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Posts for March, 2011

Alexandria’s Echo Press publishes spin on Lundsten’s toxicology report

Timothy Kincaid

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

Timothy Kincaid

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.

KSAX

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

Timothy Kincaid

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.

Lance Lundsten update

Timothy Kincaid

January 20th, 2011

More information is coming out about Lance Lundsten’s death, and some of it is contradictory. As is sometimes the case in these situations, answers are not easy.

Lance’s father, understandably, took an autopsy finding and clung to the hope that Lance’s death was natural (Herald)

Lance’s father called KSAX and said he received a call from the coroner saying Lance had an enlarged heart and died of a coronary edema. He said he believed it was not a suicide.

He also believed there were no signs of drugs or alcohol in his son’s system, but the toxicology report has not been finished according the medical examiner’s office.

However, the coroner has said that this was not the cause. (KSAX)

The preliminary findings in the autopsy of 18-year-old Lance Lundsten showed the teen did not die from an enlarged heart, according to Douglas County Medical Examiner Dr. Mark Spanbauer.

The teen’s heart was slightly enlarged, but that finding was a secondary finding to an undetermined cause, according to Spanbauer.

Lance’s will be determined by the medical examiner after the autopsy process and laboratory testing is complete, a process that may take weeks.

Meanwhile, another gay kid has gone on record about the atmosphere at Jefferson. (KSAX)

The death of 18-year-old Jefferson High School student Lance Lundsten caused several to speak out about bullying in Greater Minnesota schools. Nineteen-year-old Caleb Shafer said he was bullied from middle school through high school.

“I was suicidal,” Shafer said. “I was very depressed … I didn’t want to talk to anyone … I would cry myself to sleep.”

Shafer attended Jefferson High School at the same time Lundsten did.

The school district has responded – predictably – by pretending that the situation didn’t happen and that there is no bullying going on at all. (KSAX)

At times like this, people are trying to make sense of the loss. 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. Today, and in the days ahead, we need to pull together and honor Lance’s memory.

Missing from the four paragraph letter were the words “gay” and “bullying” and “suicide” and “problem” and “policy” and “correct” and ” avoid.” Nope. Nothing to see here, folks, move on along.

But they are going to offer counseling for those students who are having “a tough day.”

Although this story hasn’t, as best we can tell, seemed to much impact the administration at Jefferson other than perhaps some minor inconvenience, it has changed the perspective of one student. Alex Sonju, in his words:

This is the Truth

As most of you know, a kid in my school commited suicide due to bullying him about his sexual preferance.

I never thought it would be a reality. I’ve heard about suicide, and thought to myself “Wow, that’s horrible”, then went on with my normal day. But when someone in my own town, in my own school does it, it really changes my thinking.(found out it’s a heart condition, but i still feel exactly the same on this issue) It makes me think of how just a few words can change so many lives. To anyone I’ve ever said anything mean about, I truely am sorry. I don’t care if it was as a joke, or if I was serious. We’re all guilty of saying mean things. Joking or not. Because in turn, those jokes, cause death.

Now a days, bullying isnt the typical “give me your lunch money” or getting beat up at recess. Today’s bullying is much different. I know what it’s like to hear mean things. I’ve been called gay before, I’ve been called fat, I’ve been laughed at, I’ve been talked about. And to all those people that have done this to me, I forgive you. I hope with Lance’s story, it serves as a wake up call to everyone. Your friends might find it hilarious, you might get a couple high fives from them, but what are they gonna be doing when you tell them “I’m the reason someone killed themself! High five anyone?” No.

I pray to God that Jefferson will change from this. I hope that teachers won’t just sit by and stare anymore. I hope more kids will stand up. I know I will. I’ll do it for you Lance. I don’t care if I don’t like the kid they’re making fun of, or if I love them. I don’t care if they’re black or white. I don’t care if they’re gay or straight. I won’t care. I know it will take alot of strength, but I’d rather stand up for someone, then to see them go. And I hope you do the same.

