Anoka-Hennepin lawsuit spurs petition, tough settlement talks

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The Anoka-Hennepin School District and lawyers for six students who sued the district over bullying began talks this week in an attempt to reach a settlement. While those talks were underway, the Parents Action League submitted a petition to the school board urging it not to budge on a policy that limits discussion of LGBT issues in the schools. And PAL came under scrutiny by other parents who questioned the group’s ties to the Minnesota Family Council.

The district and lawyers for the students met early this week in hopes that a settlement could be reached in the lawsuit. Both sides have declined to comment on the talks other than to say they were productive. The dialogue ended Tuesday without resolution, and no more discussions have been scheduled.

On Monday, the Parents Action League, a group of conservative Christian parents in the district, appealed to school officials to maintain its “neutrality policy,” a directive enacted two years ago that limits discussions of LGBT issues in the district and one that the lawsuit alleges creates a hostile environment for LGBT students.

“I’m here on behalf of the Parents Action League to support the sexual orientation policy,” said Lori Thompson at Monday’s school board meeting. “It is an excellent policy. It honors the rights of all parents and guardians. We feel that teachers should not be injecting their personal views in the classroom on any subject.”

Thompson said the group had gathered 1,052 signatures.

“We, the Parents Action League, along with every person who put their name on the petition, are asking the board to please keep the sexual orientation policy in place and keep controversial social issues at home where they belong,” Thompson said.

After Thompson addressed the board, Kevin Peterson of Brooklyn Center also urged that the policy be maintained — and then revealed he was once gay.

“I used to be gay, back in the ’80s and ’90s,” he said. “I used to be a member of Act Up and marched in a few gay pride parades.”

“I was trying to get our agenda into high schools and even elementary schools,” he added.

Peterson claimed that most people who are LGBT don’t want to be.

“Most people with same-sex attraction don’t like this about themselves and don’t want to act on those attractions,” he said. “In other words most homosexuals are not gay, and we gay activists knew that it was very important to reach those sexually confused people. We wanted the young guys top know that they shouldn’t be confused about those attractions that they should understand that they can’t possibly change and gay is good.”

He said it was all about recruitment.

“What I was doing in effect was recruiting them to be gay and get into the lifestyle. That’s what happened to me when i got into college.”

But not all testifiers at Monday night’s meeting were in support of the policy. Parent Melissa Thompson said many forms of diversity are discussed in Anoka-Hennepin schools and questioned why sexual orientation is being singled out.

“You don’t need to take on a belief to respect the person who has it,” she said. “We openly discuss and recognize all kinds of diversity from cultural to religious to economic, so I ask you why we refuse to acknowledge anything gay in our schools?”

She added, “Nobody is asking that homosexuality be taught, quite simply because it can’t be. But just because someone refuses to believe that people are born gay doesn’t change that fact for a gay person. The idea that if we deny something that offends us it will disappear is childish, hurtful and hardly neutral.”

Thompson was also critical of the activities of the Parents Action League.

“I recently received an email directly from Lori Thompson of the Parents Action League soliciting my signature. She received my email address from the Minnesota Family Council, and I have a copy of the email for you all to see that,” she said, holding up a copy of the email. “It was directly solicited from this political group that has made a career out of disrespecting children in our district. I want to show the connection.”

PAL’s spokesperson, at least in the past, has been Barb Anderson who works for the Minnesota Family Council. Anderson recently appeared on the radio program of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group. In that interview, Anderson said she’s tried to get “ex-gay” therapy into the district’s schools and blamed LGBT groups for the bullying of LGBT students.

Thompson raised another concern about PAL to the school board; she says the group has been soliciting signatures from students.

“The other concern I have is the fact that they solicit signatures from children as young as 13,” she said. “Now, they want to paint us as being inappropriate in regard to children, but to put children in that position is beyond unacceptable.”