AFA Deceives Parents About Mix It Up Day

On October 30, The Southern Poverty Law Center will partner with over two thousand schools to sponsor an event called Mix It Up day. From the Mix It Up website, the event is

national campaign launched by Teaching Tolerance a decade ago, Mix It Up at Lunch Day encourages students to identify, question and cross social boundaries.

In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – October 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.

There is good that can come from this. Many teachers and schools encourage this kind of activity without being a part of the SPLC event. As a part of the anti-bullying initiative at my son’s elementary school last year, such lunch time mixing was encouraged. While I am not sure how much it helped in the long run, it seemed well intended.

However, where there is a anti-bullying program/idea, you can expect the American Family Association to be there complaining about it. And that is the case with the MIU Day. In a Time magazine story out yesterday, an AFA press release is mentioned and has this to say about the SPLC event:

“Mix It Up” day is an entry-level “diversity” program designed specifically by SPCL (sic) to establish the acceptance of homosexuality into public schools, including elementary and junior high schools.

The AFA is calling for parents to keep their kids home on that day.

If possible, this is a new low for the AFA. There is just no truth in what the AFA is telling parents.

There are real consequences to the AFA’s actions. Some schools apparently have been intimidated by the AFA tactics and backed out of the event. I know first hand that some Christians become defensive when misinformed about anti-bullying initiatives.

Thanks to the AFA and Focus on the Family, self-styled pro-family groups are becoming associated with resistance to anti-bullying efforts. What is particularly disturbing in this case is the blatant dishonestly of the AFA in mischaracterizing the MIU Day.

I urge parents to send their kids to school on Oct 30 and go so far as to ask their schools to consider participating in MIU Day. While we have no megaphone akin to the AFA, I will encourage all associated with the Golden Rule Pledge to support any efforts to reduce stigma, stereotyping and bullying in schools.

 

 

Anoka-Hennepin School District Ends Silence Policy Toward Sexual Orientation

UPDATE – 2/14/12: The school board placed this information on their website about the change (scroll down to see the approved policy):

The Anoka-Hennepin School District has a new policy designed to promote a respectful learning environment in which teachers facilitate student discussions of contentious topics in a balanced and impartial manner that encourages development of critical thinking and decision-making skills.

“I believe this policy is the best thing for Anoka-Hennepin and for all students,” said Board Chair Tom Heidemann, who went on to say it “takes away some of the confusion that existed in the previous policy.”

The School Board approved the Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy Feb. 13 following more than two months of discussion and hours of public input regarding replacement of the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy (SOCP). Some teachers felt that the SOCP was confusing. Board members asked the administration to bring forward a new policy that would eliminate the confusion.

The board sought a policy that would address any issues that may be contentious instead of focusing on specific topics. (The new policy replaces the Religious Activities Policy as well as the SOCP.) They also wanted to ensure that staff would not attempt to persuade students to adopt a particular viewpoint, and to clarify that the board-adopted curriculum is the basis for education in district schools.

After rejecting an earlier proposal in December when public input revealed little support for it, staff developed the Respectful Learning Environment-Curriculum Policy and presented it to the board Jan. 23. According to Paul Cady, district general counsel, the new policy meets the intent of the board, responds to public input, and reflects academic research on how to best deal with issues of public controversy that may arise in the classroom.

“It’s not the district’s role to take a position on these issues and it’s not acceptable for professional staff to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint,” said Chair Heidemann. This was one of several elements he felt were missing in the previous policy.

He also stressed that the district’s curriculum will not change as the result of adopting the Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy. “Curriculum changes only if there are four votes on this School Board,” Heidemann said.

Board member John Hoffman noted that the district has a transparent process for adopting curriculum and community members have the right to participate in that process.

Board members also stressed that the new policy emphasizes a safe and respectful learning environment for all students. “It gets to the intent of our founding fathers of this great state and ensures all are welcome to participate in this wonderful experience of free, public education,” said Hoffman

Board member Scott Wenzel stressed that by adopting the Respectful Learning Environment-Curriculum Policy the board removes a policy that singles out one minority group and establishes the dignity and self-worth of all students. “I believe our teachers always have the best interests of students at heart. [This policy] provides the reassurance that our teachers will continue to do that.”

