: gay couples should be allowed to legally marry, or gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not legally marry, or there should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship?
37% Gay couples should be allowed to legally marry
34% Gay couples should be allowed to form civil unions but not marry
27% There should be no legal recognition of a gay couple’s relationship
2% Not sure
Q4 Do you think same-sex marriage should be legal or illegal?
10% Not sure
This is not good news. Generally, in marriage polls the undecideds all go to the anti-gay position.
Teleprompter reader selected to be NOM’s “Face of Minnesota for Marriage”
January 9th, 2012
Unable to find anyone qualified to speak authoritatively on the subject of marriage, the National Organization for Marriage and the other anti-gay activists at Minnesota for Marriage have decided that the face of their anti-gay movement would be Kalley Yanta, a former anchor for a Minneapolis-based television station. Which means that the level of intellectual discourse will be as follows:
“If marriage between homosexuals is legalized, what would some of the consequences be?” she asked rhetorically. “Parents who want to opt their kids out of the public school on the day that they’re teaching about homosexual relationships how it should be okay and accepted, and the parents are charged with discrimination and are hauled away sometimes in handcuffs. … We just can’t allow this to happen.
That probably shouldn’t surprise us much. Minnesota for Marriage is releasing a number of Marriage Minute videos to get their views across. The 18 second long Marriage Minute introductory segment displays pictures labeled “Our Families”, “Our Futures”, “Our Marriages”, and “Our Children”. But the Washington Independent notes that they seem a bit confused on what “our” means.
Minnesotans United for All Families, a coalition of more than 100 groups, analyzed the images in the first video released and determined that not a single person in the video was actually from Minnesota.
“While this video is full of stock images, it is strangely lacking in real Minnesotans,” the group said on its Facebook page. “Perhaps they couldn’t find any real Minnesotans willing to support their divisive agenda?”
One image appears to have been taken by a French photographer of a French family, and another is being used on the website of an India-based health-care center.
Oh my, it’s going to be a busy season for that box of rocks.
Gay Community Apologizes for Busting Up Politico’s Marriage
December 22nd, 2011
Minnesota State Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch co-authored the bill which put a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot for next year, arguing that making same-sex marriage even more illegaller is essential to protecting marriages across the state. Now, as if to prove her point, her own marriage is being threatened by the very prospect that gay Minnesotans may not be constitutionally barred from doing the thing that they already cannot do. Last week Koch abruptly resigned her position as Majority Leader over an inappropriate relationship with a male staffer — a staffer who was not her husband. That staffer is widely believed to be former communications chief Michael Brodkorb, which, if true, would totally not be her husband, Christopher Koch.
John Medeiros, writing on behalf of the entire gay community, has officially apologized to Mrs. Koch for foisting a two-man-two-woman relationship (the staffer is also married) onto the hallowed halls of the state Senate. I’m struggling to pick out just one paragraph to quote from. They’re all good, but I’ll go with this:
Forgive us. As you know, we are not church-going people, so we are unable to fully appreciate that “gay marriage” is incompatible with Christian values, despite the fact that those values carry a biblical tradition of adultery such as yours. We applaud you for keeping that tradition going.
A Same-Sex Marriage In 1877
August 15th, 2011
[Homer Thiel is a Tucson-based historical archeologist, genealogist, and a good friend of mine. An article he wrote, "An 1887 Same-Sex Marriage In Nevada," appears in this month's issue of American Ancesters, published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Copies of the magazine can be purchased for $4.95 plus shipping by calling 888-296-3447. And you can check out the day-to-day happenings in Homer's World at his blog.]
Opponents of same sex marriage would like everyone to think that the desire for gays and lesbians to marry their partners is a very recent phenomenon. A while ago, when I was reading through 19th century Arizona newspapers, I came across a cryptic mention of a same sex marriage that took place in 1877 in Nevada. Further research revealed the fascinating life story of Sarah Maud Pollard, who, as Samuel M. Pollard, married in Tuscarora, Elko County, Nevada Territory to Marancy Hughes on September 29, 1877. An article I prepared on Pollard has just appeared in American Ancestors magazine, published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society. A condensed version of Pollard’s life story is presented here.
