If you have some free time, I strongly recommend reading this fantastic article by Rolling Stone’s Sabrina Rubin Erdely entitled “One Town’s War on Gay Teens.” It shines some much needed light on the horrible anti-gay policies of the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota — Michelle Bachmann’s former school district.
It is probably the most disturbing article I’ve ever read.
9 students committed suicide over 2 years due mostly to bullying; some of them openly gay and some of them suspected. When gay students would go to teachers or administrators with allegations of harassment, the adults would ignore them or give them advice like “try to lay low” in an effort to comply with the district’s policy that directed teachers to first ignore homosexuality altogether, and later to remain “neutral” on the subject of homosexuality. The policy was enacted in large part because of the efforts of a horrible human-being and Michelle Bachmann wanna-be called Barb Anderson. Barb had some fantastically disturbing quotes:
“Open your eyes, people,” Anderson recently wrote to the local newspaper. “What if a 15-year-old is seduced into homosexual behavior and then contracts AIDS?”
Just… no words. In any case, we’re taken through the tragic stories of the beautiful young teens that, for whatever reason or reasons, chose to kill themselves. We’re told of all of the ways they were bullied, the cries for help, the policies that neutered the teachers, and even the church sponsored anti-gay events held at the school.
Justin shrugged and smiled, then retreated to his room. It had been a hard day: the annual “Day of Truth” had been held at school, an evangelical event then-sponsored by the anti-gay ministry Exodus International, whose mission is to usher gays back to wholeness and “victory in Christ” by converting them to heterosexuality. Day of Truth has been a font of controversy that has bounced in and out of the courts; its legality was affirmed last March, when a federal appeals court ruled that two Naperville, Illinois, high school students’ Day of Truth T-shirts reading BE HAPPY, NOT GAY were protected by their First Amendment rights. Local churches had been touting the program, and students had obediently shown up at Anoka High School wearing day of truth T-shirts, preaching in the halls about the sin of homosexuality.
I had no idea such a thing was possible, or existed. The coup de grâce for my brain was when I read the reaction from the people that supposedly Love Thy Neighbor™.
Minnesota Family Council president Tom Prichard blogged that Justin’s suicide could only be blamed upon one thing: his gayness. “Youth who embrace homosexuality are at greater risk [of suicide], because they’ve embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle,” Prichard wrote. [Barb Anderson] explained that [gay rights groups] allow “quote-unquote gay kids” to wrongly feel legitimized. “And then these kids are locked into a lifestyle with their choices limited, and many times this can be disastrous to them as they get into the behavior which leads to disease and death,” Anderson said. She added that if LGBT kids weren’t encouraged to come out of the closet in the first place, they wouldn’t be in a position to be bullied.
After the parents of one of the students that committed suicide delivered a letter to Michelle Bachmann (including 141,000 signatures) asking her to address the crisis at her alma mater, Michelle Bachmann had the chutzpah to release a tepid public response about how bullying is bad. She never wrote a letter to the mom.
I went to the web page of the district to see if they had posted a response to this article. Naturally they had drafted a letter declaring the entire article is full of fakey fake fakeness and that they’ve never done anything wrong. They somehow wrote the following sentence without being hit by lightning, thus proving god doesn’t actually exist:
Three or four highly critical individuals do not represent the many quality administrators and 2,700 highly professional teachers who care deeply about our students and work each day not only to educate them, but also to keep them safe.
Three or four highly critical individuals. Three or four highly critical individuals. Three or four highly critical individuals. Keep repeating that in your head. That’s how they referred to the parents of children that killed themselves, likely due to the district’s placation of religious extremists people and the board’s own religious and moral opinions. That’s how out of touch with the problem they really are. That’s how indoctrinated, blinded, and helpless they are. A true tragedy of epic proportions.
A long time ago I watched a TED talk from Sam Harris. His thesis is “science can answer moral questions,” and he went on to declare that some moral questions can be answered objectively — that some states of human experience are objectively better than others. Moral opinions shouldn’t be tip-toed around simply because a person believes them due to their religion.
After I watched this talk and read a few of Harris’ articles and books, I’ve been thoroughly convinced that social norms related to “respecting” religious beliefs are entirely misplaced. That practice is what has lead to the discrimination of millions of people. I no longer respect beliefs simply because someone invokes the g-word. I judge opinions solely on their content. I also reserve the right to tell you that your religion is a close-minded fairy tale.
The thing about “respect” is that it leads to quiet festering and tacit approval of morally detestable beliefs. If everyone’s default policy was that of non-respect and inquiry (#askwhy), intolerance would have a much more difficult time gaining traction in our schools and communities.
And that’s how religion kills people.