Bullying, Cont.

Emily Bazelon looks at new effort to stop homophobic violence in a school district where gay kids found themselves subject to mockery, assault and being urinated upon:


At first, the school board stood by a curriculum policy passed in 2009, which on paper instructed teachers to "remain neutral" about sexual orientation and in practice operated as a gag order. Teachers were required to refrain from saying that being gay is not a choice, even if they were quoting the position of the American Psychological Association. When history teachers included gay rights in a unit about how the strategies of the black civil rights groups influenced subsequent movements, the district deleted the reference. For a staff diversity training session, the district rejected a book called How Homophobia Hurts Children because it did not "include an opposing viewpoint." 

The schools also scrubbed LBGT support services, like a gay and lesbian helpline, from the list of health resources given to students. And a conservative Christian parents' group called the Parents Action League pushed for teaching gay students about "reparative therapy"--how to root out their homosexuality--by promoting groups that treat it as a sin against the will of God. In 2010 the head of the group told the Minnesota Independent that LGBT students had killed themselves not because of bullying, but because of "homosexual indoctrination" and their own "unhealthy lifestyle." (The statewide sponsor of the Parents Action League is a group called the Minnesota Family Council; last spring, Bachmannn and Newt Gingrich were the headline speakers for an MFC fundraiser.) 

Now, after months of negotiations with the plaintiffs' lawyers and DoJ, the school district has folded. That's not what the settlement announced Tuesday said: Anoka-Hennepin admitted no wrongdoing. But a month ago, the school board scrapped the curriculum policy about sexual orientation, replacing it with a new one that affirms the "dignity and worth of all students," regardless of a host of traits including race, religion, sex/gender, and sexual orientation. The district also agreed to take steps like conducting surveys about the rate of bullying, creating an anti-bullying committee of students, parents, and teachers, and training peer leaders. Anoka-Hennepin promised to hire a coordinator to make sure all of this actually happens and a mental health consultant to review its approach to helping the targets of harassment. DoJ will monitor the schools for five years, and the district estimates it will spend about $500,000 on the measures it will take. The students who sued will split a settlement of $270,000.
I've argued in this space before that homophobic kids do not spring from the wretched earth, but are often stewarded by homophobic adults--the kind of adults who abolish LBGT support services, promote reparative "therapy," and deem homosexuality a sin against God. To understand this, dig the response from Parents Action League to the new measures:

"Making schools safe for 'gay' kids means indoctrinating impressionable, young minds with homosexual propaganda."
That sounds like "Open Season On All Queers" to me. 

What I like about the settlement in Minnesota is that it doesn't simply pass the buck by calling on kids to dime out each other. It's easy to pass this off simply as kids being cruel. Surely kids often are cruel and need instruction on compassion. But beating and pissing on people for being gay is about a kind of cruelty which is regularly endorsed in the polite corridors of the country. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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