Gay students, bullying and suicide

There seems to be an endlessly recursive game of fact-checking going on. Wednesday in The Glean we wrote about WCCO’s Pat Kessler fact-checking of the pro-Tom Emmer/anti-gay marriage ad run by the National Organization for Marriage and the Minnesota Family Council. Kessler took issue with the ad. Now, as described by Andy Birkey of Minnesota Independent, the Minnesota Family Council has taken issue with Kessler, calling his fact-checking “misleading,” although, if they really wanted to make their point, they should have written it in all-caps, as Kessler does.

Its issue? Well, Kessler opined that promoting Emmer as being anti-gay marriage was beside the point of the ad. “In fact, the governor plays a huge ‘role’ as he/she has the power to veto any bill that would legalize same-sex marriage — and there are five bills to legalize same-sex marriage waiting to be passed in the 2011 session,” the group responds. And then Birkey goes ahead and fact-checks that. Kessler’s point, he reminds us, is that the ad was discussing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which would, in fact, make the governor’s position irrelevant. We at The Glean are going to go ahead and fact-check Birkey … hmmm … Here’s the original ad. Yes. That checks out. Here’s Kessler’s Reality Check. Yes, we find Birkey’s point to be SUBSTANTIALLY CORRECT. We look forward to the comments on this Glean, which will no doubt fact-check us; it’s fact-checking all the way down.

On a not-unrelated subject: There’s been a story in the news lately, and this writer hasn’t covered it, because he wanted a chance to address it in a really comprehensive way; this task is considerably eased by Andy Birkey of Minnesota Independent’s superlative work on the subject. So let’s start out with several national tragedies and then focus in on the local angle, although these stories are immensely distressing. In this past week, a 13-year-old in Texas shot himself to death after he was repeatedly bullied in school. He had come out to his parents as gay this past summer. After what is described as “relentless bullying,” a 12-year-old boy in California hanged himself from a tree outside his school. He was taken off life support this week. Earlier this month, a 15-year-old boy in Indiana hanged himself after having been the victim of anti-gay bullying in school. And last Wednesday, a Rutgers University student leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after dorm-mates surreptitiously recorded and broadcast video of the young man’s sexual encounter with another young man.

Minnesota has had its share of these sorts of stories. In the Anoka-Hennepin school system, there have been seven suicides in the past year, and according to Nancy Ngo of the Pioneer Press, four of them “reportedly suffered discrimination because they were gay or thought to be gay.” Ngo’s story starts with a young man named Justin Aaberg, who stabbed himself in the stomach with a knife last January; at the hospital, he explained to his parents that he had recently been outed by somebody at school. This past June, Justin took his own life. According to his mother, he had been harassed at school, and school officials had done nothing.

According to Ngo, the district has a policy that “staff must remain neutral on issues of sexual orientation,” although a representative for the district makes the case that this neutrality gives them leeway to intervene when they see bullying going on. But there have been calls to do more, including one from Sen. Al Franken, who issued the following statement at a press conference organized by a group called the Gay Equity Team: “In what should be an unthinkable scenario, some of these children and young people end their own life,” Franken said. “Anoka-Hennepin has witnessed too many tragedies this year. We need to do more to protect our children from bullying. It’s time we extend civil rights to LGBT students.” Andy Birkey of Minnesota Independent discusses the press conference and points out that while the school district has a specific policy against bullying, the language of that policy excludes sexual orientation.

The Gay Equity Team made an extensive case that the district’s policies were directly responsible for a climate of hostility toward LGBT students, and gave teachers tacit permission to look the other way when bullying occurred. It’s an involved case, which Birkey sums up well, so we shan’t detail it here. We will, instead, point you to another article by Birkey that points out that there are other factors at play here. In August, Birkey looked into group calling itself The Parents Action League, a shadowy group who rebuffed Birkey’s attempt to suss out their membership. The group identifies itself as “citizens in the Anoka Hennepin School District.” This group is agitating against any change in the district’s policies, petitioning the following: “Whereas homosexual behavior exposes participants to many life-threatening health risks; and whereas the classroom environment needs to be solely focused on academics; Therefore, we the undersigned citizens of Anoka-Hennepin School District No. 11 do whole heartedly support and desire that the School Board adhere to … the AH District 11 Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy.”

Its website is currently down, although it includes the following terse message: “We have never been inundated with so much hate and disdain for a differing viewpoint than that of the pro-gay movement. Our group has NEVER written anything hateful on our site or to any member of the GET group with whom we strongly disagree. Apparently, tolerance, kindness and decency are only to be extended to the pro-gay viewpoint — talk about your bullying!” It’s impossible to find an older archive of the page’s contents, as, according to the Internet Wayback Machine, the site used a robots.txt script to block the site from being crawled. Birkey does, however, list some of the contents that are now excised: “[I]t advocates for reparative therapy for homosexuals and supported efforts by Exodus International to bring the Day of Truth to schools in the district. The Day of Truth teaches Christian students to be outspoken about homosexuality as a sin.”

