ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The mother of a 15-year-old Minnesota teen who took his life last year after enduring years harassment and bullying because of his sexual orientation, has called on GOP presidential hopeful and Minnesota Congresswoman, Rep. Michele Bachmann, to denounce anti-gay bullying in her district.
Tammy Aaberg — whose son Justin committed suicide in July 2010 — met with Bachmann staffers at the congresswoman’s Waite Park, Minn., office and was accompanied by Edina High School senior Gabe Aderhold and his mother, Audrey Kingstrom; classmate Graham Luterbach; Blaine High School graduate Justin Anderson; and St. Cloud resident Denny Smith. (Aderhold is the teen who confronted Bachmann and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty during campaign stops at the Iowa State Fair.)
Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Maria Elena Baca also was present for about half of the hour-long meeting, but was asked to leave after she identified herself as a journalist.
Aaberg and the others met with Deb Steiskal, Bachmann’s constituent services officer, reported the Star-Tribune. Aaberg said afterward that, although she felt the meeting was productive and she was confident Steiskal would deliver their message to Bachmann, she was skeptical that Bachmann would take a proactive position to help curb anti-gay bullying.
Aaberg also delivered petitions containing more than 130,000 signatures from around the country, calling on Bachmann to condemn harassment of LGBT students in her congressional district.
“I wanted to give her a chance to do the right thing,” Aaberg said.
Anderson also spoke to Bachmann staffers about the anti-gay culture within the school district, reported Andrew Harmon of The Advocate.
“I talked about how, when I was a student, I got harassed and bullied, and that I believe that staff weren’t responding as well as they should have,” Anderson said of the meeting.
“I can’t count a single day since middle school where I didn’t hear ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘fag.’ And I remember a student saying gay people should just go kill themselves, and the teacher just told them to be quiet.”
Bachmann’s congressional district includes the Anoka-Hennepin School District — Aaberg’s son Justin attended Anoka High School.
The school district has been widely criticized for not taking a firm stand on anti-gay bullying, and is currently target of two lawsuits stemming from its “neutrality policy” regarding issues of sexual orientation and identity.
Critics call the policy a “gag rule,” and the 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.
Anoka-Hennepin is also the subject of a federal civil rights investigation, sparked last fall by allegations of bullying over sexual orientation.
Bachmann’s Washington D.C. congressional office spokesperson Becky Rogness, issued a statement Thursday evening that acknowledged Bachmann will review the petition and respond later.