“Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions.”
— Anoka-Hennepin school district policy
“We are not a homophobic district, and to be vilified for this is very frustrating.”
— Anoka-Hennepin superintendent Dennis Carlson
“Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
— Acts of the Apostles 7:58 (NRSV)
As I write this, I have just read an article in Rolling Stone about a series of school policies in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, and about a series of suicides among the student body. The article is worth reading in full, but the short version is this: under pressure from Christian groups, the school district adopted a policy of neutrality on gay issues (as you can read above). The immediate result: if incidents of bullying or harassment had any anti-gay overtones, the faculty ignored them. At least one teacher let a fight go on unchecked because the attackers were yelling “faggot!” at the kid they were beating. Astonishing, unbelievable, but true.
A further result: nine kids in the district have killed themselves.
It’s hard to say why the kids did it, of course. (It’s rather easier to see why the faculty and administrators did nothing: they were afraid for their jobs.) But when a gay boy is essentially sexually assaulted in the hallway and no one does anything, or when classmates tell a girl that she should kill herself as well, since she’s a “dyke” and a “whore” who doesn’t deserve to live, ignoring the gay aspect is like ignoring the elephant in the broom closet.
Some people, of course, don’t try to ignore the issue at all. “Youth who embrace homosexuality are at greater risk [of suicide], because they’ve embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle.” That’s Tom Prichard, Minnesota Family Council, commenting to Rolling Stone about Anoka’s rash of student deaths. Another local activist, Barb Anderson, says that gay kids wouldn’t be bullied if they just stayed in the closet, effectively blaming the harassment on those being harassed. I do appreciate such honesty about their positions, though I’d rather they be more honest still and simply quote the Bible openly: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 20:13; there is a similar passage two chapters earlier.)
Of course these people presumably don’t want school children ritually executed. But then, the general consensus among such people is that being gay is like doing drugs: an unwise and unhealthy choice. They might say that the kids in question committed suicide as soon as they decided to be gay. Thus to them, having an authority figure discuss the subject of gay people means the kids are encouraged to become gay. To me this is wildly illogical: in the minds of teenagers, why on earth would a teacher acknowledging that gay people exist outweigh all their classmates pouncing on them for being a “faggot”? But even laying aside the lack of logic, this is quite clearly an ignorant opinion at best, and a malicious lie at worst. Anyone who is gay or who has ever been friends with a gay person knows that gay people are born, not made.
I don’t deny the two passages in Leviticus. But I might also point out another passage in the same book, sitting right between them as if trying to keep them apart: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19.17). I might point out that a man from Galilee declared that this commandment was one of the two holiest passages in the whole book. I might point out a dozen other things he said as well, and words of wisdom from more teachers still, on the subject of loving one’s enemies, and judging not, and casting the first stone. There’s also something called the Golden Rule; imagine what the Christian parents would say if their children were being beaten up for their faith, and the school, proclaiming its neutrality, did nothing?
So it’s clear: according to Jesus of Nazareth, the bullies of Anoka and those who supported them may be keeping one commandment, but they’re violating other, far greater ones.
And what about those who let all this “neutrality” go on? What about those who came up with the original idea of being neutral? I’m sorry, but they are just as culpable for the students’ suicides. If these children did kill themselves because of the bullying, then they were for all intents and purposes stoned to death, and those who stood aside and let it happen on the principle of being “neutral” held the executioner’s coats. This is because when the strong are preying on the weak, or the many assailing the few, to do nothing is to let the powerful win. Dennis Carlson claims his district is not homophobic; I am sorry, superintendent, but if you do not act to defend the weak then you have thrown in with the strong. And in this case the strong clearly are homophobic.
That goes for all of you, too. Neutrality is always impossible.
I am not saying this because I feel we must pick sides. I am not saying this because all issues are black and white, or because if you are not with us, then you’re against us. I am saying this for a simple reason: there are no sides. We are one people, one family, all of us humans together. We are all on one side, the side of the living, the side of humanity, the side of life. These nine children, and all the others like them, were driven over to the side of death. Unless we do more — all of us, no exceptions — then more will be driven over as well.
These are my children, and yours, our family and kin. If we tell them that to be gay is to be evil when they know they have no choice about being gay, then we are killing them as sure as poison. And if we are “staying neutral,” saying nothing… well, we may not be feeding them poison, but we’re feeding them nothing at all. Every torturer knows that isolation is a sure tool to breaking anyone — and the only thing worse than being all alone is to be all alone in a crowd. Without any support around them (from friends, family, teachers, or society), then yes, gay children, and those singled out as gay, are truly alone. Which shall kill them first, I wonder, the strychnine or the starvation? These are our sons and daughters! What have we been doing to them?
I am afraid it is no longer enough to say, “It gets better.” It’s a wonderful, compassionate sentiment, and not wrong, and has no doubt already helped many teenagers live to see twenty. We have to remember, though, that we adults make the world, and so if the world is to get better, we must make it so. We have both the power and the responsibility. If the world is getting better, it’s because of those people out there pushing to get folks to say the word “gay” out loud, pushing to end the bullying, pushing to make gay marriage legal (and therefore normal), pushing to to make the world safe for this rising generation. If it’s getting better, it’s because of the unending struggle and labor by heroes from Mattachine and the Stonewall rioters to the Washington State Senate. If you think the world is getting better, then it’s time to stop hoping and waiting and start acting, wherever you are, whatever the time.
If you think things are actually getting worse, as the gay agenda is advanced… well, then, cast your stones. Begin your executions. You will be killing kids one way or another. Have the guts to do it openly.
And if you say you are neutral… if you feel you cannot “take sides” as your brothers kill your daughters and your cousins kill your kin… then be prepared to hold some coats. Stoning is hot work.
Note: Since I wrote this essay some weeks ago (all my work is on a bit of a delay; see “The Filter” just under the picture up top), there have been some developments. Chiefly the Southern Poverty Law Center has won a case on behalf of some of the students mentioned in the Rolling Stone article. The district’s policy will be changing.
I have to say, however, that Anoka-Hennepin is not the only one out there with this problem; it’s just the one most presently visible. And I have to say that the fundamental problem of trying to be neutral as our children are killed, quickly by violence or slowly by hatred, goes far beyond schools.
That was well written. It reminded me of this, from lawyer and child advocate Andrew Vachss:
“Aberrance functions only within support groups. If aberrance is marginalized, it can’t metastasize. So, school bullying: if the bully were ostracized, if the bully was the lowest status person, if the bully was someone no one wanted to associate with, bullying could not spread. When the culture actually supports bullying, when the culture considers bullying a sign of masculinity, then it spreads… saying we disapprove of bullying–everybody always ‘disapproves’ of bullying. But as long as the bullies are embraced with the school culture, they’ll continue. If you look at bullying logically, then you see it’s the root of all evil. Not money, but bullying. That’s all it takes: the imposition of your will, your desires, your wishes, on another human being by force or intimidation. You can see it in Rwanda just as easily as you can see it in the schoolyard. Different canvas, different color paint, but it’s exactly the same thing: I can make you do what I want you to do, because I’m stronger than you. It’s not a question that I’m smarter or I’m more ethical or I’m more entitled. I’m simply stronger” (From Heart Transplant)
By demanding “neutrality” the Anoka-Hennepin school district marginalized the bullied, not the bullies, and failed miserably to protect the vulnerable. They created a framework for bullying and homophobia. I sometimes wonder if people like Tom Prichard or Barb Anderson remember that gay people are first and foremost People, just like them, just like the rest of us.