Sarah Pollard was born in 1846 in New York, the daughter of a middle class merchant family. After working in a shoe factory in Massachusetts and sewing shirts in New York, she headed west to Colorado in the 1870s. She caused a stir because of her masculine appearance. Around 1876 she moved to Nevada and took up wearing male clothing in order to find work and she started calling herself ”Sam.” She met young Marancy Hughes, born in 1861 in Missouri, and actively courted her. Hughes’ family hated Pollard and the couple eloped on September 28, 1877.
They were happily married for six months, and then Marancy broke the secret. The small silver-mining town of Tuscarora, Nevada was transfixed by the story. The matter ended up in court and after Marancy testified, a dramatic re-union took place. Stories about the troubled marriage were carried in newspapers across the country (even appearing in a New Zealand paper). The couple broke up two more times, before Marancy moved on to a marriage with a man in 1880.
Sarah moved to Minnesota to start a new life by 1883, working by herself on a farm. The story of her successful farming career again made national newspapers, which noted she wore a bloomers-type outfit while plowing. By the 1890s she had met a woman named Helen Stoddard, a schoolteacher who was born in 1864 in Vermont. In later census records Helen was listed as her partner or companion. Sarah died in 1929, and Helen paid for her arrangements at a local funeral home, the owners puzzling over the relationship of the two women.
The stories of gay and lesbian Americans prior to recent times have largely been lost or hidden. Within my own family, a lesbian great aunt has been “straightened up.” Sarah Pollard is an unusual case in that is has been easy to locate information on her unconventional life in late 19th and early 20th century America. Like thousands of modern-day Americans, she wanted to marry her same sex partner. Her first relationship failed, large because she took on a masculine role, a major taboo of the time. Later she returned to feminine attire, while taking up a typically masculine career, and settled into a second, long lasting partnership with Helen Stoddard.
Anoka-Hennepin School District sued. Finally!
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.
Major Ex-Gay Conference Headed to St. Paul in 2012
July 15th, 2011
Exodus International, the nation’s largest ex-gay umbrella group, has announced that they will hold their annual conference in St. Paul next year:
Plans are underway already for the 37th Annual Exodus Freedom Conference being held June 27-30 in the Twin Cities of Minnesota at Northwestern College. Please consider giving now towards our scholarship fund so that we can make sure everyone who wants to be there can be there. And, please consider being there yourself. It is a transforming experience!
They will be holding their conference in the Bachmann’s home turf. Now that will be interesting.
Update: Others are reporting that this is the same ex-gay conference in which, in 2004, Michele Bachmann gave her welcoming remarks. That’s not accurate. Bachmann gave her opening remarks at a Love Won Out conference, which is a one-day roadshow put on about six times each year marketing ex-gay therapy to gay people and — much more often, according to the typical attendance — to their parents.
On the other hand, the so-called “Freedom” conference is Exodus’s annual five-day conference, and is their signature flagship event. It is not a marketing event. It is the real deal, where ex-gay people from all over the country — and even around the world — come together for five days of conferences, worskshops, lectures, and worship. Think of it this way: where LWO is the infomercial, the Freedom Conference is the actual Clapper. What Bachmann spoke at was the theater poster; this is the second act. The third act, too often, ends badly.
Minnesota says NOM must disclose donors
July 5th, 2011
The State of Minnesota has joined the long list of states that refuse to give the National Organization for Marriage a special exemption from voter laws due to their claimed fears of gay reprisals. (Independent)
The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled today that corporate donations to groups advocating for or against a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage must be disclosed. The Minnesota Family Council (MFC) and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) argued that supporters of marriage equality would commit violence against their donors if they were made public. On Thursday, the board disagreed.
