Conservative Christians protest Anoka-Hennepin's planned LGBT inclusion

Photo by Mark Fowler published under Creative Commons License

Two years after the Anoka-Hennepin School District entered into a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice after multiple suicides of LGBT students, and a lawsuit by six students alleging rampant bullying and discrimination, conservative Christian parents continue to fight the inclusion of LGBT students in the district.

At the June 30 school board meeting, the board heard the recommendations of the Anti-Bullying/Anti-Harassment Task Force, a group established by the consent decree. The task force is composed of 29 parents, teachers, principals, district administrators, and additional community members who are charged with making developing ways to make Anoka Hennepin Schools safer for students.

The task force presented 5 recommendations which included: Increase messages of kindness in the Anoka-Hennepin community, provide comprehensive communication about safety and inclusiveness for all people in our schools, increase adult presence in unstructured common places in middle schools through the use of volunteer school ambassadors, and increase awareness and acknowledgement of the variety of family structures & characteristics.

But it was Recommendation 3 that has caused outrage amongst Anoka-Hennepin’s conservative Christians. That recommendation reads:

Recommendation 3: Honor and celebrate the contributions of diverse people and families in our community, country, and world, including the LGBT community. In an effort to affirm and celebrate the diversity represented by district students, families, and employees, the Task Force recommends Anoka-Hennepin Schools recognize, affirm, and assess specific LGBT activities including, but not limited to, continuing to support student-led Gay Straight Alliance clubs; hosting school-related family nights for our diverse populations, including LGBT families and LGBT students and their parents; and creating public displays honoring LGBT history month each October beginning in 2014.

During the June 30 meeting, the school board heard from task force member Bryan Linquist who used thinly veiled language to urge the board to reject Recommendation 3 [find video of the meeting at the Anoka-Hennepin School District Streaming Media Archive].

Linquist notes that he opposed the recommendations even though he wasn’t there to vote on them. “I was not present for the voting or part of the 19 that voted to move all 5 recommendations forward.”

“I ask you to aware of what is being recommended and whom the recommendations benefits. Does it benefit or inform all students and their families? Four out of the five attempt to do just that,” he said. “The exception is recommendation number three which starts out by instructing not informing students and their families on what and how they are to approach diversity.”

Linquist claimed that the recommendations will “tell families how and what to believe and the focus of the recommendation is on a certain segment rather than all students. That is a recommendation I cannot and will not support.”

Beth Hentges is also a member of the task force. She countered Linquist’s statements to the board.

“Recommendation three does not tell anyone what to believe or how to believe or how to act. It’s simply an awareness campaign of the history of one particular group of marginalized people and is a way students who may be questioning whether they are LGBT to see themselves in the broader community and to feel less isolated and to learn our own history, and as a way for for elementary kids whose parents may be LGBT to see their families represented at school sometimes. School should be a window and a mirror and it needs to be both.”

While Linquist didn’t mention the LGBT content of the recommendations, his compatriot Barb Anderson, did.

The Parents Action League is a group of conservative Christians led by Barb Anderson (left). Bryan Linquist is a member. The group’s rhetoric about LGBT people has been so misleading and damaging that the Southern Poverty Law Center has listed PAL as a “hate group.”

In a letter to the editor of ABC Newspapers on July 9, Anderson excoriated the recommendations.

“On June 30 the Anoka-Hennepin Anti-Bullying Task Force presented their five recommendations to the school board — four of which will be a detriment to religious freedom, and the safety of all students due to the unbalanced platform in favor of the controversial homosexual viewpoint,” she wrote.

She warned that the recommendations would lead to “exposing all school-age children to same-sex parenting and transgender families through curriculum and guest speakers in the classroom.”

She asked, “If one student tells another student that homosexuality is wrong and points out the exceptional health risks of certain sexual behaviors, will that content always be considered an unhealthy peer interaction?”

She added, “Students will not be able to escape the homosexual climate in the schools if pro-gay public displays and celebrations are everywhere….Tell your school board members to reject these dangerous recommendations.”

(You can learn more about Anderson’s anti-rhetoric in TheColu.mn’s Special Report: “The Right’s 5-year anti-LGBT campaign to stop safe schools”)

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board did not take action on the recommendations of the task force opting to wait for public input.

Here’s the task force’s full recommendations:

Download (PDF, 846KB)

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  • The Parents Action League has been inciting fear of LGBT inclusion in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, in one form or another and under one different name or another, for almost 20 years. I know this because I was the editor of the Anoka County Union and the Blaine/Spring Lake Park Life, specifically covering the Anoka-Hennepin School Board, for 16 years from 1991 through half of 2007. The group has cost the school district millions of dollars in lawsuits and settlements, not only including the cited suicides in question. Besides the undisclosed amount of money the district settled for arising out of one of the suicides, the group under a different name effectively forced a transgender music teacher at Roosevelt Middle School out of her job and settled with her to quit that job for an undetermined amount of money in direct violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The group also caused the Anoka-Hennepin School Board to alter an affirming sex education curriculum titled “Values and Choices,” which sought to give students information about effective contraception and HIV/AIDS prevention. The curriculum, because of the group, was replaced with largely an abstinence-only one which failed to mention and stress the dangers of unprotected sex. At one of its forums, Barb Anderson (yes, the same Barb Anderson speaking for the Parents Action League) lied to those in attendance and perpetrated false information that students could not catch any STDs if they just abstained from sex altogether. I pointed out to Anderson that the statement was patently false because students could catch genital lice and other STDs without engaging in any kind of sex whatsoever. Despite this, the group circulated this information to parents and school district officials knowing that it was a lie. Does this sound like the kind of influence and lobbying group the Anoka-Hennepin School Board should once again listen to now? - by Larry Jones on Thu, 07/10/2014 - 10:39pm
  • As a graduate of Anoka High, a loud supporter of my GLBT friends, and a future licensed teacher, this makes my heart ache. We need to quit telling children that if they are gay then there is something wrong with them. It's SO damaging. I really hope Anoka-Hennepin gets their act together and joins the rest of the 21st Century. - by Molly Zupon on Wed, 07/16/2014 - 10:46pm
  • I'm confused about why the christian conservative parents are fighting inclusion of any group of students. My understanding is that all citizens have the right to an education in our country. This is a diverse country if you don't like that then there are exclusive schools out there that you can send your children to. I don't understand the problem here. - by Pamela Lutgen on Sun, 07/13/2014 - 2:24pm
  • Bullying is rampant to many societies nowadays. This is a trend that most people are involve. Whether it is verbal or non-verbal it hurts too. People who are bullied undergo a series of counselling and processing of oneself, its a long process that will help bullied person avoid recurring of events. So let's stop this act! Beware and be AWARE! Click: http://safekidzone.com/#!/page_home - by Collette Johanssen on Fri, 07/11/2014 - 8:45pm
  • This doesn't sound like "inclusion." It sounds like open promotion, of which nobody will be permitted to disagree. - by Janet Oliver on Sat, 07/12/2014 - 9:14pm

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Andy Birkey's picture
Andy Birkey