The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) this week filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Minneapolis on behalf of a sixth student, an out lesbian, who was harassed while attending school in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, where a “neutrality” policy prevents teachers and staff from addressing LGBT issues, including bullying.
The lawsuit is a companion case to Doe v. Anoka-Hennepin School District No. 11, the federal lawsuit that NCLR and partner organizations filed July 21 on behalf of five other district students who experienced similar harassment.
Both lawsuits charge that Anoka-Hennepin’s policy contributes to a hostile environment in which LGBT students and those perceived as LGBT are subjected to anti-LGBT slurs and physical threats on a daily basis by their peers.
While many of these abuses occurred in front of teachers or were reported to school officials, school personnel almost always took insufficient action to stop the abuse due to the gag policy, the complaint alleges.
The sixth student, who is referred to by her initials of E.R. in the complaint because she is a minor, started attending Anoka-Hennepin’s Jackson Middle School in September 2010 after her family moved into the district.
According to the complaint, beginning on her first day in school, E.R. faced a constant, daily barrage of taunts from other students, who called her names like “faggot,” “dyke,” “he/she,” and “it.” While she regularly reported the harassment to teachers and administrators, they did not protect her.
“This is yet another incredibly distressing example of how the district’s shameful policy has hurt kids,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “The district has to stop turning its back on children, and recognize that its illegal policy that singles out those who are LGBT is the reason that so many children in their schools continue to be tormented—verbally, physically, and emotionally—every day.”
The school district’s neutrality policy states:
“Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.
“Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions. If and when staff address sexual orientation, it is important that staff do so in a respectful manner that is age-appropriate, factual, and pertinent to the relevant curriculum.”
Critics call the policy a “gag rule,” and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, in a recent editorial, called it “gutless” and “out of touch.”
Over the past two years, a total of nine teenagers from within the school district have committed suicide — the latest in May — and many more students have attempted to take their lives. Some of the victims were gay, or perceived to be by their classmates, and many were reportedly bullied.
The school district is also the subject of a federal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, over “allegations of harassment and discrimination … based on sex, including peer-on-peer harassment based on not conforming to gender stereotypes.”
The school district, Minnesota’s largest, is located in the heart of the legislative district represented by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a 2012 presidential hopeful. Bachmann has been noticeably silent on the issue.
A copy of the complaint is here.