NOM suffers from the delusion that “stand up ye soldiers of the cross” is a stand that should be done in secret without the possibility of reprisals from those who find out that you are trying to hurt their family. Because, you see, Teh Gheys are vengeful, scary, dangerous, and violent. Why, if it was discovered that someone was a major donor to NOM, they might lose business from gays and other people who don’t want to fund discrimination. They might even get the cold shoulder at their florist and someone at choir practice might look at them with disdain.
And that’s not fair!!
But, so far, neither campaign boards nor judges have found this argument convincing. And NOM loses this argument wherever it is presented.
So does that mean that NOM is going to comply? Are they going to disclose exactly which mega-wealthy Catholics are funding their efforts to replace civil law with Catholic doctrine?
No way. They haven’t any time in the past and they aren’t going to start now.
And what is Minnesota going to do about it? Nothing.
Until a state is ready and willing to throw Brian Brown in jail for contempt of court and keep him there until the names are disclosed, NOM is going to continue to thwart justice and thumb their noses at the legal system. And they know that actually jailing Brown or freezing NOM’s assets is so politically dangerous and that they have so many friends in powerful places who share their theocratic zeal that enforcing these rulings is impossible.
NOM believes themselves to be exempt from the law. Sadly, in practical terms, they may be right.
How do you piss off a United Methodist minister?
June 3rd, 2011
How do you piss off a United Methodist minister?
Seriously? Have you ever met a United Methodist minister? Not exactly an excitable bunch.
But it seems to me that some UMC ministers have found a cause around which they are willing to be radical militant activists: marriage.
Now the UMC has not adopted a same-sex marriage rite. It hasn’t even approved Methodist ministers being allowed to conduct marriages. But those in the church who believe in equality have become rather, shall we say, disinclined to quietly wait for change.
I first noticed this in 2008 when California’s two conferences (Northern and Southern) thumbed their nose at their national rules and said “Fine, so our current pastors are banned from conducting marriages… well, then, we’ll vote to encourage and support retired ministers conducting same-sex marriages. That ain’t breaking no rules!”
And then this past weekend, the Baltimore – Washington Conference passed the following resolution, ensuring that this issue will be brought up next April at the national convention.
“[I]n those civil jurisdictions where homosexual persons have been granted the right to same gender marriage or civil union, ceremonies celebrating those marriages or unions may be conducted in our churches and by our ministers, the decision being the right and responsibility of the pastor.”
That wasn’t expected to pass. But the pro-gay ministers are refusing to sit still and respect the hesitations of others.
But that wasn’t really the example of how you piss off a UMC minister. That’s just progress. To really piss one off, you have to propose a marriage ban.
During the Methodists’ annual conference in St. Cloud this week, about 40 clergy members signed a statement saying they would “offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage.”
“Groups have been meeting who want to challenge parts of the United Methodist polity with which we disagree — that which relates to the lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual community and Christian marriage,” said the Rev. Bruce Robbins, who serves at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.
“With the possibility of a constitutional amendment in the state of Minnesota [defining marriage as limited to heterosexual couples], this seems important.”
I can just see the indignation. “A ban? Well, I’m so angry I’ll just, I’ll just… offer the grace of the Church’s blessing, by golly! That’s what I’ll do!”
Don’t you love it when the Methodists get all defiant and activisty?
UPDATE: The Christian Post says that the number of signatories has now increased to 70. They are really pissed.
Update 2: There seems to be some confusion due to the tone of the commentary. I am not mocking these Methodist ministers. They are taking rather large risks, and are true heroes.
Kriesel (R) on Minnesota’s marriage ban
May 22nd, 2011
Last night, freshman Republican Rep. John Kriesel, an Iraqi war veteran, stood on prosthetic legs to deliver the following message to his fellow legislators:
Minnesota House Passes Marriage Ban
May 22nd, 2011
The Minnesota House, after a long debate that went late into Saturday night, the Minnesota House has approved a measure to write discrimination into the state’s constitution by a vote of 70-62. Four Republicans voted no, while two Democrats supported the measure. Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Minnesota, with that precedent established nearly forty years ago. This measure, which goes before Minnesota’s voters in 2012, would make marriage equality even more illegaller in the state.
