Anatomy of a ‘no promo homo’ policy: Minnesota schools wrestles with LGBT curriculum
Minnesota’s largest school district has become the national poster child for the debate over how schools should approach LGBT issues in the classroom.
In less than a week, the Anoka-Hennepin school board will vote on whether to revise a controversial policy that demonizes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. The policy is known colloquially as a “no promo homo” policy and is modeled after many local and state policies around the country that restrict or eliminate any school-based activity that might be seen as positive about LGBT issues.
But in a last-ditch effort to retain anti-LGBT sentiment within the district, politically influential conservative Christians have gone to board meetings armed with rhetoric that brands homosexual behavior as unhealthy. Some religious members have gone so far as to suggest that schools will be held liable if a student contracts HIV. Their rhetoric has been so strong, some residents say they’ve left recent school board meetings in tears.
Meet the Andersons
“Will the new policy keep homosexual propaganda out of the classroom as the existing policy has done?” district resident Barb Anderson asked the Anoka-Hennepin School Board last week during an open comment session.
Anderson was referring to a policy that limits discussions of LGBT issues in district schools. Dubbed the “neutrality policy” or “sexual orientation policy,” it was approved in 2009 and says that school staff “shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation,” which, in practice, has only applied to LGBT issues. The school board is considering scrapping the policy, which has some residents worried.
Anderson has been a driving force behind the school district’s anti-LGBT policies.
Anoka-Hennepin’s 2009 policy replaced language Anderson helped write, such as: “homosexuality [will] not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle and that the district staff and their resources not advocate the homosexual lifestyle.”
She was one of four conservative Christian parents who worked their way onto a curriculum review board in 1994 in order to get the “no promo homo” policy approved.
For almost two decades, Anderson has worked to ban books that she considered to be “pro-homosexual.” She even managed to remove posters for support hotlines for LGBT youth. In early 2002, Anderson spotted a poster hanging in Champlin Park High School that offered “a toll-free resource, referral and counseling service” to LGBT students. The poster included a number, 1-877-GLBT-543, and was paid for by the state of Minnesota and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Having come to the school to vote for in the 2002 state and federal elections, Anderson was incensed. “I was unprepared to be faced with another issue altogether — a homosexual propaganda poster on the main bulletin board by the administration office,” she wrote on the Minnesota Family Council’s website. She was successful: The school took down the poster.
Anderson has been an “education researcher” for the Minnesota Family Council for at least the past decade. The council did not return The American Independent’s inquiry as to whether Anderson is still a researcher or if she is employed by the organization.
The Minnesota Family Council is a Family Research Council affiliate, but it was founded as an independent group called the Berean League, whose primary purpose was to preserve state laws criminalizing homosexuality.
Anderson penned a comprehensive report (DOC) for the Minnesota Family Council in 2004 on the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s diversity training for teachers. In the report, she claimed the training program “normalizes homosexuality,” is “anti-Christian,” and “fails to recognize that homosexuality is changeable.”
Anderson also objected to how teachers were instructed to teach some of the ugliest markers in American history.
“While some explorers in America’s past were guilty of exploitation, we must also realize that they brought Christianity to the New World and in doing so laid a firm foundation for beneficial change,” she wrote, noting that Christianity’s arrival in the Americas changed a culture of “human sacrifice and cannibalism.”
In recent years Barb Anderson and her husband, George, have donated thousands to the Minnesota Family Council, for which George serves as the board secretary.
At a school board meeting last month, George asked the district to remove from its media resources all materials related to Dan Savage’s It Gets Better campaign, which the sex-advice columnist and author created in the wake of multiple suicides by LGBT youth.
“I heard of an activist named of Dan Savage in connection with our district and that he has very rough language on the Internet and an intolerant attitude and so I went on the Internet to look up one of his YouTube videos and it was amazing to see where we find ourselves in America these days,” he said. “It was really pretty disgusting and I saw also on our school’s website the district has purchased video copies of the It Gets better campaign by Dan Savage for all the secondary media centers.
“But what’s this I find in our schools as a potential role model?” he continued. “Dan Savage is a militant homosexual activist. He seeks to end bullying by affirming and normalizing homosexuality. His method is to use shockingly obscene anti-christian hate rhetoric”
George was also concerned that Savage “has a partner Terry and they have adopted a boy and they talk about three-way sex.”
“He’s a man whose It Gets Better project you have brought into our schools,” he said. “To say I don’t trust his advice on much of anything is an understatement. Is this the role model you want for our youth or counsel for our instructors. Who is responsible for it and what are you going to do?”
Barb has referred to herself as a spokesperson for the Parents Action League, a group of conservative Christian parents who have been testifying at school board meetings for the last two years, urging them not only to keep the “neutrality” policy but to beef it up to include so-called “ex-gay” programming and information about “gay-related immune deficiencies.”
District residents started noticing coordination between PAL and the Minnesota Family Council last fall when PAL used the Minnesota Family Council’s email list to send out alerts about the “homosexual agenda” infiltrating the school district.
One such email reads:
My name is Laurie Thompson and I head up the Parents Action League (PAL) in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. You may have seen our group’s name in the paper in one of the many articles written about our school district. I was given your email address from the Minnesota Family Council as they felt you would be interested in supporting our group’s efforts. The Gay Equity Team (GET) and other radical homosexual activists in our school district are fighting (and filing lawsuits) to get our school board to rescind this policy. (They want homosexuality taught in the schools at all grade levels).
Residents who had long suspected ties to religious right groups were at play in the organization of PAL.
“[My email] was directly solicited from this political group that has made a career out of disrespecting children in our district,” resident Melissa Thompson told the board at a meeting last fall. “I want to show the connection.”
Call it ‘promo ex-homo’
At the Jan. 9 school board meeting, PAL presented a list of demands that included so-called “ex-gay” therapy for students.
The resolution demanded that the district school board, administration and staff “work closely with pro-family and ex-homosexual and ex-transgender organizations,” including controversial ”ex-gay” groups, such as NARTH and Courage, and organizations labeled by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups, such as the Family Research Council.
PAL also pointed to several self-described “ex-homosexuals,” including Janet Boynes, who made news last fall after her book Called Out was spotted in the lobby of a counseling clinic owned by Rep. Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus. Barb Anderson happens to be the vice president of Boynes’ ministry.
PAL also asked the school district to teach that LGBT kids are unhealthy, specifically demanding that the district:
Provide the history of gay-related immune deficiency (GRID), AIDS, and the medical consequences of homosexual acts.
That all health classes that address homosexuality be required to share up-to-date information from the CDC on sexually transmitted infections and HIV among the group the CDC designates as Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM)
GRID was a name given to HIV in 1982, when the disease was thought to be only among gay men. The term has been out of use in scientific and medical professions but still pops up from time to time, mostly among religious right groups that use it as a way to denigrate LGBT people.
It’s an issue that George Anderson stressed at a follow-up school board meeting, on Jan. 23.
“Thirty years ago we heard of an outbreak of a disease which was soon named AIDS and was linked to HIV infection. Most of the cases were in the male active homosexual population called MSM — men who have sex with men,” he said.
Being a gay man is like being a smoker, George added.