A string of suicides among gay and bullied teenagers in Minnesota's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin Schools, has critics blaming the district's representation, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and anti-gay activists.
Over the last two years, nine teens in district schools have committed suicide, and Bachmann's allies are being accused of standing in the way of "blocking an effective response to the crisis and fostering a climate of intolerance that allowed bullying to flourish," Mother Jones reports. Bachmann signed a pledge this month stating that homosexuality is a choice.
The situation in Anoka-Hennepin Schools is so bad that Minnesota public health officials have deemed the area a "suicide contagion" because of the unusually high number of suicides and attempted suicides, according to the school district's website.
Bachmann has since stayed quiet on the issue. She didn't respond to inquiries from Mother Jones or the New York Daily News.
She historically wasn't a supporter of anti-bullying legislation. In 2004, she took part in a rally that pushed for the ban of gay marriage, according to the New York Daily News. Slate reports that in 2006, she said passing a bill that prevents bullying wasn't worth the time.
"I think for all of us, our experience in public schools is there have always been bullies," Slate reports Bachmann telling the Minnesota state legislature. "Always have been, always will be. I just don't know how we're ever going to get to the point of zero tolerance... What does it mean? ... Will we be expecting boys to be girls?"
Critics are arguing that Bachmann's impassiveness for bullying issues, her opposition to gay rights alongside Anoka-Hennepin Schools' controversial policy on teaching or talking about sexual orientation, creates a threatening environment for at-risk youth in the district.
The Anoka-Hennepin district's sexual orientation curriculum policy 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." The policy, according to Mother Jones, is known as "no homo promo."
Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dennis Carlson told CNN that the district does not plan to revise its policy on sexual orientation curriculum.
The U.S. Department of Justice and Department of Education have launched a federal investigation announced this month, examining the allegations of civil rights laws violations and complaints that there have been cases of discrimination and bullying "based on not conforming to gender stereotypes," according to CNN. It's unclear whether the string of suicides or the district's sexual orientation curriculum policy will be a part of the investigation.
But Dan Reidenberg, executive director of Minnesota-based suicide-prevention organization SAVE told The New York Daily News that the string of suicides cannot be considered an epidemic, as there was no trend and that the instances of suicides and attempts has decreased.
The Congresswoman's husband Marcus Bachmann has also been slammed for his "pray away the gay" clinics, which the couple has publicly denied.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.