The vote comes on the heals of an acrimonious controversy on Friday when Bradlee Dean, of the “You Can Run But You Cannot Hide Ministry, gave the opening prayer in which he contended, during the prayer, that President Barack Obama was not a Christian.
The Minnesota Independent notes that Dean is no stranger to outrageous statements :
The Minnesota Independent noted that Dean has a history of controversial remarks, “including advocating the incarceration of gays and lesbians, that the LGBT community is trying to usher in Sharia law in Minnesota, that gay men molest an average of 117 children “before they get caught,” and that Muslim nations that execute gays are more moral than American Christians.”
Dean is known to be close with Minnesota GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann. His prayer before the Minnesota House was so embarrassing to the Republican leadership that they delayed the scheduled debate on the marriage bill until late Saturday evening, when fewer people would be paying attention to the chamber’s proceedings. GOP leaders also rushed to apologize and distances themselves from Dean following outcry from Democratic legislators.
Minnesota’s marriage ban amendment moves to House floor
May 18th, 2011
From the timesunion.com
The Rules Committee of the Minnesota House has narrowly approved a floor vote on the constitutional gay marriage amendment.
The committee voted 13-12 Wednesday to put the issue before the full House. The committee’s Republican majority voted in favor, with one defection from Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing. All 11 committee Democrats opposed the measure to put the definition of marriage in Minnesota’s Constitution to a statewide vote in 2012.
The vote is likely to be held tomorrow. While there is a Republican majority, there is still a chance that this could fail. Kelly is the second Republican to express opposition to the amendment and if only three or four more find their conscience (or predict the future cost of this vote) then a protracted battle in the media might be avoided.
And there is a potential bright lining to this cloud. Should this go to the voters, polls suggest that we may well win.
And I also believe that the Republican Party in Minnesota is taking a huge gamble. They ran on the economy but now are pushing a social agenda that is increasingly being perceived as punitive, cruel, and bigoted. I believe that in the next election cycle this vote will be featured in television ads that portray these Republicans as out of touch with their constituents and as beholding to theocrats and special interest groups.
Maggie’s Minnesota poll mixup
May 13th, 2011
Maggie Gallagher’s National Organization for Marriage put out poll results last week that showed that Minnesotans overwhelmingly support a constitution amendment to ban marriage equality in the state.
56 percent of Minnesotans said only heterosexual marriages should be recognized in Minnesota and 42 percent said they supported same-sex marriage. The poll, by the National Organization for Marriage, Minnesota Family Council and Lawrence Research, also says that 74 percent of Minnesotans want to vote on the marriage amendment.
The Minnesota Independent asked for more details about the poll, the questions asked, and the methodology used. Considering the accuracy of some of Maggie’s other polls, this seems reasonable. But it turns out that polling questions and methods are just like images of anti-gay witnesses and the identity of anti-gay donors: super-duper secret.
But now the Star Tribune has put out their Minnesota Poll which finds responses a bit differently than NOM. They also happily provide details about their questions and methodology.
Fifty-five percent of respondents said they oppose adding such an amendment while 39 percent favor a constitutional ban — views that appear to be a sharp reversal of poll results seven years ago.
Opposition to the ban generally cuts across all ages, though support rises gradually with age. Sixty percent of Minnesotans aged 18 to 34 oppose the idea. A slim majority, 51 percent, of Minnesotans older than 65 oppose the constitutional ban.
Now, I’m not calling Maggie a liar. Nor am I suggesting that she wouldn’t know the truth if it snuck up and bit her on her prodigious posterior. I’m not even implying that Maggie and her integrity parted long ago on such bad terms that if they find each other in the same room they scowl.
