This is part of a 3-part series on LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education, centering around the Day of Silence, which encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day, to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. It occurs on April 20th.
Part 1: When even silence offends: on the 2012 push from the North American far-right to subvert and antagonize Day of Silence participants. and: When even silence "persecutes:" on the ongoing conflicts in Canada, and a new game of declaring "homophobia" a hate word.
Part 2: When even silence can be exploited: on how the far right's "No Pro Homo" policy has been tried before. and: When even silence "indoctrinates:" on why the failure of "No Pro Homo" doesn't register as a failure in the mind of the far right.
Part 3: When even silence fails: on the need for affirmation.
Anoka-Hennepin: The No Pro Homo model.
In 1995, Minnesota’s largest educational region -- the Anoka-Hennepin School District -- adopted a "no pro homo" policy (sometimes called "no promo homo") which asserted that homosexuality would "not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle and that the district staff and their resources not advocate the homosexual lifestyle.” This was to appease far-right social conservatives (who should not be confused as representing all Christians, even though they might often attempt to portray homophobic views as representative of the whole -- when I write about the mindset concerned here, it's a particular kind of mindset that justifies anti-anti-bullying programs, and even that is a generalization).
In 1998, the district hired a part-time music teacher who was discovered to have transitioned from male to female. Conservative parents launched a massive “Parents in Touch” campaign to have her fired and the Minnesota Family Council even launched an initiative to have a human rights law that protected gay and trans people repealed, but the extreme nature of the rhetoric surrounding the campaign also turned off a significant number of other parents and area residents. The teacher resigned, but tensions resulted in the envelope being pushed back and forth until a 2002 attempt to replace an LGBT affirming poster with one advocating reparative "ex-gay" therapy led to the district formulating its now infamous "neutrality" policy.
Finally adopted in 2009, the neutrality policy stated that staff have to "remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation" and "such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches or community organizations." Over the two years which followed, concerns were raised across the U.S. about bullying-related suicides, seven of which people realized involved Anoka-Hennepin district students, and at least four of those were in whole or in part caused by bullying related to real or perceived LGBT identity. A Rolling Stone article drew scrutiny to the homophobia that circulated in the district in detail, and in February of 2012, the neutrality policy was finally scrapped. Think Progress tells us how the neutrality policy worked (just a few excerpts from the original article):
"BLAME THE VICTIM: In many cases, the district discouraged the students from engaging in the gender non-conforming behaviour for which they were targeted, compounding the stigma by giving the students the impression they were inviting their own bullying. For example, an assistant principal told Student A’s parents to prohibit him from wearing feminine clothing to school and some staff members even took away some of his feminine clothing, enforcing gender norms."
"TREAT THE SYMPTOMS: Student A was also assigned an escort to walk him to his classes and forced him to change for physical education in the assistant principal’s office, actions which made him feel like he was being punished." ...
"COMPROMISE VICTIM’S EDUCATION: Student B had to leave class early to avoid his bullies, and often missed homework assignments."
"SHRUG IT OFF: After Student C was tripped on the stairs and called “guy,” “fag,” and “transvestite,” her middle school principal told her to just not let the comments bother her. An assistant principal told Student G, “Boys will be boys and you just have to deal with it” after students accused his father of being a pedophile." ...
Yet the far right still considers this better than acknowledging and supporting LGBT kids.
How Religion Becomes an Acceptable Reason to Bully Kids.
This logic only works if you buy into the idea that sexual orientation is a choice that you can switch on and off like a light, and that giving kids a safe haven encourages them to make a choice that will damn their immortal soul. If you don't completely buy that, the problem becomes apparent.
This is why parents can maintain that their parental right to teach their children their values trumps their kids' right to learn anything different, even if their own child might be gay and need affirmation. To this mindset, affirmation only encourages "bad choices," while in reality, this vilification and rejection (while not present in every case) can often be a leading contributing factor to teen suicide.
When even silence "indoctrinates."
Tragically, some will never learn from the example. Linda Harvey recently published "10 reasons to walk out on 'Day of Silence,' and they're pretty revealing of the mindset that drives opposition to anti-bullying education that is LGBT-inclusive. Here's how it begins:
"A silent protest in support of immoral, God-dishonouring behaviour is in itself profoundly deceptive. All sexual behaviour outside man/woman marriage is sinful in God’s eyes. Why should Christian students and teachers be in the position of accommodating this flagrant violation of their principles?"
"Any explicit or implicit message encouraging teens and even younger students to experiment freely with homosexual behavior is not “social justice” or “tolerance,” but actually, child corruption..."
Acceptance of others has been conflated with "encouraging experimentation," and lately also equated to corruption of children and "mental molestation." To many, it's all inseparable. In this mindset (coupled with heads-as-empty-vessels theory), even silent solidarity with LGBT kids corrupts children sexually and indoctrinates them into homosexuality.
