COON RAPIDS, Minn. — The parent of a gay teen who committed suicide as a result of bullying is speaking out over the decision by the Anoka-Hennepin School District to appoint a leading gay rights opponent to its newly created anti-bullying task force.
Tammy Aaberg, whose 15-year-old son Justin committed suicide in 2010, said she was hoping the task force would find ways to better protect kids like her son.
“He was bullied because he was gay,” she said.
But last week, it was announced that the Anoka-Hennepin board had named Bryan Lindquist, a prominent member of the Parents Action League, as a community member of the district’s new Anti-Bullying, Anti-Harassment Task Force.
As an anti-gay activist and PAL spokesman, Lindquist has labeled homosexuality a “lifestyle choice” and a “sexual disorder,” and has previously claimed that homosexuality is a health risk.
Prior to his appointment, he 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.
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.Aaberg herself applied to be on the task force, but was turned down. Now she’s expressing concern about Lindquist.
“Seriously? Tom Heidemann (Anoka-Hennepin school board chair) felt that he had to give ‘the conservative-Christian view’ a place on the Anti-bullying Task Force by letting Bryan Lindquist from the Parent Action League, a hate group for LGBT people, on the board — but not a place of a parent of a gay youth who is dead and was bullied in the district and knows what these students are up against?
“Another slap in the face by Anoka-Hennepin,” she told LGBTQ Nation. “I would like to make sure that they adopt better policies and better ways of handling bullying.”
Aaberg points to Lindquist’s testimony before the school board last March, when he referred to homosexuality as a “sexual disorder” as concerning and “offensive.”
“I go back and I look at articles and things that he said at board meetings … that’s what concerns me,” Aaberg said. “I’m really worried of what is actually going to happen in this anti-bullying task force.”
Linquist’s testimony came as the school board voted to accept a settlement agreement with six former and current district students who had filed two lawsuits over the then current policy requiring staff to remain neutral on topics related to sexual orientation.
The former “neutrality policy” required teachers remain neutral on the subject of sexual orientation — the policy faced intense criticism after six students committed suicide in a span of less than two years. Friends and family of the students say were bullied because of their sexual orientation.
The settlement creates a five-year partnership between the school district and the federal departments of Justice and Education to help create programs and procedures to improve the school climate for all students. It also required the district to hire staff to improve the climate for LGBT students and more closely monitor and report bullying.The task force was another outcome of the settlement, and is scheduled to spend several months evaluating the district’s culture around bullying, to possibly recommend changes in policy.
Twenty-six people are a part of the district’s task force on bullying. They include teachers, staff, administration, community members and a handful of students.
Tom Heidemann, who chairs the Anoka-Hennepin school board, assembled the task force from more than 70 applicants.
“We’ll bring together community members and experts to just review how things are going in Anoka-Hennepin and advise the board on how to make things better,” Heidemann said, and told one parent that Lindquist was named to ensure that task force members reflected “very diverse points of view.”
“He brings a conservative-Christian point of view to the committee and also a commitment to making sure that there’s no bullying and harassment of students in school for any reason,” Heidemann told Minnesota Public Radio.
Lindquist declined to speak to MPR, but defended his appointment, and in an email wrote, “the task force should concern itself with ‘helping create a safe learning environment for all students,’ and not with him.”
Aaberg sees it differently.
She pointed to a “letter to the editor” appearing today in a local newspaper, in which Lindquist defends Minnesota’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and makes repeated statements to support his anti-gay views.
In the letter, Lindquist cites a controversial study by University of Texas Professor Mark Regnerus on homosexual parenting that was funded by the anti-gay Witherspoon Institute, which has ties to the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage, and ultra-conservative Catholic groups like Opus Dei.
[...] 23 percent of children with a lesbian mother reported having been touched sexually by a parent or adult, compared with 2 percent of those raised by biological parents.
[...] Suicidal tendencies are shocking: 24 percent of children raised by homosexual men and 12 percent of children raised by lesbian mothers admitted to having recently contemplated suicide, compared to 5 percent of those raised by biological parents or even a single parent.
[...] Children raised in homes where homosexuality or other same-sex behaviors are present face increased risks.
“The social experiment of legalizing same-sex unions will prove disastrous for kids and bring untold dysfunction and damage to children and society,” he writes.
Aaberg said she has little doubt that Lindquist will consider a fair and balanced approach to combat bullying, and will instead hold fast to his anti-gay perceptions and beliefs. She sees this approach as doing more harm than good.
The Anoka-Hennepin bullying task force will meet monthly through the end of the school year. It’s expected to report its finding and recommendations to the school board by June.