MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Parents say four children were bullied daily at school for their perceived sexual orientation, being urinated on and told to “kill yourself” – which some did try to do – and the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s response was to tell the kids to “lay low” or “stay out of people’s way.” This despite four student suicides because of such bullying within a single school year.
In their federal complaint, the parents say Anoka-Hennepin School District No. 11 and its School Board encourage gay-bashing by its districtwide policies that single out lesbian, gay, and bisexual students.
“The epidemic of anti-gay and gender-based harassment within district schools is rooted in and encouraged by official district-wide policies singling out and denigrating LGBT people, and them alone, as unworthy of being mentioned, let alone protected, in district classrooms. In the mid-1990s, the district adopted a health curriculum policy prohibiting teachers from teaching that homosexuality is ‘normal’ or a ‘valid lifestyle.’ According to the anti-gay organization that lobbied the District to adopt that rule, such a policy was necessary because ‘the homosexual lifestyle does not reflect the community standards of District #11, nor is it regarded as a norm in society,'” according to the complaint.
The parents say the school district’s 2009 “Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy” prohibits teachers from teaching about sexual orientation because it is not part of the district’s curriculum. They claim this policy “amended and expanded the district’s anti-gay policy to go beyond the health curriculum. That revised policy is still in effect today.”
The parents say this “gag policy” prohibits teachers and administrators from protecting children who are bullied. The district persists in this despite the fact that “Within a nine month period, between November 2009 and July 2010, at least four LGBT students within the district did take their own Lives,” according to the complaint.
The parents of the four plaintiff students say the “relentless and inescapable” harassment forced their children to stay home to avoid it, to transfer to distant schools, or to withdraw from school altogether. “Being ostracized, humiliated,
threatened, and attacked as a daily routine at school also caused plaintiffs to suffer
serious emotional harm, including anxiety, anger, and depression, which led some of
them to consider or attempt suicide.”
One high school student says her sexuality was disclosed during a choir trip when students stole her cell phone and saw pictures of her and her girlfriend. The harassment then quickly escalated “[Acts] of physical aggression were accompanied by slurs such as ‘sinner’ and ‘dyke.’ On one occasion toward the end of her sophomore year, [she] was waiting for her mother to pick her up after school, and a student she didn’t know hurled Gatorade at her while calling her a ‘sinner,’ then walked away. [She] was so upset that she stayed home from school the next day.”
In response, a teacher told her, “This should be a lesson for you – you shouldn’t have had that picture on your phone if you didn’t want people to see those photos,” according to the complaint.
Two months into her senior year, this girl dropped out of school and tried to kill herself.
An African-American middle school student says that when he was called “nigger,” the district immediately addressed the problem and punished the student who said it. But the district refused to take action when students called him “fag,” “gay boy” and told him, “your dads are gay, so you’re going to be gay, so why don’t you just go suck your dads’ cocks.”
The parents say the anti-gay policies “originated in 1995 at the urging of an outside
group that eventually became known as the Parent Action League (‘PAL’). PAL is still
in existence today.”
The complaint continues: “PAL’s primary agenda is to promote anti-gay policies and practices within the district, including so-called ‘reparative therapy’ – an approach that maintains, contrary to the conclusions of every major mental health organization in the nation, that sexual orientation can be changed through counseling or other treatment. PAL’s leader recently reaffirmed in an interview that PAL has urged the district to teach that gay people can become heterosexual and to offer resources to LGBT students to lead them out of the ‘homosexual lifestyle.’ Among the ‘reparative therapy’ resources that PAL has promoted as appropriate for District students are Eagles’ Wings Ministry, Outpost Ministries, and Homosexuals Anonymous- all organizations that advocate that being gay is a sin or against God’s will.”
The parents say PAL successfully pressured the district to adopt its curriculum policy prohibiting teachers from teaching that homosexuality is a “valid lifestyle,” and followed up this “victory” of 1995 by “convincing the School Board to adopt other policies that would allow PAL to mobilize against any content within district schools that reflected positive views of LGBT people, regardless whether such content was necessary to present accurate information about a particular topic or to foster a safe
and equal learning environment for LGBT students. At PAL’s urging, the district passed a policy requiring that schools ‘clearly identif[y]’ any content related to lesbian, gay, or bisexual people included within any class – a requirement not imposed on any other type of educational materials. Upon information and belief, PAL has used this policy over the years to monitor and censor material about LGBT issues within district schools and to prevent accurate information about LGBT people and issues from being presented. Similarly, PAL successfully urged the district to remove LGBT support services, including the Gay and Lesbian Helpline for Youth and Adults, from district health resource lists. These policies, and the influence that PAL exerts on the School Board, have played a substantial role in creating and perpetuating an atmosphere hostile to LGBT youth and those perceived to be LGBT within district schools.”
After settling an anti-gay harassment case in 2009, the parents say, the School Board “purported to change its policy against homosexuality” by claiming to be “neutral” on it. But this policy was actually a “gag rule” that prevents teachers or administrators from addressing the anti-gay bullying, according to the 68-page complaint.
The parents and students seek an injunction and punitive damages for constitutional violations, denial of equal protection, sex discrimination, and sexual orientation discrimination. They are represented by Michael Ponto with Faegre & Benson.