Most of the time though, when you do confront a bully, they usually say “I was joking”. Yeah, well, sorry to say this, but suicide isn’t a joke. Either is any form of self harm. In fact, it’s the opposite of a joke. Some people say that self harm is a way to attract attention… well, it kind of is. It’s like they’re trying to tell people “look what your doing to me”. And it’s also trying to tell everyone else “I need help”. Most of the time, all they need is someone to talk to, someone to have trust in. I’ve been at some low points in life. I’ve been made fun of. I know what it’s like. The thing that would have helped me the most is easily someone to talk to. Just someone that will say “hey, how are you”. Just by talking to that one person, it shows that you care. So, that’s why if anyone, and I mean anyone, want’s to talk, about anything at all, PLEASE talk to me. I’d love to talk to you. I know I might not seem like the person that would be able to hold a serious conversation, but believe me, I can have deep heart to heart talks. If you ever want to talk, feel free to talk to me on chat, or message me.

Well, I could go on for hours, but I think I would bore you guys. I’m just trying to get across my point that bullying is serious, and if you guys ever need to talk, I am ALWAYS here for you. You guys are all loved, and your all amazing people, no matter what anyone says.

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.

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.

Marriage update – around the states

Timothy Kincaid

November 29th, 2010

The 2010 election has changed the dynamic in a few states and presents both opportunities and challenges for supporters of marriage equality. Here are how I see the current landscape:

Hawaii – Neil Abercrombie, the newly elected governor of Hawaii, is a strong advocate for civil unions. Earlier this year the legislature overwhelmingly approved a civil unions bill and such a bill is likely to be presented again.

Illinois – it is expected that the state legislature will vote this week on a civil unions bill during a lame-duck session. There is adequate support in the Senate, but the House vote is uncertain. Should it pass, Governor Pat Quinn, a strong supporter who was just reelected, will sign the bill. This bill seems to be taking on the impression of a Catholic v. Protestant fight, with NOM and the Catholic Bishop serving as the public face in opposition to civil unions, while a great many Protestants ministers have endorsed the bill.

Minnesota
– Mark Dayton holds a lead in the governor’s election over anti-gay Tom Emmer, but the election will not be determined until a recount is completed. Republicans took control of both houses of legislature, so no pro-equality bills are expected; but if Dayton is confirmed there also will be no anti-equality bills either.

The one concern might be that Republicans could try and put a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot that bans both marriage and civil unions. While that may seem like a great idea to anti-gay activists, Emmer ran a homophobic campaign designed to appeal to those who oppose marriage equality and it does not appear to have been successful. I think it likely that an anti-marriage amendment would pass, but anti-civil unions may be too much, and it is becoming increasingly more risky for anti-gays to make such assumptions. Additionally, attitudes can change dramatically in the next two years.

Meanwhile, three couples are suing the state claiming that laws restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples violate the state constitution. Today, a judge rejected the request of the Minnesota Family Counsel to intervene:

“The Council’s alleged injuries would occur solely due to its sincerely-held belief that principles rooted in its interpretations of religious texts are best for the well-being of children and families, and that marriage only between one man and one woman accords with these principles,” wrote Minnesota Fourth District Court Judge Mary S. DuFrense (PDF). “The Court certainly understands that the Council feels strongly about the social issue of same-sex marriage. Strong feelings, however, do not establish a legal interest in a lawsuit.”

Iowa – after three Supreme Court Justices were denied confirmation, anti-gay activists were celebrating. But as the Senate majority leader has committed to blocking any changes to the Iowa constitution, it is unlikely that marriage will be reversed.

New Hampshire – NOM is crowing that anti-marriage activists have taken over both houses. However, my analysis suggests that any reversal of marriage equality is unlikely. While Republicans took a veto-proof majority, a significant number have already voted against any repeal of the law.

Maine – Republican Paul LePage was elected governor, effectively eliminating any forward movement on marriage equality. However LePage supports the current domestic partnership laws so things will remain status quo for a while.