The proposed policy opens with a commitment to a safe and respectful learning environment for all students and an education that respects all students and their families. It stresses that teachers must follow the board-adopted curriculum, which is based on state standards, and it acknowledges that political, religious, social or economic issues may be contentious in a learning environment “in which conflicting views are held by a broad segment of people in our schools, our community and our nation.”

The policy states that the district does not take positions on these issues and that staff shall not attempt to “persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint with respect to these issues.” When contentious issues are discussed in classrooms, it states that the discussions must be appropriate for the developmental level of students, related to the course content, and presented in a balanced manner with varying points of view. They should be designed to help students “think critically and develop decision-making skills and techniques for examining and understanding differing opinions.”

It closes by stating that in these discussions, staff “shall affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students.”

………

Earlier tonight, various news sources reported that the Anoka-Hennepin School Board was considering a replacement for their gag policy on teacher discussions of sexual orientation. The old policy forbid teachers from discussing with students aspects of sexual orientation as a reality.

(Read policy after the break)

Continue reading “Anoka-Hennepin School District Ends Silence Policy Toward Sexual Orientation”

Anoka-Hennepin featured in Rolling Stone expose on anti-gay bullying

I wrote about this district last year.

Rolling Stone has a powerful article in their February 16, 2012 issue that is online here. Go read it. Now.

The Parent’s Action League (PAL) continues to be at the center of the problem, vilifying gays while they want the school to be silent on the subject. On their website, they write:

Bullying of any kind, for any reason, towards any child must NOT be tolerated.”

Note: Respectfully disagreeing with a point of view or behavior is not bullying per the First Amendment.

How do you respectfully say gays are caused by child molestation and that they are not normal? These are just two “loving truths” that the PAL people want the freedom to force on students in the Anoka-Hennipin School District. I doubt the PAL people would believe such sharing with their children would demonstrate respect if the message was aimed toward evangelicals.

 

 

Alan Chambers on It Gets Better: Life Comes First

In a blog post today on the Exodus International site, Exodus President Alan Chambers walked back from earlier criticism of the “It Gets Better” campaign a bit. Chambers writes:

A few months ago I went on record criticizing the “It Gets Better” campaign that has gone viral with an anti-bullying message for LGBT teens.  My criticism was over the use of “Woody,” the fictional star from the box office smash Toy Story trilogy.  I reacted because I hate when iconic children’s heroes are used to further what I perceive to be adult causes.  With further reflection and thought, though, I have to admit that I was wrong to question their marketing strategy without expressing my full support for what is the heart of their campaign – encouraging LGBT teens to choose life.
I know I am going to get a barrage of emails, calls and letters about this from those who think that I am caving to pressure.  Truth be told I am pressured daily by both pro-gay and pro-Church groups (and everyone in between).  I don’t listen to all of the “advice” or “criticism” that is offered, but I do review most it.  And, I pray about it. It keeps me up at night as I weigh the impact my opinions and words have on others globally. I don’t want to ever be guilty of towing a “party” line, whether that party is political, social or religious, just because that’s what’s expected or because it garners a donation.  I want to live out my biblical beliefs in a way that draws people to Christ.  When it comes to kids killing themselves, I can’t justify criticizing a campaign that, at its deepest core, is most about saving the lives of LGBT kids.  I care MORE about a kid choosing life than whether or not he or she embraces a gay identity. Life comes first.  Living out our biblical convictions means fighting for the lives of young people at all cost.  Can any of us actually say we’d rather our teens, neighbors, friends or complete strangers kill themselves than be gay?  I certainly can’t.  Regardless of where someone falls on the debate over sexuality, I hope we can all agree to move the issue of bullying and suicide, especially where kids are concerned, to a non-polarized, non-politicized and non-divisive issue.

I appreciate Alan’s statement here. I think this needs to be made known to folks in the Anoka-Hennepin School District who are resisting bullying prevention programs.
Alan goes on to describe his experience as a child who was bullied. He has an experiential perspective that many social conservatives ignore. A middle school kid who is being harassed with anti-gay slurs and threatened with violence because of a perceived orientation doesn’t care about your religious beliefs. He just wants help to make it stop. In Anoka-Hennepin, for instance, the Parents Action League puts ideology before kids, in my opinion. Alan’s statement is something that I hope they see.
UPDATE: The Christian Post just published an article about Chamber’s statement prominently on their front page.

