Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Bully Pulpit

No, not from the president. This bully pulpit is exactly what it sounds like: using religion to justify unconscionable denigration and humiliation of gay students in, of all places, formerly-progressive Minnesota.

From an article in the New York Times on Tuesday:

ANOKA, Minn. — This sprawling suburban school system, much of it within Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district, is caught in the eye of one of the country’s hottest culture wars — how homosexuality should be discussed in the schools.

After years of harsh conflict between advocates for gay students and Christian conservatives, the issue was already highly charged here. Then in July, six students brought a lawsuit contending that school officials have failed to stop relentless antigay bullying and that a district policy requiring teachers to remain “neutral” on issues of sexual orientation has fostered oppressive silence and a corrosive stigma. 

The article goes to to discuss what amounts to dereliction of duty on the part of the administration and teaching staff, mostly because they could face disciplinary action if they appear to support homosexual students. From the article:

Through it all, conservative Christian groups have demanded that the schools avoid any descriptions of homosexuality or same-sex marriage as normal, warning against any surrender to what they say is the “homosexual agenda” of recruiting youngsters to an “unhealthy and abnormal lifestyle.” 

Adding an extra incendiary element, the school district has suffered eight student suicides in the last two years, leading state officials to declare a “suicide contagion.” Whether antigay bullying contributed to any of these deaths is sharply disputed; some friends and teachers say four of the students were struggling with issues of sexual identity. 

Schools are responsible for the well-being and safety of all students by both state statute and Supreme Court precedent. But evidently, that does not apply in Minnesota's largest school district. Clearly, it's OK to harass, intimidate and bully gay students and teachers are required to follow the district’s “gag order” on discussion of sexual diversity — a policy, adopted in 2009 amid searing public debate, that “teaching about sexual orientation is not part of the district-adopted curriculum” and that staff “shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.” 

When that neutrality results in students feeling unsafe in schools, it's not a valid policy. And when a potential nominee for president supports and encourages the denigration of children because they believe that there's a movement in America to indoctrinate children to become homosexuals, then that potential nominee is not qualified to be president. This includes Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and the ever undeclared Sarah Palin, among others.

To his credit, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a new Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying law this year that obligates all school personnel to report this behavior or face dismissal and worse. There are unwieldy parts of the law, but it recognizes that schools are not places where any of this behavior should be tolerated. Of course, the New Jersey law goes beyond gay students as victims and requires school personnel to report any type of harassment (in person or through electronic media) they see or hear about. It even obligates the school to investigate incidents that occur off school grounds or on weekends if that event affects that child's performance or safety in school.

Children of all ages look to adults to protect them against harm. When the adults are required to look the other way, where are children supposed to turn?

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