Far right groups in the US have been vehemently opposing anti-bullying legislation that includes LGBT people in several states, with some going as far as to say that homophobic bullying is "part of the maturational process," and blaming LGBT youth suicides on gay activists seducing them into homosexuality or else their own supposed guilty consciences. Following the lead of US conservatives, Canadian far-right groups have taken to referring to any inclusion of LGBT mention as "sexually explicit material," and claiming that anti-bullying initiatives are "aimed at eradicating all traces of Judeo-Christian morality from the education system."
In 2011 and 2012, far-right conservatives have tried to trump up a smear campaign against the group that organizes the Day of Silence, while some schools have tried to assert "LGBT-positive" education in the form of disproven reparative "ex-gay" therapy. In Tennessee, a "Don't Say Gay" Bill that would ban any mention of LGBT people and relationships in schools is back on the move now, after being set aside until publicity died down while toughening up laws on ignorance-only abstinence-only education (or, as the spin is evolving now, "undiluted abstinence education"). Religious leaders have started holding mandatory assemblies to tell students that same-sex marriage is "akin to bestiality," while some legislators are even trying to have constitutions changed so that faith groups' rights to harass people with anti-gay perspectives trumps everyone else's right to co-exist or speak -- even to the point where trying to interrupt or stop homophobic speech is a felony.
This has spilled beyond schools in Russia and Hungary, where "keeping children from being exposed to homosexual propaganda and displays" is being used as the excuse to ban any public communication that affirms LGBT "lifestyles," and even ban free assembly and LGBT human rights advocacy. After passing this legislation in St. Petersburg, right-wing activists in Russia are now lobbying to extend this nationwide. Much of the inspiration for this has been Scott Lively, who was also a major inspiration behind Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act, although Lively claims persecution when accused of fomenting the anti-gay panic that led to the death penalty in that bill. In a letter he distributed during and following a tour in Russia and Baltic nations, Lively recommended the criminalization of LGBT advocacy, saying, "The easiest way to discourage “gay pride” parades and other homosexual advocacy is to make such activity illegal in the interest of public health and morality." Not surprisingly, Lively is Roadkill Radio's kinda guy, with Kari Simpson calling him a "human rights consultant" and Ron Gray referring to Lively as one of his favourite writers -- and referring to "The Pink Swastika" (in which Lively claims that homosexuals were instrumental and central to the founding and administration of Nazi fascism and genocide) several times in one interview. The bigger picture is an agenda that goes beyond schools, and the anti-gay premises -- though fortunately not widespread in Canada -- have some incredibly wild conclusion jumps and beliefs at the core once one looks.
In Canada, some religious media have been adopting the U.S. far right rhetoric as their own, referring to gay-straight alliances with the heading "The disease is spreading," and the like. The ideological far right has done its best to nearly co-opt Christianity for its own (there are, in fact, exceptions, and I'm guessing they're feeling the attack too), twist "moral" into something draconian, and have that accepted as the New Normal. And again, while the attitude is fringe and not representative of any entire faith, the vocalization and influence have not been challenged very effectively, leading to many of the conflicts that have persisted throughout North America.
Education has always been a sphere of contention for the ideological far right, where there have been efforts to ban gay-straight alliances and Islamic clubs but promote indoctrination groups, get angry and offended at student-driven theme days that are supposed to invite voluntary cross-dressing as a way to learn to empathize with the opposite sex, reduce evolution to seeming like a tenuous theory but teach creationism in some form as an equal or better origin of the species, eliminate all sex education besides abstinence (because that works oh so well) under the pretense that teaching responsibility will encourage irresponsibility, push to reinstate prayer in schools while also working to eliminate any and all reference to the existence of other religions, and decry religious neutrality and atheism as a competing religion... so it's interesting that the only "agenda" at work is said to be that gay one.
Silence has failed.
Don't get me wrong: when I say that silence has failed, I'm not being critical of the students who participate in the Day of Silence or the organization that sponsors it. Schools and campuses aren't the easiest places for kids to speak out -- in fact, there's no shortage of laws, regulations, policies and adults to discourage teens and kids from saying anything (whether from good intentions or bad). Silence is the only voice many kids have. But the hegemony that asserts policies of silence as some twisted ideal, well, that's another matter. Saying that LGBT kids should not suffer bullying is only meaningless lip service if the solution being offered is that kids should just shut up and suffer it in silence and isolation.
Silence when slurs and homophobic or transphobic pontification are used to justify harassment or even violence seriously fails kids. Silence when people of faith allow a narrow brand of Christian Nationalist hatred of LGBT people present itself as the predominant opinion of Christianity fails kids. Silence and invisibility when the list of youth committing suicide grows because they don't realize that they have someone they can talk to fails kids.
Next: On Affirmation
(crossposted to Dented Blue Mercedes)