Anti-gay harassment costs taxpayers $25,000


by Andy Birkey | August 13, 2009 • Alleged anti-gay harassment at the hands of teachers at a north metro school district cost taxpayers $25,000, the Star Tribune reports. The settlement addresses exactly the kind of hostile school environment an anti-bullying bill vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty was supposed to address.

Andy Birkey lives in Minneapolis. He is an LGBT community advocate and blogs on politcial, social, and community issues. Read his blog at Eleventh Avenue South

Two Anoka-Hennepin School District teachers, Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson, were accused of harassing a student they believed to be gay during the 2007-2008 school year, but those allegations were resolved in an out-of-court settlement of $25,000, paid out by the school.

Referencing the scandal involving Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, in a Minneapolis airport bathroom, Cleveland reportedly asked the male student, “Would you like to have [another allegedly gay student] go with you so he can sit in the stall next to you and stomp his foot?”

Filson compared the the student to a Wisconsin man who had sex with a dead deer, according to a Minnesota Department of Human Rights investigation. A classmate quipped, “Hey, Mr. Filson, doesn’t that sound like something [the student perceived to be gay] would do?” The teacher laughed at the comment and agreed, according to the complaint.

Cleveland reportedly told the class the boy had a “thing for older men” after he wrote a paper on Benjamin Franklin, and also told the students his “fence swings both ways.” When the boy reported on Abraham Lincoln, Filson likewise said the boy likes his “men older.” He also allegedly said the student “enjoys wearing women’s clothes.”

In the most recent legislative session, a bipartisan bill, the Safe Schools for All Act, aimed at addressing hostile school environments passed the Minnesota Legislature only to be met with a veto by Gov. Pawlenty who said in his veto message that the bill was “unnecessary.”

Advocates decried the veto. “The Safe Schools for All bill is smart public policy, supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, as well as a diverse coalition of people representing disability, immigrant, education, religious and child welfare concerns,” said Monica Meyer, public policy director for OutFront at the time. “It’s a sad day for Minnesota.”

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