Some parents in Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin School District are upset that a man who deems homosexuality a "lifestyle choice" and "sexual disorder" now sits on a task force created to protect students -- particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students -- from bullying.
Bryan Lindquist is a member of The Parents Action League, a local group that civil rights organization The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group that attacks homosexuality. He was recently named to sit on the district's 25-member anti-bullying task force composed of students, school employees and community members, and mothers Tammy Aaberg and Melissa Thompson are outraged.
"That would be like asking somebody from the [Ku Klux] Klan to sit on the committee that plans black history month," Thompson told KSTP.
Aaberg, whose 15-year-old son Justin was victim to anti-gay bullying and committed suicide two years ago, was rejected from the task force. Justin was one of a number of teens in Anoka-Hennepin schools who had committed suicide in recent years, several of whom were gay and reportedly acted as a result of being bullied. Last September, Aaberg took to hand-delivering hundreds of thousands of signatures petitioning Rep. Michele Bachmann to publicly address gay bullying in Minnesota's largest school district.
The situation in Anoka-Hennepin Schools was so bad that Minnesota public health officials deemed the area a "suicide contagion" because of the unusually high number of suicides and attempted suicides, according to the school district's website. The designation has since been retracted.
Aaberg and two lawsuits filed against the district argued that the Anoka-Hennepin's sexual orientation curriculum policy is in part to blame. It states that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues should be discussed outside of the classroom and that employees "shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions."
This policy was a target of a lawsuit filed against the district last fall on behalf of a sixth student victim to gay bullying, who argued that the rule keeps teachers from being able to protect students who are perceived as gay from harassment. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian rights filed suit in July on behalf of five other students -- three who identify themselves as gay or bisexual and two who do not -- for similar allegations.
The district's new anti-bullying task force was created as part of a settlement for those lawsuits as well as an agreement this year with the U.S. Department of Justice, whose civil rights investigation found that Anoka-Hennepin's sex-based bullying contributed to a "hostile environment." The agency reported that students said they were subject to to harsh and persistent harassment for being gay, perceived as gay or failing to conform to gender stereotypes. While the students reported abuse to the school, teachers and administrators failed to protect them. The district's policy was also invalidated.
LGBT advocacy group Truth Wins Out has publicly condemned Anoka Hennepin's appointment of Lindquist to the task force, drawing attention to his history of outspoken support for ex-gay therapy in schools. The group also notes that like Aaberg, the task force application of Jefferson Fietek, faculty advisor to the local Gay-Straight Alliance and an anti-bullying trainer, was rejected.
“In addition to being shockingly tone-deaf, the exclusion of equality-minded community leaders like Fietek and Aaberg in favor of Bryan Lindquist represents a slap in the face to LGBT students, as well as parents and families that have lost an LGBT child to bullying-related suicides,” TWO Executive Director Wayne Besen said in a statement. “Further, it calls into question the district’s commitment to ending bullying and harassment.”
School Board chair Tom Heidemann gave final approval to the anti-bullying task force's new members. In an note to a concerned parent, Heidemann said Lindquist's inclusion in the group was to ensure "very diverse points of view," according to TWO. And in an interview with WTSP, he asserted the board and Lindquist's commitment to addressing bullying.
"Based on the testimony [Lindquist] had at the board, he's concerned about bullying harassment of students," Hidemann said, adding that intimidating behavior would not be tolerated and any task force member who does not perform will be removed. "I think again that in order for us to be effective as an organization, we cannot exclude any person based on their religious beliefs."
Although the Lindquist had requested on behalf of the Parents Action League that the district "provide webinars/seminars for all staff on overcoming sexual disorders," he told the Pioneer Press in March that his group is not anti-gay.
"That has never been what this group is about," Lindquist said. "We just want discussion of sexual orientation to take place in the homes with parents and not with a teacher in a classroom full of impressionable kids. How can you have a dialogue if you classify everyone who disagrees with you as a hate group?"