Suicide victim endured anti-gay bullying

This time in Buffalo, NY.

Parents carry on anti-bullying message: wivb.com

Jamey Rodemeyer’s parents believe years of bullying drove their son to suicide. The Williamsville North freshman took his life Sunday, he was only 14 years old.
Jamey Rodemeyer posted a message online hoping that others would be inspired by his struggle with bullying. A part of the message reads, “That’s all you have to do. Just love yourself and you’re set. And I promise you, it’ll get better.” 
Soon after coming home from a family camping trip, Jamey was found dead Sunday. His parents say he was always under pressure because of struggles with his sexuality.
Jamey’s mother Tracy Rodemeyer said, “So he hung around with the girls a lot, so then the teasing started happening like ‘Oh you’re such a girl or you’re gay or whatever and that bothered him for many years.”

For religious conservatives reading this: Isn’t it past time to become part of the solution? Criticizing anti-bullying programs on ideological grounds doesn’t help kids or your ideology.
More on the situation:

Death catches attention across nation: wivb.com

Anoka-Hennepin School District's Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy

Currently, the Anoka-Hennepin School District (AHSD) in MN is under fire in relationship to eight suicides in the district over the last two years. Critics say they have not done enough to prevent the anti-gay bullying and harassment that often precedes despair and depression for kids who are same-sex attracted and those who are perceived to be.
The AHSD added a page on GLBT issues to their website recently. The district neutrality policy is at the center of the controversy with some parents wanting to allow teachers to discuss sexual orientation and others wanting to keep the policy as is. For our consideration, here is the policy in full:

604.11
SEXUAL ORIENTATION CURRICULUM POLICY
It is the primary mission of the Anoka-Hennepin School District to effectively educate each of our students for success.  District policies shall comply with state and federal law as well as reflect community standards.  As set forth in the Equal Education Opportunity Policy, it is the School District’s policy to provide equal educational opportunity and to prohibit harassment of all students.  The Board is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to provide an education that respects the beliefs of all students and families.    
The School District employs a diverse and talented staff committed to serving students and families from diverse backgrounds.  The School District acknowledges that one aspect of that diversity regards sexual orientation.  Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations.   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.  Staff are encouraged to take into consideration individual student needs and refer students to the appropriate social worker or licensed school counselor.
Anoka-Hennepin District No. 11
Coon Rapids, MN 55433
Adopted February 9, 2009

What does neutral mean in the context of this policy? Can teachers supply information about false and stereotypical claims?
If a student says, all Christians are haters; or unscientific. A teacher, no matter what his or her feelings about Christianity could point out the overgeneralization and ask, “What about Mother Teresa?” or “What about Francis Collins?” One could safely point to examples which address the error in logic without giving the impression that the school favors Christianity over other religions.
However, if a student says in class that gays are mentally ill, or choose their orientation or are all miserable people who should change in order to be happy (Parents Action League talking points), what could a teacher say in response? I think the ambiguity of the policy would make teachers worry that they are going to violate the policy just by responding factually.
It appears that the AHSD is making some strides to providing staff training as indicated by this staff training outline. However, if teachers are unable to correct fact errors or stereotypes directly, how will this training benefit students?
I have some of the sharpest readers around, so I am wondering what you think of the policy and what would you recommend to the AHSD?

Primer on Anoka-Hennepin Suicides Controversy

ON Tuesday, I linked to a NYT article about the controversy over teen suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. In that post, I noted that a parents’ group in the Minnesota district — the Parent’s Action League — used books and articles from NARTH and Exodus to make the claim that gays can and should change their orientation. (I should have also noted the involvement of Mission America and the American College of Pediatricians as well since materials from both groups are used by the PAL.)
On point, today Andy Birkey has a summary of events relating to the eight suicides and the controversy in the community about how to handle sexual orientation in the schools. I recommend reading it as a place to start in understanding the situation there.