Not at all.
I merely think that Maggie accidentally reversed the “support” and the “oppose” results in her poll.
Marriage Ban Goes to Minnesota Senate Floor
May 6th, 2011
Despite moving testimony this week, the Minnesota Senate Rules Committee voted to forward the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to the Senate floor. Now word yet on when the full Senate will take up the measure.
A quote worth memorizing
May 5th, 2011
During the debate over whether to propose a ban on marriage equality, Minnesota Representative Steve Simon (D) asked his fellow legislators to take a moment at some point to seriously consider how the biological contributions to the development of sexual orientation impact the morality of their opposition to gay rights.
Simon then put it “into the vernacular” and asked a question that goes to the very heart of religious objection:
“How many more gay people does God have to create before we ask ourselves whether or not God actually wants them around?”
Minnesota Senate Committee Advances Marriage Ban
April 29th, 2011
In a strict 8-4 party line vote, the Minnesota Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee approved a measure to put a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage before voters in the November 2012 elections. The bill now goes to the Senate rules committee.
Alexandria’s Echo Press publishes spin on Lundsten’s toxicology report
March 9th, 2011
Yesterday television media in Alexandria, MN, followed up on their coverage of the local anti-gay bullying problem. They confirmed the claims of anti-bullying advocates in reporting that toxicology reports reveal that, indeed, Lance Lundsten’s death was due to suicide. This contradicted the position taken by the local newspaper which had been insisting that Lundsten had died due to a medical condition.
As of late afternoon yesterday, the Echo Press had made no mention of the toxicology results. At some point after Box Turtle Bulletin criticized them for their silence on the issue, the following blub appeared on their website:
18-year-old’s death in Miltona determined to be suicide
Toxicology reports indicate that 18-year-old Lance Lundsten of Miltona was a victim of suicide.
Lundsten, a senior at Jefferson High School, died on January 15 at his home.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office investigated the death and initially described it as a medical call/sudden death.
Family members said they were initially told that a preliminary autopsy indicated that Lundsten had cardiac edema, a medical condition caused by an enlarged heart. The family was told it would be six to eight weeks before complete toxicology results could be determined.
Those results are back now and they show “a mixed drug ingestion” led to the death and that the manner of death was suicide, according to Douglas County Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Spanbauer.
Not much there… but the language included – and excluded – is worth noting as an example of a newspaper deliberately seeking to deceive its readers.
The Echo Press carefully strung together a few sentences, each of which may be factual but when taken together tell a false tale. And all of it is designed to cover the butt of publisher Al Edenloff.
First, yes it was a “medical call/sudden death.” This is a pretty broad description and could cover anything.
But the Echo Press included this terminology for a very specific reason: to imply validation for their campaign to deny the true cause of Lundsten’s death. Lookie there, the sheriff used the word “medical” so we’re justified in insisting that the cause of his death was “cardiac edema, a condition caused by an enlarged heart.”
Then Edenloff defends his scolding editorial and incorrect reporting by shifting blame to fourth-party information. “Family members said they were initially told…”
To those who have not followed the drama, this looks to be some little story of the medical examiner discovering that the cause of death wasn’t what he thought after all. To the shock of everyone, this was a suicide. Whoda thunk it?
But what happened is quite something else. A false story was spread to cover the truth behind Lundsten’s death and the motivation appears to be to cover up the community’s entrenched anti-gay bias. And Echo Press was the main culprit in the propagation of this story.
Mr. Edenloff was angered that “anti-bullying groups” were covering the story in ways that reflecting badly on the city and the school. He didn’t like that Senator Al Franken had used the story to highlight the need for anti-bullying legislation.
And I suspect that he may have truly believed his happy fairly tale that swept everything under the rug, caused no reason to question the attitude that Alexandria and Jefferson High have towards gay kids, and implicated no one in the death of a high school student. Or he chose to believe it.