Still, parents are concerned about Lindquist's role, and are worried for students on the task force who are in the Gay Straight Alliance. TWO has reprinted the letter sent to Aaberg informing her of the decision not to include her on the task force. The note, in part, reads:
Unfortunately, we could not appoint everyone who applied. We reviewed the applications thoroughly and worked hard to select committee members who would represent a broad cross-section of the community, being especially mindful of protected classes, gender balance, and religious affiliation.
We will keep your name on file as a person interested in this topic. If at some point in their work the task force wishes to seek additional input, we will invite comment from you and the other applicants who were not appointed to the group. We will also send you a link to the final report when it is posted online.
Chilling video of 10-year-old Cequan Haskins being viciously bullied on a school bus in May 2011 was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/cequan-haskins-10-year-old-bus-bullying-video_n_1695719.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying">released publicly by the boy's mother at a press conference</a> in Appomattox County, Va. Video of physical and verbal abuse goes on for 40 minutes and includes racial and sexual slurs, as well as Cequan screaming as two 15-year-old boys allegedly hold a hot cigarette lighter to his skin.
To ward off school bullies who began taunting her in the first grade for her ears, Nadia Ilse begged her mother at the age of 10 for an otoplasty -- an operation to pin her ears back. At the age of 14, Nadia was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/28/nadia-isle-bullied-georgi_n_1712548.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying">granted her wish by the Little Baby Face Foundation</a>, a charity that provides free corrective surgery to children born with facial deformities.
Isabella Lounder, a 7-year-old student with special needs, was afraid to return for her first day of school in the fall of 2012. Mother Nicole Lounder says Isabella, who has dwarfism, was ignored by school officials, wetting her pants numerous times after failed attempts to use toilets that were out of her reach. Students would also pick her up, hurting her arms, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/17/isabella-lounder-student-_n_1798770.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying">and she was once locked out of the school.</a>
A student from Franklin Township Middle School East in Indiana was arrested after a cell phone video of a vicious school bus fight was posted to Facebook in August 2012. The fight broke out <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/franklin-township-middle-_n_1843062.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying">when one student had taken a seat on the bus that another wanted.</a>
A Washington state student was terrorized in a bullying attack by peers -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/john-rosi-washington-midd_n_1841998.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying">and at some points, by the teacher</a>. The incidents occurred in February at a Gig Harbor middle school. Cell phone footage shows more than a dozen students dragging the then-eighth-grade boy around the classroom, carrying him by his arms and legs, burying him under chairs, writing on his feet and stuffing his socks in his mouth. The antics last about 15 minutes while teacher John Rosi watches, and later joins in.
Katie Uffens left Westview High School earlier in 2012 and enrolled in a home-school charter program after she was told about the existence of a group called the “KKK” —<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/27/bullying-continued-for-sa_n_1919888.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying"> short for the “Kill Katie Klub.”</a> But the 16-year-old San Diego cheerleader who was repeatedly bullied by her peers says the taunting continued even after she dropped out.
Oklahoma high school junior Dalton Fleenor reportedly told another student -- while away from campus -- “What he did was a p---- thing to do,” referring to a fellow classmate. The next day at school, the classmate in question punched Fleenor twice in the back of the head. Both students faced suspension, as Newcastle High School <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/oklahoma-high-school-stud_n_1862748.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying">treated the incident as a case of bullying</a>.
Whitney Kropp, a Michigan 16-year-old sophomore, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/30/community-lauds-victim-of_0_n_1927380.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying">was the victim of an apparent prank by classmates.</a> Kropp was named to the homecoming court of the 800-student school in the fall of 2012, but said she felt betrayed after some students suggested her selection was a joke. She said she had been picked on in the past, but it intensified afterward.
Preston Deener, a sophomore at Brunswick High School in Maryland, was the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/10/preston-deener-brunswick-_n_1954821.html?utm_hp_ref=education">victim of a bullying attack</a> in October 2012 just as he was preparing for an on-camera interview with a local television station about his experience being bullied.