Ladies Home Journal on anti-gay bullying

The 9th largest monthly magazine, Ladies Home Journal, has an article out on newstands today which addresses anti-gay bullying. The article by Kenneth Miller is titled, “Gay Teens Bullied to the Point of Suicide” but covers the entire topic of anti-gay bias and religious tolerance. The subtitle, “It’s a shocking trend. Isn’t it time for all of us to encourage compassion and respect, no matter how we feel about homosexuality?” captures the tone of the piece aimed at the moderate to conservative readership of LHJ. I think Miller and the LHJ staff did a nice job of bringing in a variety of voices to urge a united voice against anti-gay bias and bullying. Full disclosure: I am a bit biased since I have a couple of quotes in the piece. The article sets the stage by calling out the extreme rhetoric used by some social conservatives:

“Despite recent cultural shifts, kids still get the overwhelming message from society that homosexuality is not acceptable,” says Scott Quasha, PsyD, a professor of school psychology at Brooklyn College. It’s not uncommon to hear fierce condemnation from politicians and preachers as they debate gay civil rights. Homosexuality is compared to incest, bestiality, even violent crime. “This trickles down into the schools, where bullying occurs,” says Dr. Quasha. “A gay child is an easy target for classmates looking to make trouble.”

Antigay bullying is something all parents should be concerned about, says Merle Bennett Buzzelli, who oversees the public school antiviolence program in Akron, Ohio. “The victims are not just students who are actually gay,” she points out — the abuse is also directed at straight kids who don’t quite fit gender norms. Tomboyish girls and guys who show interest in, say, gymnastics or dance are often called the same names — and subjected to the same ostracism and attacks — as their gay and lesbian classmates. There’s no evidence that Billy Lucas was gay, but he was “different,” classmates said. Because of that, bullies called him “fag” and told him he didn’t deserve to live. Of course, for kids who do experience same-sex attraction, the use of the word gay as an all-purpose put-down is just one more painful indication that they don’t fit in, whether or not they look or act any different from their peers, says Dr. Quasha.

Dr. Quasha is making a simple but effective case for the disruptive nature of stereotype threat. Stereotype threat, in this context, refers to the fear of being considered gay by others, usually more socially powerful peers. Stereotypes about gays are consistently negative among young teens, often held as a global, diffuse negative attitude.

I am not sure about this, but I think stereotype threat operates in two broad ways. For students who are sure or pretty sure they are gay, the threat is that the social group will believe or assume every negative stereotype about gay people. For non-gay or unsure teens, I think the threat is that they will be considered gay and that such assessments are negative. Hopefully, a school environment tolerant of differences and intolerant of harassment will make improve life for both categories of students.

The article considers people who hold all shades of beliefs regarding homosexuality with a money quote from Dr. Caitlin Ryan:

After almost a decade of research on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens, Dr. Ryan’s group has found a clear pattern: The more supportive the parents and family, the better kids do over the long run. “That doesn’t necessarily mean changing your deeply held beliefs,” Dr. Ryan explains. “It means finding a way to balance those beliefs with the love you have for your child.”

Parents are called on to seek that balance all the time. Children do all kinds of things parents do not like or approve of but the role of parent involves providing love and direction. These values have to be balanced and carefully woven into an attachment that is like no other.

Ryan continues:

Even parents who can’t be fully accepting can find ways to be supportive. “You can say, ‘I think this is wrong but I love you and I’m going to be here for you,'” Dr. Ryan suggests. “Be willing to listen. Give your child a hug.”

This advice won’t please everyone but seems a reasonable compromise. In some cases, the agree to disagree approach leads to mutual respect and the maintenance of a solid attachment. In other cases, as noted in this article, parents become more accepting, even supportive.

I appreciate that the author reached out for comment from people of various faiths, in order to highlight the value of mutual respect and tolerance.

We all need to speak more carefully, says Father Mike Tegeder, pastor of the Church of St. Edward in Bloomington, Minnesota. “The Catholic Church teaches that each person has dignity, whatever their race or gender or sexual orientation,” he says. “We don’t need to agree with one another, but we have to respect one another’s dignity as children of God.”

And many religious groups agree. Exodus International, a conservative Christian organization that had previously encouraged kids to speak out against homosexuality, changed direction after the recent string of suicides, deciding to advocate “biblical tolerance and grace” instead of confrontation. For Warren Throckmorton, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College, a Christian school in Pennsylvania, the group’s reversal was an obvious choice. “It seems to me that Christians should be first in line in saying that everyone should be treated the way you yourself want to be treated,” says Dr. Throckmorton, a traditional evangelical who recently developed The Golden Rule Pledge, a program specifically designed to help conservative churches prevent antigay bullying.