The Day of Truth has its own website, which is not down. In its resources section, there is a PDF of facts about homosexuality. It says that “Some believe that it would be okay to allow same-sex ‘marriage,’ and this is based on the belief that homosexual relationships are equal to heterosexual ones. This is not true, and there are moral, social, and medical reasons why homosexual behavior should not be affirmed by the allowance of same-sex marriage.'” The scare quotes around the word “marriage” are theirs, and they go on to argue that gay men are substantially more likely to have hundreds or thousands of sexual partners, contract sexual diseases, abuse their partners, and have psychological problems. “The simple truth is, homosexual relationships are not the same as heterosexual ones, and there is a mountain of evidence pointing to the fact that homosexual behavior is unhealthy,” it concludes.

And that brings us right back to gay marriage. According to Hart Van Denburg of City Pages, there are now two separate projects with the same goal. Specifically, in response to the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese mailing out hundreds of thousands of DVDs in opposition to gay marriage, these projects are asking recipients to label them “return to sender.”

Finally, according to the Associated Press, St. Cloud will be holding its first gay pride festival this weekend.  And in response to an anti-gay attack on campus, the students at Augsburg in Minneapolis held a “Rally 4 Respect.” Students have been wearing different colored shirts all week, as reported by Jenna Ross of the Star Tribune: “Red on Monday, orange on Tuesday, yellow on Wednesday.” The colors of the rainbow.

In arts: The Cool Hunting blog takes a look at the Walker Art Center’s “Adventures in New Puppetry” series, which will include local Open Eye Figure Theatre founder Michael Sommers. The photos for the event look dazzling, and the Improbable Theatre Company will be on the bill — this writer has seen three previous works by that company, and they are well-worth seeing.

In sports: As MinnPost’s Aaron Gleeman frames it, “Most teams have an annual tradition in which they force the rookies on the September roster to dress up in embarrassing outfits, and the Twins are no different.” We would like to make the case that there is a difference. As demonstrated by photos by Pat Neshek, the Twins’ rookies have some awesome costumes.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/30/2010 - 10:45 am.

    No doubt our conservative “Christian” friends would have a different view if the most militant and dysfunctional of the atheists among us were in charge and those “Christian’s” own children were being so severely harassed at school for being adherents to what their harassers saw as an ancient form of ignorant superstition as to force some of them to suicide, especially if the atheists demanded that those suspected of being Christian must be counseled away from their faith, by coercion and aversion therapy, if necessary.

    It is never acceptable when any group within our society feels justified in pursuing fascist tactics, including bullying and spreading false information, aimed at any other group, be that group Black, White, Brown, Red, Yellow, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, straight, gay, lesbian or transgendered.

    If you feel the overwhelming need to do so (and feel justified in doing so), it’s likely you need serious psychological counseling and the kinds of friends who will help you find your way to healthier attitudes and a healthier faith. Lacking that, it’s likely that you will try to bully the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time and end up in serious personal or legal difficulty.

  2. Submitted by Beth Wright on 09/30/2010 - 11:20 am.

    Max, I’m afraid you misread the dates for St. Cloud Pride. The festival was held last weekend, Sept. 24-25. (I heard it was a success, by the way.) More information here:

  3. Submitted by LeAnn Suchy on 09/30/2010 - 11:41 am.

    Actually, instead of sending those DVDs back with Return to Sender, there is an artist who is going to take the DVDs and turn them into art, basically turning fear into hope.

    There is a Facebook page all about it, including locations around town where you can drop off your DVDs for this project:

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/30/2010 - 01:26 pm.

    Say bunny?

    Did you know that the #1 target for schoolyard bullies, is not kids struggling with sexual issues?

    Nope, not by a mile.

    The #1 target, bunny, is fat kids. Been that way for, well since they’ve been keeping track of such things.

    You might have read somewhere on those rare occasions you’re not gleaning Andy Birky of Minnesota Independent, that there are more overweight kids in America today than ever before. But oddly enough, even though there is there no hue and cry to protect them from schoolyard bullies, no special curriculums being put in place to teach kids all the good things about being overweight, they’re not killing themselves.

    Could it be that the kids being used as poster children for the sand-is-food crowd’s public school indoctrination program have mental issues unrelated to the three-ring circus self serving groups like GLSEN have made of their confusion?

    I think so.

    Do you think reading books about gay kings to kids in second grade might cause confusion, bunny? Could that confusion be increasing the already intolerable stress level kids are hauling around these days?

    I think so.

    Bunny, why do you think the gay rights mob is so callous? There’s a question we’d all love to hear Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent answer.

  5. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 09/30/2010 - 02:56 pm.

    Swift, that last one’s easy- – Latent, Repressed Homosexuality

  6. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 09/30/2010 - 02:56 pm.

    So… er… we’re not supposed to do anything about this suicide-inducing bullying because there’s another class of kids that also gets bullied? How is that the right conclusion? And you’re concerned about kids’ “confusion”? How dumb do you think they are? Is it so complicated?

    By the way, is it me, or is the structure of your posts getting more and more creepy and overwrought?

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/30/2010 - 03:35 pm.

    Say Bunny?

