Minnesota “Neutrality Policy” on GLBTQ Teen Harassment Is Anything But
Editor’s note: A national uproar has emerged over a controversial so-called “neutrality policy” in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin school district. The policy, which remains in effect despite widespread dissent, states that Anoka-Hennepin administrators and faculty will take a “neutral” stance on issues of sexual orientation. Nine teens in this district have committed suicide in the last two years, some after prolonged homophobic bullying. The district is currently being sued for this policy by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune declined to print the following editorial.
The reiterated support by the Anoka-Hennepin school district of its so-called “neutrality policy” toward issues of sexual orientation is a veiled endorsement of violence-inducing homophobia, and a national embarrassment to Minnesota’s outstanding public school system. I am a proud product of that system, having attended the Edina public schools for all 13 of my school years and graduated from Edina High School in 2002.
Anoka-Hennepin superintendent Dennis Carlson extols his own moderation: “I do take a middle-of-the-road approach, and I don’t apologize for it,’” Carlson has said. “If I’m getting an equal amount of hate mail from the left and right, I feel like I’m on solid ground.”
One can hardly argue that moderation and parity would be admirable qualities in an educational leader, who is professionally enjoined to please many at once. Moderation—real moderation, not a spineless aversion of eyes from the complicated or uncomfortable—would be a boon to the mess in which the district is currently embroiled.
Carlson, though, is no moderate, nor is his district’s stance on homophobia.
To stand aside and proclaim indifference while children suffer is cruel and hardly neutral. It is a tacit agreement that the educator’s watch is limited to the simple when education itself is a primer on complex thought.
The truth is a bully’s motivations are mostly irrelevant: a zero-tolerance approach to violence and hatred requires no disclaimer of neutrality. If a teacher saw a student being beaten on the playground, would any teacher let his intervention be shunted by the aggressor’s motivations? What’s more, would any school district proclaim neutrality toward bullying motivated by ethnic or religious intolerance?
The separation of issues of sexual orientation from other bullying motivations nods to the fact that homophobia is still more acceptable in Minnesota than other prejudices. And to ignore the specifics of homophobia, though zero-tolerance should mean just that, is to commit a disservice to the young people who are victimized by it.
As the suicide of Tyler Clementi alerted the nation in 2010, the current crisis of queer youth in America is quite simply a matter of life and death. According to a recent study published in Pediatrics, GLBTQ teens are five times likelier to attempt suicide than straight teens.
The mental health calamity facing queer youth today is urgent, it is dire, it is real, and any leader who eschews the fight to end it has blood on his hands—that of nine GLBTQ teen suicides in two years.
Muzzling teachers and administrators from supporting GLBTQ students amounts to a harrowing isolation of queer youth from the resources they need most: adults who are allies, who will ensure that no education is disrupted by contempt or ignorance.
A policy mounted on false neutrality around sexual orientation disabuses students of their right to safety. It leads to thoughts of desperation and hopelessness, the parents of suicide.
As such, a neutrality policy is criminally far from neutral. It is, as the suit by the National Center For Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center against the Anoka-Hennepin school district contends, a civil rights violation of some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable students. And it is a gross perversion of the Minnesotan values—the community, tolerance, and neighborly love of the “nicest” state in the union—that I cherish.
Laurie Thompson, chairwoman of the district’s Parents Action League, which circulated a petition in support of the “neutrality” policy, alleges that the district’s policy “honors the rights of all parents to discuss with their children these issues based on their own values and beliefs.” I salute Ms. Thompson for her advocacy of parent-child dialogue on sticky social issues, including homosexuality.
The question I pose to her, though, is this: what good is that dialogue between the hours of 7 am and 3 pm? Will it protect the child who endures shoves and slurs in the hallway? Will it give that child recourse to demand the respect she deserves?
I assert: it will not. Parents are essential, but they are not enough. Thus, we must rely on the institutions parents trust to protect their children to shoulder some burden of a student’s social and civil education. The results of failing to provide that education, as Tyler Clementi, Justin Aaberg, and too many others silently testify, are catastrophic.
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