New York – this one is a big question mark. Incoming Governor Cuomo has promised to get marriage legalized. And after the last vote, state legislators have discovered that “things as they are” may well be the most dangerous position to hold; gay activists refused to play the “any Democrat is better than a Republican” game and set their sites on defeating anti-marriage votes.

Going by last year’s vote count, the current best case scenario is that we are three votes shy of what we need (there are still some undecided elections). However, this time our side is taking to the airwaves to drum up public support, and polls show that New Yorkers support marriage equality. What was a party-line vote last year may well be viewed this year in terms of tolerance and New York values and there may be an entirely different dynamic.

Rhode Island – Former-Republican Lincoln Chafee, who ran as an Independent, beat both the Democrat and the Republican candidates to take governor of the tiny state. And one of his first actions was to inform NOM that their opinion on marriage was not of any value to him. Rhode Islanders support marriage equality, and with Chafee’s backing there is a good chance that RI will be the next marriage state.

Maryland – another contender for next marriage state, Maryland did not suffer party reversal. A plurality of voter support marriage equality, and gay State Sen. Richard Madaleno is guardedly optimistic that marriage will be voted in, perhaps as early as January.

His optimism stems from a number of developments on Election Day 2010, some of which ran absolutely counter to national trends. In the Maryland Senate, Democrats actually expanded their majority to a 35-12 advantage over Republicans. And some Democrats who lost their seats did so in primary fights with more progressive challengers, many of whom vowed to be even stronger champions for marriage equality.

And, of course, all of the above could be impacted by Perry v. Schwarzenegger should the courts find that marriage laws which restrict gay people from participation are contrary to the Due Process or Equal Protections clauses of the 14th Amendement.

Not a good night for NOM

Timothy Kincaid

November 2nd, 2010

The Republicans picked up significant gains in the midterm election, gaining control of the House of Representatives, and bringing the Senate to within a few votes. This is not good news for the prospect of having issues of inequality addressed in the next two years.

However, this change in the direction of power was not a mandate for social conservatives. Indeed, it was those Republicans who made the most of their socially conservative credentials who fared least well. Christine O’Donnell lost miserably, as did Tom Tancredo, while Tea Party and Republican candidates that minimized or refused to discuss their positions on social issues attracted support.

But no indicator seems to have been more consistent this election than the extent to which a candidate was supported by the National Organization for Marriage. If you were a Senatorial or Gubernatorial candidate whom NOM supported, it seemed to be the kiss of death.

In New Hampshire, NOM has ran an anti-Lynch campaign for two years, and has ratcheted up the anti-Lynch television ads going into the election. Lynch just won his fourth consecutive election, a feat not accomplished for the past 200 years.

In California, NOM sponsored a bus tour for senate candidate Carly Fiorina, encouraging Latino voters to “vota tus valores“. Not only have the networks called this election for Barbara Boxer, Latinos found Fiorina’s valores not to be their valores by two-thirds.

NOM sued the state of New York in hopes of running anonymous ads in favor of Carl Paladino. Paladino’s homophobia sunk his campaign and he ended up pulling but 35% of the vote leaving Cuomo – a marriage support – one of the strongest winners of the night.

In Minnesota, NOM ran radio ads for Tom Emmer claiming that “Mark Dayton and Tom Horner want to impose gay marriage with no vote of the people.” Although Minnesota has not been called, Dayton is 7% ahead of Emmer with 85% of the vote counted.

This kiss of death is consistent with results of NOM’s electioneering in the District of Columbia during their primary. It would seem that using gay couples as a fear tactic seems to have peaked and dissipated.

This is not to say that NOM will not have any causes for celebration. The efforts to reject three supreme court justices in Iowa who were part of the unanimous decision to recognize gay Iowans as protected by the state Constitution, appears to have succeeded. Each appears to have only 46-47% support. Expect NOM to claim this as a clear mandate that the “people of Iowa have spoken” and that they don’t like their gay neighbors so much. NOM was not, however, successful in their effort to oust the Polk County judge who first found for marriage equality.

