When “neutrality” means looking the other way while some teenagers torment and terrorize others to the point of suicide, neutrality doesn’t lead to anything good:
At first, the school board stood by a curriculum policy passed in 2009, which on paper instructed teachers to “remain neutral” about sexual orientation and in practice operated as a gag order. Teachers were required to refrain from saying that being gay is not a choice, even if they were quoting the position of the American Psychological Association. When history teachers included gay rights in a unit about how the strategies of the black civil rights groups influenced subsequent movements, the district deleted the reference. For a staff diversity training session, the district rejected a book called How Homophobia Hurts Children because it did not “include an opposing viewpoint.” The schools also scrubbed LBGT support services, like a gay and lesbian helpline, from the list of health resources given to students. And a conservative Christian parents’ group called the Parents Action League pushed for teaching gay students about “reparative therapy”—how to root out their homosexuality—by promoting groups that treat it as a sin against the will of God. In 2010 the head of the group told the Minnesota Independent that LGBT students had killed themselves not because of bullying, but because of “homosexual indoctrination” and their own “unhealthy lifestyle.” (The statewide sponsor of the Parents Action League is a group called the Minnesota Family Council; last spring, Bachmannn and Newt Gingrich were the headline speakers for an MFC fundraiser.)
In theory, I’m sure the district’s “remain neutral” policy was about not taking a side, simply staying out of the debate over the dignity and rights of sexual minorities, but no matter how you spin it, when students have to go to school in this kind of environment, refusing to take a side is effectively leaving bullied students to suffer. It is morally bankrupt for a school district to tell its teachers to keep their mouths shut about the fact that people of different sexual orientations do exist and that they’re up against a lot of violence and hate because of their minority status, when they have many students keeping that violence and hate very much alive in the schools’ hallways.
So, let’s call a spade a spade: teachers were instructed to put arbitrary, artificial limits on their teaching of psychology and history. IOW, teachers were asked not to teach too much in certain subjects, lest their students be too educated about sociological issues surrounding certain people who were already their classmates. The Parents Action League are instructors and enablers of bullies. Ta-Nehisi Coates points out that homophobic teenagers don’t get that way all by themselves:
I’ve argued in this space before that homophobic kids do not spring from the wretched earth, but are often stewarded by homophobic adults–the kind of adults who abolish LBGT support services, promote reparative “therapy,” and deem homosexuality a sin against God.
Parents Action League, under the guidance of Minnesota Family Council, are undoubtedly the parents of many of the current worst perpetrators of homophobic bullying in Anoka-Hennepin schools. They are asking for their children to have carte blanche to assault and abuse their peers who do not march in perfect lockstep with gender norms. PAL are themselves current perpetrators of bullying by telling the Minnesota Independent that homosexual indoctrination and gays’ unhealthy lifestyle, rather than bullying, are what lead to suicide. Again from TNC:
What I like about the settlement in Minnesota is that it doesn’t simply pass the buck by calling on kids to dime out each other. It’s easy to pass this off simply as kids being cruel. Surely kids often are cruel and need instruction on compassion. But beating and pissing on people for being gay is about a kind of cruelty which is regularly endorsed in the polite corridors of the country.
This is not simply a matter of kids being kids. When you take hundreds of children and stuff them all into the same building for six hours a day, a certain amount of cruelty is inevitable, but the impulse to beat queer or non-gender-conforming people to the ground doesn’t occur without some adult input. Adults are responsible for putting all those teenagers, some of whom are more bigoted and/or aggressive than others, and some of whom are more vulnerable to abuse than others, into the same building for several hours a day, adults are responsible for teaching some youngsters that queer or non-gender-conforming people are abnormal and need to be attacked, and adults are responsible for what happens to those youngsters at other teenagers’ hands when they are forced into a common environment. I would blame parents more than teachers for students’ homophobic bullying, but since those parents are clearly uninterested in teaching their children any differently, it will have to fall to the school system to protect their students from others.