    About Kessler’s Reality Check…you know, the one in which you find Birkey’s point to be SUBSTANTIALLY CORRECT?

    Yeah, well I’ve got a question; a couple, actually.

    Kessler says:

    “When Massachusetts did this, gay marriage was taught to first and second graders,” said the ad from the Minnesota Family Council and the National Organization for Marriage. “Shouldn’t something this important be decided by Minnesota voters?”

    “This is an EXAGGERATION.”

    “A Massachusetts couple did go to court to stop one teacher from reading the children’s book “King & King” about a gay couple, to their second grade child. The court ruled against them.”

    Question: So, if a court says it’s OK to teach second grade kids about gay marriage, does that mean it’s not actually happening? Or is it a matter of *how many* people object.

    If two parents took the issue to court, would that make the charge less of an EXAGGERATION? Three parents…four?

    Kessler continues:

    “But in Massachusetts, like Minnesota, it does not mean gay marriage was, or will be, taught to children.”

    IN FACT…

    “Like most states, when it comes to health and sex, Minnesota lets local school boards decide what to teach and when.”

    Question: If local school boards decide to teach second grade kids about gay marriage, does that mean it isn’t happening?

    Kessler plods on:

    “Parents have a right to review the curriculum and take their children out of class if they don’t like it.”

    So, if parents can review the gay marriage curriculum and take their children out of class if they don’t like it, does that mean there is no gay marriage curriculum?

    Thankfully, Kessler concludes:

    “And there’s no rule, or state law, requiring the teaching of gay marriage.”

    Question: So, if local school boards have decided to teach second grade kids about gay marriage, even though the state doesn’t require it, does that mean it isn’t happening?

    Since you and Andy Birkey find Kessler’s fact check to be SUBSTANTIALLY CORRECT, you must understand what he’s saying…I admit, I can’t make heads or tails of it.

    Can you translate your reasoning into English?

    BTW, Survey says: It’s you Jeff.

  8. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 09/30/2010 - 08:37 pm.

    Were there no bills on gay marriage in 2010? Or even 2009? Seems unlikely that there weren’t. How did they fair in a Democrat-controlled Legislature? Why five bills? Are they the same bill repeated five times or five different bills all saying the same thing? Hopefully the 2011 Legisalture will have time to set a budget (in the waning hours of the session) although this coming year should be much smoother with an all DFL lineup and no need to worry about a veto.

  9. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/01/2010 - 06:56 am.

    If we train our young people that certain people cannot be bullied because of their protected class status, is that communicating the right message? What about the fat kid? Will obesity need to become a protected class in order for our students to be instructed not to bully the fat kid? What about the kid in the shabby non-designer clothes, the kid with a first-generation ipod, or the kid with the skin problem?

    Diversity is infinite; we are all different. Our young people need to learn to treat one another with respect, not because of our differences, but regardless of our differences.

    There is a video clip of our Senator Al Franken in this MinnPost article:

    Impassioned and eloquent on this topic?

  10. Submitted by Joe Schweigert on 10/01/2010 - 09:34 am.

    A couple of posts here highlight exactly why it is so important to have this discussion. Basically, many of us remain ignorant to what being gay in America today is actually like.

    When people make off-the-cuff comparisons of it to being fat, being weird for any reason, having bad clothes, etc, they truly do not understand what these young people are going through. Not only is this unfair, but its also very dangerous. Whatever you may believe, these students have an identity that they cannot change and are being harassed directly because of it. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute?

    The worst part is that many feel they have no where to turn. This is precisely because people that have may have no knowledge of what it is like to have a gay identity in America write it off like its some trivial choice, or something that they were “brainwashed” into doing. We don’t know the absolute truth about it. What we DO know for sure is that these kids did not treat it like that. But if we keep doing it, one day, the pain that it causes could find its way into your life too. Then you might change your mind.

  11. Submitted by Cecil North on 10/01/2010 - 10:15 am.

    It’s not really all that complicated. Students should be protected from bullying, no matter what the bully’s motivations may be. If there is a problem involving a specific group of people, that needs to be addressed head-on. If one of those groups is comprised of LGBT children, it only makes sense that the larger issue of discrimination against that group be dealt with in the schools.

  12. Submitted by William Pappas on 10/02/2010 - 07:17 pm.

    Thomas, we of course decry all forms of school yard bullying and harrasment. However gay teens are particularly vulnerable to this kind of persecution. At Anoka-Hennipen, not only can they not receive protection and support from school staff, they usually cannot find support at home as well. I don’t need to remind you that the Catholic Church does not send out DVD’s describing the moral depravity of fat people and advocating they be disallowed from marriage. Fat people are not singled out for special condemnation by the Republican Party as homosexuals are. The list goes on and on. Fat people are not tied to fence posts and left to die on the Wyoming prairie. The bigotry of Michelle Bachmann is not turned against fat people. In fact your attempt to equate the persecution of fat people with gay people is dishonest. Gay and lesbians deserve to have their human rights repsected. There are many groups like The Family Council that are actively working to deny them basic human rights. No groups are working to deny fat people their human rights. Try not to dumb down the discussion next time.

Leave a Reply