Religious right lawyers defend Anoka-Hennepin schools’ LGBT policy

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Lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a national conservative Christian legal organization, sent a letter to the Anoka-Hennepin School District this week urging it to maintain its “neutrality policy” on sexual orientation. The letter (PDF) comes in response to a possible lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the National Council for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), two groups that have accused the district of creating an unsafe environment for LGBT students. The ADF argues that no changes are needed in the district.

Reports of suicides and bullying of LGBT students have touched off national concerns in the Anoka-Hennepin district, particularly over a policy that prevents teachers from discussing LGBT issues in the classroom. The SPLC and NCLR view that policy as contributing to an unsafe environment for LGBT students and have threatened to file a lawsuit if the policy isn’t changed. The ADF told the district that the two groups are only trying to promote a narrow agenda, not help the district’s students and accused the groups of exploiting student suicides.

“SPLC and NCLR’s letter plainly misinterprets the district’s policy, is inaccurate as to the law, and is heavy on hyperbole,” ADF wrote that the lawsuit threats “create the inescapable impression that these groups are trying to use the recent tragic suicides of several students who attended District schools to push their narrow political and social agenda.”

The ADF also argues that the “neutrality policy” does not single out LGBT students, a claim that is at odds with both the history of the policy and its current use.

The ADF wrote:

SPLC and NCLR wrongly claim that the Policy “singles outs LGBT students” for disfavored treatment, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. First, the Policy, on its face, does not mention (let alone target) students who identify as homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered. Rather, it requires neutrality regarding “sexual orientation.” Sexual orientation is a broad concept that encompasses all sexual orientations, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans gender, and heterosexual. The Policy does not target anyone, but rather treats all persons the same, regardless of their claimed sexual orientation.

That is at odds with what the district says. When asked last fall by reporters if the policy pertains to discussion about heterosexuality, including topics like marriage and sexual health, or whether it merely singles out discussions about LGBT issues, a district spokesperson said, “That’s correct. It only pertains to discussions of GLBT issues.”

And the policy itself stems from a similar 1995 policy, pushed by conservative Christian parents, that said homosexuality should not be “taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle” in the district’s schools.

The policy was changed in 2009 after a Minnesota Department of Human Rights complaint against two teachers accused of harassing a student they thought was gay.

The policy reads, in part, “Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. 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.”

The Parents Action League, a group of parents in the district opposed to homosexuality that’s headed by Barb Anderson of the Minnesota Family Council, has vociferously opposed any changes to the policy on the grounds that they do not want LGBT issues discussed in the schools unless it’s in the context that the “LGBT lifestyle” is a sin.

The ADF also opposes mentions of LGBT issues in schools unless they are presented in a negative light. The group has sponsored the annual “Day of Truth,” which encourages conservative Christian students “to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective.”

Based in Arizona, the ADF was founded by prominent religious right groups including Focus on the Family and the American Family Association, the latter of which has been labeled a hate group by the SPLC.

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