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Anoka-Hennepin school board appoints hate group member to anti-bullying task force

Thursday, October 18, 2012
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COON RAPIDS, Minn. — The Anoka-Hennepin School Board, whose district recently settled two lawsuits alleging that a former policy had contributed to a hostile environment toward LGBT students and those perceived as LGBT, has appointed a member of an anti-gay organization to join the district’s new Anti-Bullying, Anti-Harassment Task Force.

According to a report by Truth Wins Out (TWO), an LGBT advocacy group, the Anoka-Hennepin board has named Bryan Lindquist, a prominent member of the Parents Action League, as a community member of the district’s new 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,” said Becker.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District, based in Coon Rapids, Minn., 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 adviser to the local Gay-Straight Alliance and an anti-bullying trainer, was also rejected, reports TWO.

“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.”

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, School Board Chair Tom 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.

The Anonka-Hennepin school district, in the heart of U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s congressional district, was the subject of a “Rolling Stone” article published earlier this year, describing the LGBTQ community as pitted against anti-gay evangelical Christians whose policies were implemented by the local school districts.

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