And NOM’s very own Andy Pugno – the attorney for the Prop 8 campaign – is running for state assembly in California’s 5th Assembly district. At present the vote is too close to call.

All in all, while NOM’s vindictive smearing of the Iowa justices may have proven effective (and may well prove to bring a chilling effect to future legal battles), we can say that they were big losers tonight.

UPDATE: 10:28 pm PST. LA Times:

With more than half the votes counted, Democrat Richard Pan holds a 51% to 45% lead over Republican Andy Pugno in a seat currently held by Republicans.

Not only may Pugno’s repugnant attack on gay couples have cost him the 5th Assembly seat, it may actually move the Democrats in CA closer to a supermajority. NOM must feel so proud.

Catholics “do the work of Jesus” with anti-gay DVD

Timothy Kincaid

September 28th, 2010

If you are Catholic and living in the area of St. Paul, Minnesota, then you probably received a DVD in the mail from your Archbishop. Some “anonymous donor” paid to take the moral authority of the church and turn it into political shilling in opposition to the rights of their neighbors and a all-too-transparent attempt to push votes in the gubernatorial election. (StarTribune)

More than 400,000 DVDs are being mailed to the homes of Minnesota Catholics on Wednesday, courtesy of Catholic bishops in the state who want to stop the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in its tracks.

The 18-minute DVD includes an appearance from St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt in which he says it is time for Minnesotans — not the “ruling elite” of legislators and judges — to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

But as the Catholics hierarchy ratchets up its efforts to impose Catholic doctrine on society by force of the ballot box, the Catholic laity seems to be increasing in its rebellion against the rigid demands of the Church. Not only can this been seen on a global scale with one Catholic country after another flouting the threats of the Church and choosing civil equality, so too can this disconnect be seen on the local level.

So it is not surprising that some lay Catholics in Minnesota see no Christ in the Church’s latest political maneuvering. But seeking to be good Christians, they have found a way to turn the Archbishop’s priorities on their ear.

Return The DVD, a group that describes itself as “Catholics who are concerned about the priorities of the leaders in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis” have called on their fellow faithful to send them the Archbishop’s DVD.

We are collecting as many DVDs as possible and will return them to Archbishop John Nienstedt with a letter asking him to make the needs of the poor and love of neighbor his highest priority.

They are also taking the opportunity to focus Catholics’ minds away from worldly political fiefdoms and towards what Jesus instructed.

2.) Make a donation to an organization doing the work of Jesus.

Make a donation directly to an organization helping to fight poverty and end homelessness in Minnesota.

If the hierarchy of the Church is still capable of feeling shame, now would be a good time.

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?

Judge: anti-gay activist can’t be kept out of pride event

Timothy Kincaid

June 25th, 2010

In a truly mind-boggling decision, a judge in Minneapolis has decided that an anti-gay activist must be allowed to distribute anti-gay literature within the park which the gay pride event has rented from the city.

A federal judge ruled Friday that a restraining order would violate Johnson’s First Amendment rights.

The city’s park system fought Pride Fest in court.

Since the Fest is held in a public park, attorneys for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board argued on Johnson’s behalf, although they insisted they were merely trying to clarify the rules and were not advocating one viewpoint over another.

To recap, just so we know the law,

  • The Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which marches down public streets, has the right to exclude gay people from marching so as to protect its “message”
  • The Boy Scouts of America, who recruit in public schools, have the right to exclude gay people because they have a freedom of assembly right
  • The Boy Scouts have the right to insist that their discriminatory policies can’t be used to deny them taxpayer-funded free rent
  • BUT

  • The Twin Cities Pride Fest doesn’t have the right to deny entry into a park that they rented to someone who is there for the sole purpose of working against their message.

Yeah. And we’re the ones who they say want “special rights.”

UPDATE: WCCO provides additional information:

In a footnote, Tunheim proposed a compromise in which Twin Cities Pride could designate content-neutral “free speech zones” where anyone could distribute literature or display signs.