Karen Huff Klein, a bus monitor for the Greece School District in Greece, N.Y., received an outpouring of support after a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/20/greece-school-district-bullied-footage-causes-outrage_n_1612925.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">ten-minute video of her enduring vicious bullying</a> while watching over students on a bus ride home was uploaded to YouTube.
Stormy Rich, an 18-year-old Florida student, says she was punished in May 2012 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/stormy-rich-florida-high-_n_1551350.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">after reporting bullying of a special needs student</a> on a school bus, and standing up to those bullies when the school didn't take action.
Rachel Ehmke, a 13-year-old seventh grader in Mantorville, Minn., died April 29, 2012 after hanging herself at her home. The months leading up to the tragedy <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/rachel-ehmke-13-year-old-_n_1501143.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">were a whirlwind of peer abuse instances</a>, her parents say.
In April 2012, Stuart Chaifetz sent his 10-year-old son Akian to New Jersey's Horace Mann Elementary School wearing a hidden audio recorder, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/23/stuart-chaifetz-father-wire-son-records-teacher-abuse_n_1447330.html" target="_hplink">uncovering verbal and emotional abuse from his son's classroom aide and teacher</a>.
Joel Morales, a 12-year-old student in East Harlem, New York City, hanged himself in May 2012 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/31/joel-morales-hangs-self-bullying-dead-father_n_1559450.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">after bullies at school taunted him</a> for his size, intelligence and the death of his father.
Darnell "Dynasty" Young
Darnell "Dynasty" Young, a 17-year-old gay student at Arsenal Tech High School in Indianapolis, Ind., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/darnell-dynasty-young-gay-student-stun-gun_n_1471921.html" target="_hplink">faced expulsion in May 2012</a> after he fired a stun gun at bullies he claims were about to beat him up.
A 14-year-old student from Longfellow Middle School in Enid, Okla., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/oklahoma-middle-schooler-seriously-injured-in-school-bullying-incident_n_1456356.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">was left seriously injured</a> and had to undergo surgery after an incident of bullying went too far.
Cory Pingeton, an 18-year-old student at Franklin High School in Franklin, Mass., <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/30/cory-pingeton-high-school-student-sucker-punched-at-school_n_1465390.html?utm_hp_ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">required medical attention</a> in April 2012 after an unnamed suspect viciously attacked him in the school's hallway. After fleeing the campus following the attack, the suspected assailant now faced criminal charges.
15-year-old Julio Artuz in November 2011 spoke out about his special needs teacher bullying him, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/julio-artuz-15-records-teacher-verbally-abusing_n_1097166.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">filming an encounter with the teacher at Bankbridge Regional School in New Jersey.</a>
A 10-year-old Ohio boy in April 2012 brought a BB gun to school <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/19/ohio-school-bb-gun-bullies_n_1438333.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">to fend off bullies.</a>
New Jersey student Sawyer Rosenstein received <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/nj-bullys-paralyzing-punc_n_1435176.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">a $4.2 million settlement</a> from the Ramsey school district years after a bully's punch paralyzed him for life.
In March 2012, two female students from Mooresville High School in North Carolina were suspended after another student used her cellphone to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/mooresville-high-school-bus-bullying-video_n_1373894.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">film the girls viciously bullying a male student on a school bus.</a>
15-year-old Lennon Baldwin, a freshman at Morristown High School in New Jersey, committed suicide in April 2012, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/lennon-baldwin-15-year-old-commits-suicide-after-being-bullied_n_1398147.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">and police are investigating whether bullying was to blame.</a>
David Pecoraro, a math teacher at Beach Channel High School in New York, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/19/david-pecoraro-serial-spi_n_1287929.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">was reassigned to an administrative office </a>after video of him swatting at and spitting on a student surfaced online in February 2012.
