The National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center teamed up to end widespread discrimination of LGBT students in the Anoke-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. The school district, which is the largest in the state, has implemented a gag policy. This gag policy demands absolute silence on behalf of teachers and school officials when it comes to discussing any LGBT related issues at the schools. This disturbingly discriminatory policy has spawned tolerated harassment and bullying aimed at LGBT students.
The two organizations sent a letter to the school district demanding they take “prompt and meaningful action to remedy the current hostile environment.” The letter also demands the school take steps to end the horrible treatment of LGBT students and, ultimately, to repeal the gag policy. The letter also asserts that the gag policy is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Consitution.
The treatment of LGBT students in the district is heartbreaking. Numerous students have faced verbal bashing and even physical assaults by their classmates.
The letter cites the experiences of three students:
- One student faced daily verbal and physical harassment at school because of the perception that she is a lesbian. She reported the harassment to teachers and administrators numerous times, but the only response was an occasional verbal reprimand with no consequences for the harassers. The district took no action, and she eventually dropped out of school and attempted suicide.
- One student reported chronic harassment to authorities for two years, only to be advised by administrators to leave the school because they could not protect him.
- A teenager endured years of verbal and physical harassment based on his sexual orientation and perceived gender nonconformity before dropping out of school. In one incident, he was violently assaulted and called “faggot” as a teacher and students stood by.
In each of these incidents, school authorities failed to respond to repeated reports of verbal and physical harassment, according to the letter.
SPLC attorney Samuel Wolfe and NCLR attorney Shannon Minter both agree the gag policy itself serves no legitimate educational purpose. The policy is astonishingly homophobic and only serves to single out LGBT youth in the district. It creates a hostile learning environment for LGBT students, making it near impossible for them to focus on their education. Similarly, the psychological and emotional repercussions from their experiences will have an indelible effect on their lives. However, this policy does not only harm those being bullied but also non-LGBT students. Every day this policy is in effect these students are taught that discrimination, abuse and hatred are not only justifiable, but accepted.