Silence and Neutrality

So after being legally forced to settle with families after anti-gay abuse by teachers was exposed (2009), and after denying that a string of six student suicides were related to anti-gay bullying (see my Sept. 8, 2010 post),  and most recently after being called on the carpet for bias against a student nominated lesbian couple as candidates for Snow Days (now we’re in January of 2011)…

Anoka-Hennepin School District has given a lot of heart filled thought to their own professional hostility, silence and inadequate policies and curriculum for addressing educational issues regarding gender identity and sexual orientation.  

Late this fall they decided it was time to take an open stand against homophobic bullying that may have been associated with a string of recent suicides (emphasis theirs not mine) .   But community members demanded more than post-trauma punishment  and continued to pushed the district to actually educate students about issues of diversity in gender and sexuality. 

However, as of this past Monday the board has yet decided to remain silent and go with community consensus rather than following their own equity policy or applying best practices in education. Because professionals in the education community of Anoka-Hennepin, like their Minneapolis S.D. neighbors, know that schools must “incorporate LGBT themes in its curriculum and provides for educational materials ‘discussing the issues of sexuality, gender identity, and safety for staff, students and families’…”

…to create a safe and inclusive learning environment for all students. 

…and to fulfil their obligation to ensure the protection of civil rights of all students and community members. 

However, the Anoka-Hennepin School Board has maintained a ‘neutrality’ policy with regard to LGBTQ issues in education.

In the Anoka-Hennepin School District, there also is a curriculum policy that says teachers when discussing gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender (GLBT) issues should remain neutral.

A district spokesperson said that teaching about GLBT or issues about them is not in the approved curriculum.

Thus Minnesota’s largest school district once again finds itself at the center of a firestorm where their own harassment policy recognizes the ongoing and often explicitly violent bias directed at LGBTQ members of the student body even as they host a board meeting where community members are invited and encouraged to offer up opinions on the humanity of those same community members. 

Which is exactly what happened Monday evening when the board invited community members to discuss their opinions on the official “Neutrality Policy” and the potential though not necessarily granted civil rights of LGBT students in the school district.  Tidbits like the quote below resulted in a shouting match and termination of the meeting.

“I am well aware of the national homosexual agenda to come after our kids,” she said, adding, “If anyone is being silenced, it’s the students who have a conservative Christian viewpoint.” – Laurie Thompson, a conservative Christian and mother of three district students aired her views at the 2/28/11 Anoka-Hennepin school board meeting.

The district’s neutrality position clearly encourages Laurie Thompson among others to claim a persecuted silencing of their anti-gay demands that LGBTQ students be considered subhuman.   The board in fact offered her this forum to present her ‘side’ in the “are gay students actually people” debate…

Because, you see, the Anoka-Hennepin School Board consider their professional educational silence in the curriculum and their administrative enforcement of heterosexual standards and gender norms a “neutrality” policy.  And therefore they consider the human rights of LGBTQ students debatable among the community constituents.

Which of course reminded me of something Paulo Freire said about neutrality:

Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.
— Paulo Freire and the Southern Poverty Law Center among many other www organizations continue to put the heat on Anoka-Hennepin. 
I have my eyes on Obama’s anti-bullying conference next week where Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network and GLSEN board member Sirdeaner Walker will be in attendance.
This is not a neutral topic. 
This is a full on assault on the lives of children and families. 
Silence is quite simply an endorsement of violence.
History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Phew – I just saw the online video of this entire board meeting.   This issue starts at minute 28.
Parent after parent testifying about the ongoing violent abuse of their children leaves a pit in my stomach.    


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9 responses to “Silence and Neutrality

  1. Julia

    p.s. The comic is by Drew of Toothpaste for Dinner.

  2. Laurie

    Thank you, very well said, keep up the great work.

  3. Tara

    I wanted to add that truly – the overwhelming majority of TEACHERS in the district do NOT support the neutrality stance and DO defend and support LGBT kids and families. However, THE COMMUNITY in general – are raising their children to behave like bigots to their classmates. Parents like Laurie Thompson and others do condone this with their actions. Shame on the faith communities and in this area for what they’ve done to their fellow humans. Thank you for all of your good work.

  4. Julia

    Thanks Laurie.
    And Tara,
    Everything I have read indicates that the teachers of Anoka-Hennepin are trying to do the right thing – educate. What deeply concerns me is that the board members continue to promote a ‘neutrality’ policy and suggest that this policy can in any way adequately address the violent targeting of LGBTQ students. It appears to me that after close to two years of documenting and being forced to address explicit anti-gay bias and violence either the school board members are openly anti-gay or are unprincipled chameleons attempting to blend into the environment for future political gain. And either way – they are breaking their own policy as well as the state human rights act when they silence/neutralize teachers, conselors, administrators, school nurses, etc. from advocating for a targeted student population.

  5. Margo

    One faith community that is openly supportive of LGBT students, parents, and community members in this district is First Congregational Church of Anoka (UCC). Members of this church are working to bring justice, change minds and heal the terrible wounds these hateful and unChristian attitudes have caused. They are part of the movement toward equality and justice here.

  6. Julia

    Thanks for mentioning UCC Margo. I hope people of faith find First Congregational a source of support and solace.
    As someone who was raised to live the Catholic principles of social justice I think faith based leadership and responses to this sort of anti-gay branding of all Christianity has been far too long in coming. Faith based leadership that actually takes on as a core value and actively challenges the violence of this bias and discrimination is even more rare.
    Another example of a Christian response….This February the Unitarian Universalist community did a nationalwide action called Standing on the Side of Love:
    I can only hope more faith communities in the Anoka area and across the country will step forward to counter this assault on fellow humans.

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