The Anoka-Hennepin school district, which has taken great pains to deny any sort of homophobic climate in the wake of multiple gay suicides, spent the last week defending the Champlin Park High School principals decision to ban a lesbian couple from walking together as part of the Snow Days Pep Fest Royalty Court.
It seems students at the school elected a female couple, Desiree “Dez” Shelton and Sarah Lindstrom, both 18-year-old seniors, earlier this month to be part of the court. But when the girls suggested that they would not be deterred from walking into the school event together, the principal reformatted the event so that no one on the court would walk in with their nominated counterpart.
Principal Michael George was concerned about the reaction of other students to a lesbian couple walking in together, Olson said, so on Friday the district decided the royal court would arrive individually or accompanied by a parent or favorite teacher.
This sort of abrupt enactment of a new school policy was exactly how Constance McMillen’s high school leadership decided to handle things last year when she wanted to bring her girlfriend to her senior prom. On that occasion the education professionals decided to cancel the ‘official’ prom altogether rather than allow Constance and her girlfriend to attend as a couple.
This is that not-so-subtle power move many in education use against the entire group which is by design applied in order to turn peers against that lone square peg. Maybe you remember how it worked; “We were going to let class out early today, but Susie keeps talking so I guess you will all have to stay late.”
This sort of manipulative behavior management has been described to me as positive peer pressure when I have questioned teachers about the practice. It worked wonders in the case of Constance, who was repeatedly positioned against her entire community for daring to wish to bring her sweetheart to her senior prom. It resulted in threats of violence, a secret private prom, and finally her exile from the community.
However in this new case, the school’s decision to change its tradition of having the students walk in as couples in favor of having them accompanied by an adult sparked the federal lawsuit filed Friday on the teens’ behalf by representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Faegre & Benson law firm.
These are some of the same groups who came to represent Constance last spring, and they’re pretty well onto this game.
The good news however is that today following a six-hour mediation session, it seems the district has had a change of heart and announced that the new policy – the one put into place to ensure that the girls could not walk together has now been modified to ensure that they can walk together.
“All parties are pleased to announce that we have worked together, collaboratively, to arrive at an arrangement for introductions of elected royalty that is respectful and inclusive of all students,” said the statement revealing the new arrangement, which will allow each member of the 24-person royalty court to “select a meaningful person in their life” to escort them in the coronation procession at the Snow Days Pep Fest and winter formal dance in the school’s gym. The new plan will allow Shelton and Lindstrom to walk together at those events, which are likely to be held Monday, though school officials are considering pushing them back a few days to give students more time to choose escorts.
Now if we could just get that district to consider the possibility that their recent internal investigation of their many teen suicides, the investigation that hadn’t confirmed that any of the students were bullied and only confirmed one of them was gay, may be slightly flawed.
Given that this entire administration was unable to see the value of affirming the basic rights of these girls to pick their own dates or the harm they were doing by taking a hard-line to erase the couple from existance, I am pretty sure they need an outside audit on the living conditions within their schools.
On the flip side, students elected this couple. Clearly they would like to see things change for the better and thank goodness tomorrow belongs to them.