But he was wrong. And rather than admit this and apologize to those whom he chastised and criticized, he’s trying to act as though the reporting and editorializing of the Echo Press was reasonable. It was not.
Oh, it’s possible that Edenloff will run an editorial “explaining” his actions. And while I can hope that some humility may creep in, I suspect it will ignore the story behind the story: that Alexandria’s gay youth are going though torment while its adults blithely traipse along refusing to see or do anything about it.
I doubt that Edenloff will suddenly join those who are calling for protection for students, like Lance, who are bullied at Jefferson High. He has not yet been willing even to acknowledge that Lance was reportedly bullied, or even that he was gay. Perhaps he thinks that this would smear Lance’s reputation.
In January, the Echo Press titled its editorial “Lessons from the death of an 18-year-old” and set out to lecture on what others could learn. But it’s time for Edenloff to look at the situation and see what lessons are there for him.
He would do well to ask himself what, exactly, is the role of a newspaper in today’s instant media society. While newsprint once could serve as community scold and publisher of opinion, that role has now been taken over by blogs and social media.
The real value of newspaper media is that unlike instant media they – at least in theory – publish hard facts. They do background and talk to source and try and see a bigger picture. Newspaper reporting is presumed to be fact-checked and accurate. This is what differentiates them from much of the blogosphere.
But what value is a newspaper that prints known falsehoods rather than facts? If the Echo Press has no more accuracy than the most agenda-driven and biased of bloggers, then it no longer has any value or purpose.
Alexandria’s Echo Press ignores Lundsten’s toxicology report
March 8th, 2011
On Saturday, January 15, 2011, openly gay 18 year-old high school student Lance Lundsten died. Fellow students reported that Lance was openly gay and subjected to bullying at school and expressed their sadness and their wish that some adult had protected him. But the adults in Lance’s life had an entirely difference response.
Jefferson High School, where Lance was subjected to homophobic bullying, has no gay-straight alliance, has no inclusive anti-discrimination policy, and no acknowledgment of the existence of students like Lance or any provisions to address their need or concerns. The school superintendent Terry Quist issued a statement that not only refused to consider that bullying could have played a part, but chastised and criticized Lance’s friends for suggesting that Lance’s death may have been at his own hand and due in part to bullying he experienced while under Quist’s supervision.
We are aware that statements attributed to unidentified students have been reported by the media. However we have no information regarding the source of or any factual basis for the statements. It would be disrespectful, as well as a violation of privacy laws for us to engage in speculation regarding the cause or circumstances of Lance’s death.
But lack of “factual basis” did not limit others from engaging in a public relations effort to deny who Lance was, squelch any talk about issues that could have led to his death, and craft a pretty lie to replace the story that fellow students were presenting. Rather than allow the tragedy to be an opportunity to acknowledge that Alexandria, MN, has a culture of animus and hostility towards gay people, including their own children, those who should have protected Lance instead joined together to bully him after his death.
Lance had a strained relationship with his parents and was living with his grandparents at the time of his death. After his son killed himself, his father stepped up as spokesman for his estranged and now dead son and declared that it was a medical condition that killed the young man.
And although the coroner refuted this claim, Jon Lundsten was not interested in considering whether his son had been bullied or whether Jon’s own difficulties with his son had contributed in any way to Lance believing that life was not worth going on. So he stuck with his “enlarged heart” tale.
Besides diverting any need to talk about any icky gay stuff, this solved a more immediate problem. Declaring Lance’s death not to be a suicide allowed for his memorial and burial to be through the Catholic Church. Rev. Father Steve Binsfeld could officiate.
And Jon Lundsten had found himself an ally in his campaign of denial and deceit: Al Edenloff, the editor of the local newspaper. Over the next several days, the Echo Press, which calls itself “The Official Newspaper of Douglas County!” ran several stories on Lance’s death:
Throwing caution (and subtlety) to the wind, the first, on January 18th, was titled “18-year-old from Miltona, Minn., dies from medical condition”
According to preliminary autopsy results that were shared with the family, he died from cardiac edema, a condition caused by an enlarged heart.