Pragmatically, they may be smart to allow such a zone. It would minimize disturbances and confrontations and would allow those who are there to seek a space where they can feel safe and free from hostility can avoid the area.

Johnson, of course, doesn’t want to be restricted in any way.

Minnesota Governor Vetoes Equality For The Dead

Jim Burroway

May 17th, 2010

It’s bad enough when people refuse to recognize your dignity while you’re still alive, but Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) has ensured that the insults will continue even after you die:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill Saturday that would have given same-sex partners the right to decide what to do with the body of their loved ones, should they die.

Minnesota to recognize same-sex couples unless Pawlenty vetoes

Timothy Kincaid

May 12th, 2010

Today the Minnesota legislature took a very small step and crossed a very great divide: they went from being a state that sees same-sex couples as two distinct individuals who are legal strangers without any formal relationship to being a state that recognizes, in at least some small way, that same-sex couples are a unit, two people who have emotional, financial, and legal connections. (Star Tribune)

Domestic partners would have the right to determine what happens with the remains of a deceased partner under a bill passed by the Minnesota House on Tuesday.

The “Final Wishes” bill defines domestic partners and gives them decision-making power ahead of children, siblings and parents after a partner’s death.

The measure would also give domestic partners the right to sue for damages in cases of wrongful death.

This may seem like a small portion of equality, hardly worth getting excited over. But this is a tremendous step, one that impacts far more than those couples who can now breath a sigh of relief that the decisions surrounding their final rest can be made by the one who knows and loves them best. Because this bill defines domestic partners.

The real battle for equality is over whether gay people and gay couples exist.

You’d think that would be a given. Everyone knows – on some level – that gay folks exist and that some of them form couples. Yet that is the point most hotly debated by anti-gay activists and most ardently denied by anti-gay politicians.

All of the anti-gay rhetoric that we hear about “there is no gay gene” and “no one is born gay” and “there is no such thing as sexual orientation” and “change is possible” all seek to deny the existence of gay people. These claims all seek to advance the notion that those who identify as gay are just “heterosexuals with a homosexual problem” or are “heterosexuals who struggle with same-sex attractions.”

Because once you acknowledge that gay people exist – real gay people and not just flawed heterosexuals who engage in homosexual behavior – then you have changed the power dynamic in the debate. If gay people exist, the question is no longer over what will be allowed for people who do, but becomes a debate over what rights exist for people who are. No longer can discrimination be dismissed by, “well if they just wouldn’t do that”; and now rights are presumed to exist and any denial must be justified and explained.

And the same is true of couples. Once you acknowledge that same-sex couples exist, then each denied right demands an explanation.

Instead of needing to justify each additional equality, the question is why it should not be provided. Once a state has defined what a domestic partnership is, then it must explain why such a unit should be treated differently from other units.

Why should gay couples not be treated like straight couples when using a state park? Why should they be denied hospital visitation? Why should they pay different taxes?

And this is why anti-gay Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is expected to veto the bill. He probably doesn’t much care who makes cremation decisions. I doubt he is concerned over who gets to sue for wrongful death. But he very much fears the idea that the State of Minnesota could acknowledge that same-sex couples, families, domestic partners exist.

The bill faces a likely veto by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, however. Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said it is unnecessary because people can already designate whomever they want to make such decisions. It “seems to be a political exercise to get the term ‘domestic partner’ into state law,” McClung added.

Unfortunately for Gov. Pawlenty, the culture has already accepted the existence of gay couples. And in time, if not already, Minnesotans will see the denial of small personal dignities like death decisions to be cruel, bigoted and hateful.

Minneapolis City Council Denounces Uganda’s “Kill Gays” Bill

Jim Burroway

December 18th, 2009

While it’s not without precedent, it may seem odd for an American municipality speaking out on foreign affairs. But Minneapolis has a special interest in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill due to its “sister city” status Minneapolis maintains with Kampala. Today, the Minneapolis City Council passed a resolution condemning Uganda’s proposed legislation.

