Suicide epidemic in Anoka associated with neutrality law

Kaye Herranen

In the Anoka-Hennepin School District, nine students have committed suicide in the past two years. Many of these students were either openly gay, or were suspected of being gay by their peers. This school district’s struggle with teen suicide has been pushed into the mainstream media by students and parents protesting the school district’s policy on bullying.

Currently, the Anoka school district has a policy now referred to as “no homo promo,” which stipulates that school faculty and staff must remain neutral on issues of sexuality.

Even health teachers and guidance counselors are unable to tell a student that being gay is natural, or even okay. This policy was enacted out of fear that discussion of issues concerning sexuality would encourage students to become gay.

This policy was lobbied for by two conservative Christian groups, the Minnesota Family Council and Focus on the Family — both affiliated with Republican Congressional Representative Michele Bachmann. These same groups attacked anti-bullying legislation.

As quoted in a recent Rolling Stone article, Bachmann said of anti-bullying legislation in 2006, “What will be our definition of bullying? Will it get to the point where we are completely stifling free speech and expression?… Will we be expecting boys to be girls?”

I grant that I am a liberal-leaning college student — but anti-bullying legislation seems a no-brainer to me. No kid should get bullied. Period.

Anoka-Hennepin School District’s “no homo promo” policy of forcing teachers to remain neutral on issues of sexuality effectively bans them from starting any meaningful discussions about sexuality in the classroom. This rule extends to one-on-one meetings between teachers and students. Even a troubled student who turns to a teacher for guidance may be brushed off or turned away by a sympathetic teacher in fear of losing his or her job.

Anoka-Hennepin School District is within Bachmann’s congressional district, and she even graduated from Anoka High School. In light of her intimate connection to this issue, her silence is disturbing.

While Bachmann has already fallen out of favor with the majority of voters, she now has one small chance to prove her humanity. Any living, feeling human being cannot be unmoved by the suicides of nine LGBT youth in just one school district.

If she wants the public to respect her in any way, Bachmann has to publically admit that policies such as “no homo promo” create an atmosphere that is hostile towards the LGBT community and contribute to LGBT bullying. She needs to show some sense of remorse over the loss of life and promise to work for more just anti-bullying legislation.

As a result of student and parent protests, the Anoka-Hennepin School District is currently undergoing a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights, an office within the U.S. Department of Education.

I’m relieved that this school district and its policies are being investigated and held under scrutiny. Hopefully these lawsuits will set a strong legal precedent for cases like this in the future — yet it’s so sad that we need a tragedy like this to ensure LGBT rights in the classroom.

Regardless of personal or religious views on homosexuality, no person or school system should blatantly ignore LGBT bullying. This isn’t just at LGBT issue — it’s a human rights issue. Even if certain conservatives, such as Michelle Bachmann, cannot understand or accept homosexuality, they have to recognize the humanity of the LGBT community.