In Michele Bachmann's District, A Spate of Gay Teen Suicides

 Is Michele Bachmann's violently anti-gay rhetoric affecting teenagers who reside in her district? That's the question Mother Jones poses in a new piece reporting on the disproportionate amount of teen suicides in the 6th district—nine in two years, enough to prompt public health officials to name the area a "suicide contagion area." 

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."

The piece cites anti-gay bullying in the case of at least one suicide, that of Samantha Johnson, whose mother says she was not gay but wore her hair short and her clothes tomboyish. The homophobia is so pervasive in the school district that even after several suicides, some in the school district perceived a call for tolerance as a way to sneak  godless liberal ideas into the curriculum:

Teachers and counselors in the district, as well as civil rights activists, say that Bachmann's closest allies like the MFC have helped create a vitriolic climate in the wake of the teen suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin area that may have hampered the community's ability to effectively address what was, at root, a serious mental health crisis. Following the deaths and the publicity about bullying and anti-gay sentiments, the school district became inflamed with nasty infighting over whether promoting anti-bullying efforts was simply a cover for advancing the homosexual agenda in schools.

The lack of sensitivity is appalling. Bachmann's response? Silence. And yet, even as the suicide rate and attempted suicide rate increases, the anti-gay rhetoric continues:

Fifteen-year-old Justin Aaberg appears to have been one of the targets of this initiative. One day last year Justin came home and told his mom, Tammy, that another student had told him he would to go to hell because he was gay. "That did something to his brain," she says. He hanged himself in his bedroom last summer. Only after his suicide did Tammy learn that the Parents Action League had reportedly worked with area churches to hand out T-shirts promoting the "Day of Truth" to students at his high school (which is also Bachmann's alma mater). The students were also instructed to "preach to the gay kids," Aaberg says. (No one from the Parents Action League responded to a request for comment.)

Read the full, sad story at Mother Jones.

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at July 26, 2011, 4:45am

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