There was no evidence that drugs or alcohol played any role in the death, according to a family member interviewed by the newspaper. The family was told that it would be six to eight weeks before complete toxicology results are determined.
This was a pure fabrication. But on the 21st, that story was expanded and renamed “School copes with loss of 18-year-old“. It repeated the “preliminary autopsy report” claims.
But across town, the television news was not going along with Jon Lundsten’s diversion. Instead, they ran a story on the reports of bullying, talked with the coroner’s office, interviewed a gay former student from Jefferson, and exposed the truth that Jon Lundsten, Al Edenloff, and Terry Quist wanted to keep hidden.
And fellow students who saw through all the denials began to band together, insisting that if the adults wouldn’t protect gay kids, then they would do what they could to help. Being of the social media generation, they used Facebook to not only expose the lack of concern of the adults, but also to reflect on how they could work together to address bullying.
This was certainly not the message that reflected well on the adults. Rather than have media interest in Lance’s death quickly die off as a tragic tale of a young man cut down early by a heart condition, the story began to grow as one about callous administrators who refused to take responsibility for their own actions. Even worse, the public was becoming aware that the school board’s decision not to protect gay students could lead to death.
So Edenloff went into crisis mode, writing an editorial that again denied that Lance had broken under
Alexandria’s intolerance and the lack of support in his family and his school. Seeking to keep the city and the school from being portrayed as “a backwoods little punkwood town”, he went on the attack against those students who dared to make a difference.
Calling his scold piece “Editorial – Lessons from the death of an 18-year-old”, Edenloff began with a lecture:
Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook. And don’t post things on the Internet that you’re not entirely sure of when it comes to someone else’s life.
And although by this time Edenloff had to know that Jon’s story was not being backed up by the medical examiner, he surged ahead with accusations and insinuations.
Unfortunately, whipped up by the Facebook frenzy, the distorted story of Lundsten’s death took on a life of its own. A TV station reported about the Facebook speculations and it snowballed quickly from there, getting reported by other media outlets as well – a sad case of media reporting what other media were reporting, even though it was untrue.
Today the toxicology reports came back.
Lance’s death was a suicide.
The mystery surrounding the January death of Lance Lundsten, the Miltona teen whose controversial death sparked a conversation about teen suicide across the nation, has now been revealed by the Douglas County Medical Examiner.
Dr. Mark Spanbauer confirmed Monday, March 7, that the teen’s manner of death was ruled suicide. The toxicology report from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and MEDTOX, determined the cause of death to be a mixed drug ingestion, according to Spanbauer.
“It was a mixed drug ingestion and suicide was the manner of death,” Spanbauer said.
The Echo Press decided not to cover this story.
UPDATE: At some point after we posted this commentary, the Echo Press ran a blurb noting the cause of death.
Denial over Lance Lundsten’s death
January 25th, 2011
Suicide can devastate a family, especially when the one who takes their life is a youth with great potential. Some of those left behind wonder what they could have done differently, what they contributed.
But it is not unusual for other family members to find peace by adopting a position of denial and looking for any other possible explanation, a scenario in which they can be absolved of their self-imposed guilt. This might be by finding another culprit to blame (“her bad-influence friends”) or by simply pretending that the suicide never happened (“that was an accidental overdose”).
So I did not find it surprising that Lance Lundsten’s father had declared that Lundsten had not ended his own life but rather had died due a coronary edema brought on by an enlarged heart. According to the coroner this was simply not true, but undoubtedly the discovery of this incidental medical condition allowed Lance’s father to concoct an alternate reality in which there was no blame or shame or regret.
But denial is not healthy, and there are times when it is appropriate to ask oneself, “Did I contribute to this, should I change?” And in the story of Lance Lundsten, I am finding more than a few, family and community alike, who are unwilling – or afraid – to look at themselves too closely to see what part they might have played in Lance’s death.
