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9 Kids in 2 Years Killed Themselves In Michele Bachmann's District -- Did Bachmann's Anti-Gay Allies Contribute to a Mental Health Crisis?

Some of the victims were gay, or perceived to be by their classmates, and many were bullied. And anti-gay activists stand accused of blocking an effective response to the crisis.
 
 
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The following article first appeared in  Mother Jones. For more great content from Mother Jones, sign up for their  free email updates here.

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.

But in 2008, when Michele Johnson and her daughter, Samantha, moved from rural North Dakota into the 38,000-student Anoka-Hennepin school district, the largest in Minnesota, they had no idea they were landing on ground zero of that culture war. Coming from a rural small town, Samantha barely knew what the word gay meant when she arrived at Fred Moore Middle School (now Anoka Middle School for the Arts) as a seventh-grader. But by the fall of 2009, the 13-year-old was at the epicenter of the public school fight over gay rights.

She was among a group of students who pushed the district to allow them to start a gay-straight alliance club (GSA). Such groups have been vehemently opposed by religious conservatives, who have dubbed them gay "sex clubs." The club was designed to give both LGBT and straight kids a supportive environment from which to combat harassment and a place to learn coping skills. The students had approached a theater teacher, Jefferson Fietek, who agreed to be the group's staff adviser. The club was supposed to convene for the first time in September 2009, but Fietek says that the school district balked, claiming to need more time to vet the club with "legal."

The first meeting was postponed until October, when the district stalled again. Fietek finally decided to hold a meeting in November anyway, without the district's approval. But Samantha wasn't there for it.

Even as she was helping to start the GSA, her world was falling apart. Always a good student, Samantha was failing all her classes. She dropped out of volleyball. Michele was frantically trying to help her only child. She begged a school counselor to keep an eye on her. She took Samantha to a therapist. But Samantha was depressed for reasons Michele didn't fully understand.

In November, Samantha started to cheer up, and Michele started to think she had turned a corner. Over Veterans Day weekend, she bought Samantha some new clothes, which, to her surprise, were a hit. On Veterans Day, they made plans to play football in the backyard and to grill outside. Michele and her boyfriend, John, went to the store to rent a movie and pick up some food. When they pulled into the driveway a half-hour later, John heard the gun shot.

 
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