The article provides resources for parents and community groups, including the Golden Rule Pledge and provides a clear message that respect for the dignity of all is a virtue about which we all should be able to agree. Let me ask social conservatives who want to criticize this article. What do you have to offer instead? How can the Golden Rule be wrong or inadequate? Do you like to be stereotyped or to be the target of demeaning rhetoric? I assume not, so don’t do it to other people.

UPDATE: Sigh, just after I posted the above, I saw this article in the Christian Post, describing the efforts of “an interfaith coalition” to block the NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights. Instead of demonstrating respect during the Week of Respect mandated by the bill, the coalition wants to have their own week, called “Morality Awareness Campaign.” The coalition was also glad to have private religious schools exempted. Watch this and ask yourself if that was such a good idea. Really, watch this…

Who are the “real Christians?”

On Wednesday, a coalition of groups led by Linda Harvey, issued a press release titled, “Real Christians Say ‘No’ to Bullying and Homosexual Behavior.”

Clint McCance who thankfully will resign (click the link to read his remarks) from his post as the Vice President of the Midland, AR school district said that his views were based on his Christianity. Tonight, he apologized for his remarks on Anderson Cooper’s AC 360 news hour.

After the McCance interview, I saw the parents of Asher Brown interviewed who in their grief said they were praying for Clint McCance. They were devastated again by the remarks of McCance which were directed at the recent suicide victims on his Facebook page. Brown’s parents said they knew Asher believed he was gay and demonstrated unconditional love toward him.

Read the news release and note the attitude of the writer toward GLBT people. How does it come across to you?

Now consider people watching and reading and looking for some evidence of Jesus in the positions taken and the rhetoric offered by McCance, Asher’s parents and the “real Christians.”

It is actually offensive to me when a group suggests they are the “real Christians” so I will not engage in the same kind of rhetoric. My point is to wonder aloud what a watching world thinks about “real Christians” and if they are seeing Christ in any of us.

Midland AR School District official will resign over anti-gay comments

The Midland School Board Vice-President who made remarks suggesting that gay kids should commit suicide will resign. Clint McCance told Anderson Cooper just a few minutes ago that he will resign from the school board. He also expressed sorrow for the hurt he caused the families of recent suicides. He acknowledged that he said “hateful and hurtful” things. Video is here.

Yesterday, the Midland School District issued this statement on the district website:

October 27, 2010
 
For Immediate Release:
 
The Midland School District, Board of Directors, administration, faculty, and staff do not support or condone the comments Mr. Clint McCance posted on his personal social networking page. Mr. McCance was not acting as an agent of the school board, but as a private citizen when this comment was posted. This post does not reflect the thoughts of the board or administration of the Midland School District.
 
The district strives to foster an environment that discourages all forms of bullying and an environment that encourages a safe and productive educational climate of all of our students. The district is very diligent in pursuing and addressing bullying of any variety on our campuses. 
 
Sincerely
 
Dean Stanley, Superintendent
Midland School District
The statement seems a little restrained to me but nonetheless makes it clear that McCance does not speak for his peers.
No doubt there will be video on the CNN website, and I will embed it when it is available.
Currently, I cannot find McCance’s Facebook page – perhaps Facebook or McCance removed it.
Anderson Cooper had this summary in preparation for the broadcast tonight:

As we reported last night, McCance wrote a series of posts on Facebook against “Spirit Day”, where people were asked to wear the color purple to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

His rant had offensive language and many misspellings.

“Seriously,” McCance wrote in one post, “They want me to wear purple because five queers committed suicide. The only way im wearin it for them is if they all commit suicide. I cant believe the people of this word have gotten this stupid.”

McCance added, “We are honoring the fact they sinned and killed thereselves because of their sin. REALLY PEOPLE.”

Six people actually pressed the ‘like button on that post. But others fired back.

McCance responded in part with this:

“It pisses me off though that we make special purple fag day for them. I like that fags can’t procreate. I also enjoy the fact that they often give each other AIDS and die.”

He also wrote, “I would disown my kids if they were gay. They will not be welcome at my home or in my vicinity.”