The coroner’s toxicology reports are not in and at this point we simply do not know the cause of Lance’s death. And even if suicide is determined to be the cause, it is not possible to identify which specific pressures were felt the greatest or what incidents contributed most to his state of mind. But we can readily identify some facts of Lance’s life that would be troublesome to most teens.
Lance’s family life was not without complication. Although his father has asserted his role as family spokesman, Lance actually lived with his grandparents and comments he made on his Facebook page suggest that his relationship with his parents was strained. Further, this tension appears to be due, at least in part, to religious differences, likely due to his sexual orientation.
We also know that the administration at Jefferson High School is not supportive of gay students. The school policies do not ban anti-gay discrimination or harassment, and fellow gay student Caleb Shafer reports that the school would not protect him from bullies. It is telling that District 206 Superintendent Terry Quist released a statement about Lance’s death that went out of its way to avoid any mention of Lundsten’s sexual orientation or bullying of any kind and suggested that the “respectful” way to “honor Lance’s memory” would be to ignore all of the concerns his friends have raised.
But the denial and refusal to consider Lance as who he was, rather than the person they wish he was, extends beyond his parents and his school. The community in Alexandria seems determined not to address whether their gay kids are being tormented and refuse to see Lance’s death as a means of introducing that discussion.
The local newspaper, aptly named the Echo, went so far as to run an editorial in which they repeated the father’s assertions, even though the coroner had disputed them, and chastised Lance’s classmates and the local TV news for suggesting otherwise. (Echo)
Before people started gossiping and drawing conclusions on the Internet, they should have stopped and considered the family. They should have asked themselves if they would have liked the same kind of unsubstantiated rumors swirling around about someone in their own family.
Unfortunately, whipped up by the Facebook frenzy, the distorted story of Lundsten’s death took on a life of its own. A TV station reported about the Facebook speculations and it snowballed quickly from there, getting reported by other media outlets as well – a sad case of media reporting what other media were reporting, even though it was untrue.
Some Jefferson High School students threatened a walk out, believing the school wasn’t taking the bullying issue seriously enough.
Anti-bullying groups were quick to pick up on the death, spreading the story further. U.S. Senator Al Franken called attention to the incident to drum up support for anti-bullying legislation. Images of Lundsten connected to headlines of bullying and suicide popped up all over the Internet – even on a website in France.
It shouldn’t have happened this way.
Although the editorial never once uses the word gay or mentions that Lance publicly identified as such, it isn’t too hard to figure out who the Echo means by “anti-bullying groups” that didn’t “consider the family.” And they clearly feel betrayed and angry at KSAX for daring to suggest that perhaps something is amiss in Alexandria. (CityPages)
It’s true that Lundsten’s death has not yet been ruled a suicide–toxicology test results aren’t expected back for more than a month. But the Echo Press has been insisting all week that Lundsten’s death wasn’t a suicide, without even bothering to pick up the phone and call the medical examiner. Isn’t that rush to judgment exactly what they’re accusing Lundsten’s classmates of doing on Facebook?
“Absolutely not,” Edenloff told City Pages today. “I’d much rather report what a family member said than a bunch of kids who didn’t even know what he was all about.”
Edenloff says the coverage by KSAX and the internet response to the story have painted Jefferson High School and the city of Alexandria unfairly.
“The school and the city have been portrayed as really backwards on this,” Edenloff says. “The idea that we’re a backwoods little punkwood town that doesn’t know how to deal with these issues is totally false.”
Suicide can devastate a community, especially when the one who takes their life is a youth with great potential. Some of those left behind wonder what they could have done differently, what they contributed.
Others, like Lance’s father, the administration of Lance’s school, and the local newspaper have adopted a position of denial. They don’t want to know whether they played a part. They would rather tell themselves pretty stories than consider what they could have done differently, what they contributed, or how they could change.