Click here to read the full resolution by the Minneapolis City Council.

Truly Friends, indeed

Timothy Kincaid

December 7th, 2009

Anti-gays often declare that marriage equality is a religious freedom issue. And they are right.

When one church, or a handful of churches, persuade, coerce, or cajole legislators or voters to enact the rules of their sacraments into law and insist that other religious denominations cannot have their sacraments recognized, then religious freedom has been denied.

And it is to protest such encoding of religion into state law that a group of Quakers has taken bold action. (MN Public Radio)

A group of Twin Cities Quakers has decided to stop signing marriage certificates for opposite-sex couples until the state legalizes gay marriage.

“We’re simply trying to be consistent with the will of God as we perceive it,” said Paul Landskroener, clerk of the Twin Cities Friends Meeting, in an interview with MPR’s All Things Considered on Monday.

Please understand that this was not a decision taken lightly. Nor was it a choice to act in spite of religious faith. This decision is the direct response of how they believe that they have been divinely directed.

“The simplest way to say it is we feel very strongly and very clearly led that in the present time we simply cannot continue to participate in what we believe to be an unjust and inconsistent with our religious testimonies legal marriage procedure”

Tornado Strikes The Midwest! Time to Blame the Gays

Jim Burroway

August 20th, 2009

Goodness knows how rare tornados are in the Minnesota in the summertime. So when one strikes Minneapolis, where the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America conference is taking place — and that conference is taking up the issue of gay clergy — there can be only one explanation for it:

The tornado in Minneapolis was a gentle but firm warning to the ELCA and all of us: Turn from the approval of sin. Turn from the promotion of behaviors that lead to destruction. Reaffirm the great Lutheran heritage of allegiance to the truth and authority of Scripture. Turn back from distorting the grace of God into sensuality. Rejoice in the pardon of the cross of Christ and its power to transform left and right wing sinners.

Minnesota Poll on Marraige

Timothy Kincaid

May 1st, 2009

From the Star Tribune:

As you may know, the Iowa Supreme Court recently legalized same-sex marriage in that state by declaring unconstitutional a state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Do you believe Minnesota should pass a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage or legalize same-sex marriage or make no changes in its marriage laws and leave it to the Minnesota Supreme Court to interpret the state Constitution?

33% Prohibit same-sex marriage
25% Legalize same-sex marriage
35% Leave it to the MN Supreme Court
6% Don’t know/refused

State Marriage Equality Update

Timothy Kincaid

April 9th, 2009

There has been a lot of movement recently in various states on the issue of recognition for same-sex couples. Here is a brief synopsis (I apologize if I missed anything):

Arkansas – on March 27, a bill was killed that would have banned cities and counties from creating domestic partner registries.

California – the State Supreme Court is deliberating on whether Proposition 8 is constitutional and, if so, what impact it has on the 18,000 same-sex couples who married between June and November 2008.

Colorado – at least two initiative drives are underway to either change the constitution to allow for gay marriage or alternately to statutorily create civil unions. The legislature has just passed a Designated Beneficiary Agreement Act, which has been signed by the Governor.

Connecticut – last week codified – with bipartisan support – marriage equality in the state’s laws to agree with the decision of the state Supreme Court.

Delaware – proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage defeated in the Senate in the last week in March.

Hawaii – Civil Unions bill was tied up in committee. Although the bill has a strong majority of support in the Senate, they voted not to pull it from committee.

Illinois – a bill (HB 0178) has been introduced to legalize same-sex marriage along with a bill (HB 2234) to enact Civil Unions. The marriage bill is resting in the Rules Committee but the Civil Unions bill passed out of committee in March and now faces a House vote.

Iowa – last week the Supreme Court found that the state must recognize same-sex marriage. It will go into effect on April 27. The Governor, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Speaker of the House have all announced that they will oppose efforts to change the Constitution. Iowa has no initiative process so it would require a change in leadership and several years before it would be possible to revoke this right.

