Anatomy of a ‘no promo homo’ policy: Minnesota schools wrestles with LGBT curriculum
“[There is] a compelling scientific argument that MSM homosexuality does pose an inherent obstacle to leading a healthy and productive life,” he said. “Engaging in MSM homosexuality or smoking or many things we do does not make a person lack value, but it does put a person at very serious risk.”
PAL also threatened that the school board might be legally liable it allowed students to identify as LGBT and were somehow harmed by virtue of their sexual orientation.
The resolution states: ”[S]chools may face liability for intentional or negligent instruction of students who rely upon false or misleading information about sexual conduct and are subsequently harmed…”
That’s a line that PAL associate and attorney Joe Field asserted in a lengthy legal analysis at the most recent school board meeting.
“I was stunned to see that the school board had devoted a section on its website for the GLBT complete with pro-homosexual training and advocacy materials that were made available to staff,” he said. “There is a line between advocacy and respect. The district 11 website has crossed it.”
Part of Field’s analysis, which he presented to the board on Jan. 23, reads:
It’s literally a great mistake to introduce students struggling with or contemplating same-sex attraction to the gay subculture. And it is true that students who identify as GLBT must be treated with dignity and compassion. However, training our teachers and providing pro-gay resources that provocate homosexuality and transgender cross-dressing is in itself crossing the line and potentially exposes the school district to liability for purposely advancing a health risk among students based on mere assumption. It is holding out the we are open sign to an attractive nuisance.
Barb Anderson said as much in a letter to the editor of ABC Newspapers, a local newspaper chain.
“What about the issue of liability?” she asked. “More vulnerable students will likely be drawn into homosexual activity as a result of the existence of these clubs. What if a 15-year-old is seduced into homosexual behavior and then contracts AIDS?”
A new policy emerges
In 2009, parents and students lobbied the district to change the “no promo homo” policy the board adopted in 1995, claiming it was discriminatory. The board adopted a softer policy now called the “neutrality policy.” But when incidences of anti-gay bullying and suicides among LGBT students brought the neutrality policy to the forefront — as well as a lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center aimed at the policy — the district decided to revamp it. If approved, the new policy would not contain any prohibitions against speaking about LGBT issues in the district’s schools.
The new policy says, in part:
Political, religious, social, or economic issues may become contentious in a learning environment in which conflicting views are held by a broad segment of people in our schools, our community, and the nation.
It is not the District’s role to take positions on these issues. Teachers and educational support staff shall not attempt in the course of their professional duties to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint with respect to these issues.
In the course of discussions of such issues, district staff shall affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex/gender, marital status, disability, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, age, family care leave status or veteran status.
Over the last two years, the school board has resisted any changes to the policy, mainly due to vociferous outcry from PAL. The group has engaged in a letters-to-the-editors campaign in local papers and presented a petition to the board last fall.
In fact, in December, the Parents Action League claimed that school board members had made promises during the 2011 school board elections to preserve the current policy. But, as of last month, at least four of the six school board members are considering voting to change it completely. That vote will take place on Feb. 13.
Residents push back
Meanwhile, Anoka-Hennepin parents and students have been pushing back against PAL’s rhetoric at school board meetings, in a showing of support for a change in policy.
Most of the community members who showed up at the Jan. 23 board meeting seemed more interested in calling PAL’s remarks hateful than in supporting the school board’s new policy.
Tammy Aaberg, whose openly gay son, Justin, took his own life in the summer of 2010 after being bullied, choked back tears at a Jan. 23 board meeting, saying, “I was very upset that nobody from the school board stepped in to intervene to preserve a respectful environment for youth. The harm that that meeting caused was immense. You let adults come in with hateful speech. The words they said hurt our family more than we already are hurting and i can’t even imagine how much those words hurt the thousands of kids in our district no matter what the policy reads.”
At the same meeting, a group of 20 students censured the anti-gay statements made by PAL.
One student, Rachel, told the board: ”At the last meeting, I left in tears. The people speaking at that meeting spewed so much hate. It was difficult. We immediately went out for ice cream. … The environment created was truly hostile. By saying that gay people exist … it is not propaganda. That’s simply saying that they exist.”
Robin Mavis, who founded the Gay Equity Team in 2009 after a student complained that two teachers conspired to bully him because they thought he was gay, said that the early January meeting where PAL made demands for “ex-gay” therapy was painful.
The Rev. Margo Richardson testified as well.
“There are Christians who do not find it necessary to condemn gay people in order to be christian,” she told the school board. “A lot of the things that have been shared with you here are not based on facts. A small group’s ability to spread lies about gay students, gay parents, gay teachers and gay people in the community is disturbing.”
A similar battle in other states
The kind of policy that Anoka-Hennepin has put forward in the past is not unique; at least a half-dozen states have such laws on the books. Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Utah have “no promo homo” laws (see graphic for details).
Most of those laws were written in the 1990s, but conservative Christian lawmakers are still pressing for them in states where they don’t yet exist.
Tennessee state Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) has generated considerable controversy after making recent statements about gay people in defense of his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Campfield’s proposed bill would ban any mention of LGBT issues from the state’s public school classrooms and has many provisions that are similar to Anoka-Hennepin’s previous policies.
The bill states: “No public elementary or middle school shall provide any instruction or materials discussing sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.”
Last month Campfield defended his bill to radio host Michelangelo Signorile, saying that AIDS originated from gay men having sex with monkeys:
“Most people realize that AIDS came from the homosexual community – it was one guy screwing a monkey, if I recall correctly, and then having sex with men. It was an airline pilot, if I recall. … My understanding is that it is virtually – not completely, but virtually – impossible to contract AIDS through heterosexual sex … very rarely [transmitted].”
Larry Frampton, co-chair of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Community Planning Group, for which he conducts HIV testing, told the Knoxville News, “[W]hen you get a state senator who comes out and says, essentially, it’s impossible to transmit HIV heterosexually, that really puts a big dent in all the work we’re doing.”
Campfield’s rhetoric mirrors that of the Parents Action League in Anoka-Hennepin where speaking brought up the specter of AIDS to paint all LGBT people as unhealthy.
As for Campfield’s bill, in a statement when Campfield first introduced his bill, the ACLU of Tennessee picked it apart.
“This blanket ban violates the First Amendment prohibition against viewpoint discrimination by favoring speech about ‘heterosexuality’ and banning speech about gay issues regardless of the educational purpose. [It] infringes upon academic freedom by arbitrarily suppressing ideas and dictating to educators and students that only ‘heterosexuality’ may be discussed. The bill may be used to prohibit students from forming Gay-Straight Alliance clubs and from encouraging tolerance and respect for all students regardless of sexual orientation.”
Photo: Flickr/Carissa GoodNCrazy