Teen suicides are sweeping Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Minnesota district, particularly among gay and bullied teens. The epidemic has alarmed residents as well as state public-health officials, and is leading critics to blame the Republican congresswoman and her antigay allies.
“I feel if I hadn’t moved to this district my daughter wouldn’t have died,” said the mother of a seventh-grade girl who took her own life. The young girl had climbed into a bathtub at her family home, put a rifle in her mouth and pulled the trigger.
Mother Jones reports:
The first was TJ. Then came Samantha, Aaron, Nick, and Kevin. Over the past two years, a total of nine teenagers have committed suicide in a Minnesota school district represented by Rep. Michele Bachmann—the latest in May—and many more students have attempted to take their lives. State public health officials have labeled the area a “suicide contagion area” because of the unusually high death rate.
Some of the victims were gay, or perceived to be by their classmates, and many were reportedly bullied. And the anti-gay activists who are some of the congresswoman’s closest allies stand accused of blocking an effective response to the crisis and fostering a climate of intolerance that allowed bullying to flourish. Bachmann, meanwhile, has been uncharacteristically silent on the tragic deaths that have roiled her district—including the high school that she attended.
Bachmann, who began her political career as an education activist, has described gay rights as an “earthquake issue,” and she and her allies have made public schools the front lines of their fight against the “homosexual agenda.” They have opposed efforts in the state to promote tolerance for gays and lesbians in the classroom, seeing such initiatives as a way of allowing gays to recruit impressionable youths into an unhealthy and un-Christian lifestyle.
The nine suicides only begin to reveal the suffering of the young people in Rep. Bachmann’s district – in one middle school teacher’s seventh grade class alone, seven have been hospitalized just this year for either attempting or threatening suicide. The same middle school that Samantha attended.
Others have been violently assaulted, one was stabbed in the throat with a pencil, and students have even been told to leave the district because the staff was unable to protect them.
There’s no sure way of knowing why any of the kids took their own lives, but gay rights activists quickly honed in on one factor they saw as contributing to an unhealthy climate for at-risk kids. Anoka-Hennepin has a policy on the books known colloquially as “no homo promo,” which dates in back to the mid-1990s. Back then, after several emotional school board meetings, the district essentially wiped gay people out of the school health curriculum. There could be no discussion of homosexuality, even with regard to HIV and AIDS, and the school board adopted a formal policy that stated school employees could not teach that homosexuality was a “normal, valid lifestyle.”
Later the policy was changed to require school staff to remain neutral on issues of homosexuality if they should come up in class, a change that critics said fostered confusion among teachers and contributed to their inability to address bullying and harassment, or to even ask reasonable questions about some of the issues the kids were struggling with, like sexual orientation. Both policies were put into place at the behest of conservative religious activists who have been among Bachmann’s biggest supporters in the district. They include the Minnesota Family Council (MFC), and its local affiliate, the Parents Action League, which has lobbied to put discredited “reparative therapy” materials in schools.
That’s the sort of counseling reportedly practiced by Bachmann & Associates, the mental health clinics run by Michele Bachmann’s husband, Marcus. The clinics reportedly counsel people on how to “pray away the gay” to become straight.
Much more on the Bachmann’s gay exorcism clinic in my previous diary here.
While Bachmann remains mum, the Justice Department and Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights are both investigating allegations of antigay bullying in connection to the rise in suicide rates. The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the district just last week over their “neutrality” policy.
Senator Al Franken introduced federal legislation requiring school districts to protect LGBT students.
A phone call requesting Bachmann to discuss Franken’s legislation went unanswered.
Please…do read the entire article by Mother Jones‘ Stephanie Mencimer. It’s an amazing piece of reporting. My efforts to summarize it all here for you are just the tip of the iceberg.
Photo from DonkeyHotey’s Flickr photostream.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos.
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