CNN is reporting that The Justice Department together with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights are looking into “allegations of harassment and discrimination in Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District based on sex, including peer-on-peer harassment based on not conforming to gender stereotypes.” The investigation comes after a string of seven student suicides in less than two years, which stirred public debate over the district’s sexual orientation curriculum policy. Adopted in 2009, the policy states that school staff must “remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.” And that “such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches or community organizations.”
This so-called “neutrality policy” is as dangerous, flawed, and immoral as “don’t ask, don’t tell” was, or as “separate but equal” was regarding race.
Proponents of this policy probably fall into two camps. One camp consists of those who forcefully deny rights to people who are not heterosexual. These people may oppose gay marriage and may see anyone who is not heterosexual as morally deficient. A second, probably larger, camp of people interests me more. They are not anti-gay necessarily, but they are likely conflicted and want to be able to reflect on and sort out their beliefs and opinions about sexual orientation. They are more “moderate” in their positions.
In Minnesota, these people are doing as much harm as the bullies who harass kids who may not be heterosexual. These moderate leaders and decision-makers must understand that policies like those in Anoka-Hennepin are built to reinforce the feeling that they are being reasonable people by slowing down change. These policies are appealing because they seem to allow us to be more deliberate and thoughtful. They let us off the hook to have to do anything immediately and promote the delusion that things are OK, if not perfect, just as they are.
But in Minnesota, things are not OK as they are. Children there (and in many other places in this country) are dying due in part to the aggressive actions by their peers. When young people are being bullied, harassed, terrorized, and driven to suicide, it is immoral to hide behind words like “deliberate” and “thoughtful.” Being “moderate” and “cautious” are simply ways of avoiding taking responsibility to change what you know to be wrong.
Personally, I deeply value the characteristic of moderation and I am frequently moderate in my opinions and perspectives. Caution, deliberation, and measured movement are reasonable and have their place. But you are not being reasonable when you support a status quo that fosters harm, and in this case, kills children. Upholding the status quo means approving of the violence that terrorizes people because of their sexual orientation. When discrimination and intimidation are the norm, calling for neutrality just means people get to keep on discriminating and intimidating. You can’t only go half-way if half-way fails to protect a person’s dignity and human rights. This is not negotiable.