Kaleb Kula, a sixth grader with autism, was brutally beaten to the ground at his Maryland school bus stop in January 2012 while his peers stood by to watch -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/22/kaleb-kula-autistic-6th-g_n_1222068.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">and catch the act on camera.</a>
Warren Lewis, a Houston teenager accused of shooting a classmate in the leg at school, said in January 2012 that he was defending himself from a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/11/teen-in-texas-school-shoo_0_n_1200385.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">group of boys who had been bullying him.</a>
A lawsuit brought by the parents of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Irish immigrant in Massachusetts who committed suicide after relentless bullying,<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/28/phoebe-prince-bullying-la_n_1172755.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink"> was settled for $225,000 in December 2011.</a> <strong>Correction:</strong> A previous version of this slide incorrectly stated the date of settlement.
Kentucky mother Joy Furman claims her 9-year-old daughter has been bullied for two years at school, and seeks a restraining order against a fourth-grade boy she accused of tormenting her daughter, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/girls-mom-seeks-restraini_n_1450299.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">kicking her in the chest and chasing her with scissors.</a>
In November 2011, 10-year-old Ashlynn Connor hanged herself in her closet by a scarf, just a few weeks after she told her mother she was being bullied at Ridge Farm Elementary School in Illinois <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/14/ashlynn-conner-ten-year-o_n_1092683.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">and her mother denied the girl's request to be home schooled.</a>
Kelly Chafins, Christy Wilt
Kelly Chafins and Christy Wilt of Miami Trace Middle School in Ohio were caught on tape in the fall of 2011 <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/08/kelly-chaffins-christy-wi_n_1081980.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">verbally abusing a 14-year-old special needs student.</a> Chaffins resigned and Wilt was scheduled to undergo a probation period as well as eight hours of mandatory training in "how to recognize child abuse and stop bullying."
In October 2011, 15-year-old Patty Fabian was left with black eyes and a broken nose after <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/07/patty-fabian-15-year-old-bullied_n_1079761.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">a peer at Garland High School in Texas viciously assaulted her.</a> Video of the assault was posted on YouTube while Fabian was rushed to the hospital.
Rebecca Arellano, Haileigh Adams
In the fall of 2011, Rebecca Arellano was crowned Patrick Henry High School's first lesbian homecoming king. The next day, her girlfriend Haileigh Adams was crowned queen. Despite widespread support from the school and the couple's friends and family, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/01/rebecca-arellano-haileigh_n_1070436.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">the couple subsequently received waves of hateful phone calls and emails.</a>
In the fall of 2011, 13-year-old Nicolette Taylor from Long Island <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/12/nicolette-taylor-13-year-_n_1007371.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">decided to get plastic surgery</a> after enduring online harassment and name-calling multiple times a week because of the shape of her nose.
Taunted since grade school for hanging out with girls, 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer told his parents things were finally getting better since high school started. Meanwhile, on a blog his parents didn't know about, he posted increasingly desperate notes ruminating on suicide, bullying, homophobia and pop singer Lady Gaga. A few days later, he hanged himself outside his home in suburban Buffalo, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/29/jamey-rodemeyers-suicide-_n_987054.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">quickly gaining a fame like that described in one of his idol's songs. </a>
15-year-old Justin Aaberg committed suicide in July 2010 after what his mother Tammy Aaberg says was relentless anti-gay bullying at his Minnesota school. Tammy Aaberg has since gathered signatures for a petition and marched to the office of her congresswoman, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/16/tammy-aaberg-mother-of-te_n_966455.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann, to call on Bachmann to publicly address gay bullying.</a>
When video of 15-year-old Zachary being beaten over and over again by a classmate went viral in October 2011, the school told the gay teen that he need to "tone [himself] down." The school's handling of the attack outraged Zach's mother Becky Collins, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/teen-speaks-out-after-vic_n_1095874.html?ref=school-bullying" target="_hplink">who couldn't understand why officials would say her son needed to change, instead of the bullies. </a>