Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Contact: John Becker, Director of Communications
Phone: 920.265.6023

Truth Wins Out Condemns Anoka-Hennepin School District for Appointing Hate Group Member to Anti-Bullying Task Force 

School Board’s Actions Cast Doubt on District’s Commitment to Ending Bullying, Says TWO

– Truth Wins Out condemned the Anoka-Hennepin School Board today for appointing Bryan Lindquist, a prominent member of the Parents Action League, as a community member of the district’s Anti-Bullying/Anti-Harassment Task Force. The Southern Poverty Law Center lists Parents Action League (PAL) as one of 27 active anti-gay hate groups across the country, specifically for demonizing and lying about LGBT people.

As an anti-gay activist and PAL spokesman, Lindquist has labeled homosexuality a “lifestyle choice” and a “sexual disorder,” spread the false claim that homosexuality is a health risk, and demanded that the district include scientifically discredited “ex-gay” propaganda on its website and place so-called “ex-homosexual” and “ex-transgender” materials in high school guidance offices and media centers.

“Students who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender are significantly more likely to be bullied at school than their peers,” said John Becker, Director of Communications for Truth Wins Out. “It is absolutely shocking that the Anoka-Hennepin School Board has appointed Bryan Lindquist – a spokesman for an anti-gay hate group and a bully himself – to serve on a task force charged with combating bullying.”

The Anoka-Hennepin School District, based in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, became notorious for a teen suicide epidemic so extreme that the state declared it a “suicide contagion area.” Several suicide victims were either LGBT or perceived to be. A pervasive climate of anti-gay bullying flourished as a result of the district’s “Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy,” which the school board enacted at the urging of local evangelical activists. It required employees to “remain neutral” on matters involving sexual orientation, but its definition of “neutrality” was so ambiguous that teachers and staff were afraid to intervene when LGBT students were harassed by their peers for fear of being reprimanded.

An investigation by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education found that the district’s “neutrality policy” contributed to a hostile environment for LGBT teens. The policy was invalidated earlier this year as part of a settlement agreement between Anoka-Hennepin and six bullied students who sued in federal court. As a condition of the settlement, the district agreed to implement a host of anti-harassment policies; the task force was part of a statewide response to the bullying problem.

Community member Tammy Aaberg – whose 15-year-old son gay son Justin committed suicide in 2010 after relentless anti-LGBT bullying – applied to serve on the Anti-Bullying/Anti-Harassment Task Force but was not appointed. The application of Jefferson Fietek, faculty advisor to the local Gay-Straight Alliance and an anti-bullying trainer, was also rejected.

“In addition to being shockingly tone-deaf, the exclusion of equality-minded community leaders like Fietek and Aaberg in favor of Bryan Lindquist represents a slap in the face to LGBT students, as well as parents and families that have lost an LGBT child to bullying-related suicides,” said Wayne Besen, TWO Executive Director. “Further, it calls into question the district’s commitment to ending bullying and harassment.”

A letter written by School Board Chair Tom Heidemann to the editor of the Anoka County Watchdog, a local conservative blog, raises further questions. In it, Heidemann defends the board’s decision to settle the bullying lawsuit and reassures blogger Harold Hamilton that despite the school board having repealed the neutrality policy, they had “maintained [its] intent” and “did not make any changes to curriculum.” He also wrote that by doing this, the board had “preserved several core principles.”

“That a so-called ‘neutrality policy’ which essentially denied the existence of LGBT teens and enabled their harassment could be deemed a ‘core principle’ of the Anoka-Hennepin School District is simply outrageous,” said TWO’s Besen.

In an emailed response to Melissa Thompson, a parent who expressed concerns about Lindquist’s appointment and whose application to the task force was also rejected, Heidemann claimed that Lindquist was named to ensure that task force members reflected “very diverse points of view.” He also said that the board was “firmly committed” to addressing bullying and harassment.

“Legitimizing a hateful anti-gay worldview under the pretext of ‘diversity’ is utterly repugnant,” said Becker, “especially since that view has created a climate that drives LGBT kids to take their own lives. The Anoka-Hennepin School District has a choice to make: it can either embrace the radical ideology of Bryan Lindquist and the Parents Action League or it can honestly address its infamous anti-gay bullying problem and protect its LGBT students. It can’t do both.”

Truth Wins Out (TWO) is a nonprofit organization whose goal it is to create a world where LGBT people can live openly, honestly, and true to themselves. TWO monitors anti-LGBT organizations, documents their lies, and exposes their leaders. TWO specializes in turning information into action by organizing, advocating, and fighting for LGBT equality.