Maine – both a marriage bill and a civil unions bill are before the legislature. The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on April 24. Gov. John Baldacci is “keeping an open mind”.

Maryland – on April 7, the State Senate upgraded benefits offered to same-sex couples in domestic partnership relationships but do not allow for official state recognition of those relationships.

Minnesota – there is a bill before the legislature to provide new marriage equality. It is unlikely to pass.

Nevada – a bill to provide Domestic Partnerships with all the rights and obligations of marriage has passed out of committee and is before the Senate.

New Hampshire – at the end of March the House passed a bill to allow for gay marriage. It will be considered by the Senate, where Democrats have a 14-9 advantage (a dozen Republicans in the House supported the bill). Governor John Lynch has not stated whether he will veto the legislation, should it pass.

New Jersey – a commission has found that civil unions are inadequate and polls have found that residents favor gay marriage but a bill before the legislature appears not to be moving.

New Mexico – in March the Senate defeated efforts to enact Domestic Partnerships.

New York – the Governor has announced that he will push for a vote in the Senate on gay marriage. Although marriage equality has passed in the House, without support from some Republicans, the votes do not appear to be there in the Senate.

Rhode Island – a gay marriage bill is unlikely to make it out of committee. A “reciprocal beneficiary agreements” bill, a darling of anti-gays who want to label gay couples as identical to roommates or cousins, has been proposed as a “compromise”.

Vermont – this week the legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass marriage equality.

Washington - a bill to upgrade the state’s Domestic Partnerships to provide all the rights and obligations of marriage has passed the Senate and will come before the House soon.

West Virginia – last week the House of Delegates defeated a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage.

Wisconsin - the Supreme Court is being asked to review the constitutional ban on marriage. The Governor, in his budget, has proposed Domestic Partnership benefits.

Wyoming – in February the House defeated a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

District of Columbia – the Council voted unanimously to recognize out of state marriages. Same-sex marriage bill expected later this year.

LaBarbera Award: Four Guys In Minnesota

Jim Burroway

March 18th, 2009

Our latest LaBarbera Award goes to a collective effort in Minnesota consisting of four fundamentalist leaders with the Minnesota Family Council. They held a press conference to explain what would happen if Minnesota doesn’t pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships:

“If everyone is a gay, this world will cease to exist in 10 years,” said Ikram ul-Huq, the imam and religious director of the Muslim Community Center of Bloomington.

“Homosexual unions are forbidden and cannot be licensed with the term marriage,” said Rabbi Moshe Feller, Shliach of the Rebbe to the Upper Midwest, a Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism.

“We see this as a pivotal issue to life, not just for our nation but the life we have known for 3,000 years,” said Tom Parrish, administrative pastor of Hope Lutheran Church. Parrish represents Hope Lutheran Church, whose senior pastor, Tom Brock, raised some eyebrows in 2003 when he insisted the 9/11 attacks were God’s wake-up call.

“That’s a lifestyle that God says is sinful,” Brock said of homosexuality in 2003. “Something happened to this nation in the ’60s,” he continued. “It’s just become more and more godless. I think God is going to judge us. I think 9/11 might be a wake-up call from God, saying America needs to repent.”

Another Christian pastor said life itself is at stake if same-sex marriage isn’t banned permanently. “This is not a political issue, or an issue of choice or rights. It is an issue of life,” said Andre Dukes, pastor of Shiloh Temple Ministries in Minneapolis.

Four guys from Minnesota, with a fifth from 2003 thrown in as a bonus.  My obvious favorite is Imam Cease-To-Exist. The others are pretty light weight in comparison, although Rev. Wake-Up-Call from 2003 is pretty good. That’s what you would call and oldie but goodie.

Maybe we should help them out. You can add your shocking predictions of what will happen in the comments. Here’s mine: Same-sex marriage will cause a run on fine china, leaving straight couples to pick from among the uglier, less desirable patterns.

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