Anoka-Hennepin's neutrality policy on sexuality makes sense

Jeremy Tedesco
Jeremy Tedesco is legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund.
Courtesy of the Alliance Defense Fund

"Over the top" only begins to describe a June 27 commentary piece authored by Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center and Kate Kendall of the National Center for Lesbian Rights regarding the Anoka-Hennepin School District's sexual orientation curriculum policy.

In their piece, the authors inaccurately describe the policy as a "gag policy" that completely bans even the mention of issues related to persons who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered in the Anoka-Hennepin schools. The plain language of the policy does no such thing. Rather, it says the following: "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. If and when staff address sexual orientation, it is important that staff do so in a respectful manner that is age-appropriate, factual, and pertinent to the relevant curriculum."

Neutrality, which is what the policy requires, does not equal silence. The groups' misrepresentation of the policy in a manner directly contradicted by its terms appears to be nothing other than a calculated move to advance their political agenda.

The groups claim that the policy applies only to "LGBT issues" and thus "sends a message to the school community that LGBT students are less than other students, that there is something inherently shameful about their identity." This also is plainly wrong. The policy does not even use the words lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. Rather, it requires neutrality on "matters regarding sexual orientation." The term "sexual orientation" encompasses all sexual orientations, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and heterosexual. The policy does not single out any group, but applies to all.

The groups also claim that the policy makes it impossible for teachers to stop or respond effectively to bullying aimed at students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. The policy does no such thing. The neutrality it requires during classroom discussions certainly does not authorize teachers to stand idly by while students are bullied and harassed. Further, the district has separate anti-bullying policies in place. These policies make clear a teacher's duty to stop or prevent bullying. The sexual orientation curriculum policy does not alter this duty at all.

To the extent the groups are correct that there is rampant bullying in Anoka-Hennepin schools, the district can rectify this through better enforcement of its already existing anti-bullying policies. These policies rightly prohibit all bullying, regardless of the underlying reason for it. As many of us know from personal experience, bullies are equal opportunists who will pick on any student for any reason. The district's policy recognizes this by applying its bullying protections equally to all students.

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The groups' use of a quote from Elie Wiesel, author of the book "Night," which tells the story of the horrors he experienced as a Jew in Nazi concentration camps, pushes their piece even further over the edge. The quote -- "Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented"-- is from Wiesel's 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. Wiesel was condemning the world for remaining silent and doing nothing even while it knew that the Nazis were systematically persecuting, torturing and murdering Jews.

It goes without saying that the situation in Anoka-Hennepin cannot be compared to the experiences of Jews in Nazi Germany. Nazi allusions are typically the last resort of those who know they have no legitimate grounds upon which to win an argument.

Sadly, in addition to Nazi allusions, the groups also continue to evoke the suicides of students within the district as a reason to revoke the sexual orientation curriculum policy. There is no link at all between the deaths of these students and the policy. It is difficult to imagine the depth of pain and confusion these tragic deaths have caused the students' families, friends and community, and will continue to cause them for years to come. The parents and friends of these students, and the community as a whole, need time to heal from their deaths. This healing process is hindered, not helped, by homosexual advocacy groups drawing national attention to these deaths to advance their political aims.

Many school districts adopt policies requiring neutrality on hot-button topics. This does not mean they are the product of animus toward a certain group of people. Anoka-Hennepin's policy reflects the sensible judgment that public schools should steer clear of taking official positions on such matters. It also reflects the sensible belief of parents that schools are places for education, not indoctrination.

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Jeremy Tedesco is legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which describes itself as "a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family."