“If they are going to hell, I’m going to hell with them!” That interjection got one woman kicked out Monday night’s Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting. Her statement came during the testimony of a conservative Christian parent who said she knows the “homosexual agenda” is “coming after our kids.” The exchange was part of a tense night of testimony over the district’s bullying policies and whether LGBT issues should be discussed in classrooms in Minnesota’s largest school district.
LGBT advocates packed the board room, some holding signs in support of LGBT students. Nearly two dozen people testified that the district’s policy of banning discussions of sexual orientation in classrooms was detrimental to all students in the district. That policy, dubbed the “neutrality policy,” has been the source of controversy in the district for more than a year.
But it was the testimony of one parent who opposes homosexuality that riled many in the room.
Laurie Thompson, a conservative Christian and mother of three district students, tore into members of the LGBT community.
“For the past five out of six months, I have watched numerous members and supporters of the GLBT community pressure our school board into changing the sexual orientation curriculum policy,” she said. “I have decided I could no longer sit on the sidelines and continue to watch our school board and superintendent be bullied and harassed by members and supporters of the LGBT community both locally and nationally.”
“There is a huge debate whether homosexuality is on the same plane as heterosexuality. Many, including myself, believe homosexuality is a lifestyle choice.”
Thompson then said that the “homosexual lifestyle” is a health risk akin to drugs and alcohol and that it would be against the morals of conservative Christians.
“I am well aware of the national homosexual agenda to come after our kids,” she said, adding, “If anyone is being silenced, it’s the students who have a conservative Christian viewpoint.”
At that point a young woman in the audience yelled out, “If they are going to hell, I’m going to hell with them! So go gays!” She was escorted out of the building by security.
The meeting wasn’t Thompson’s first. In 2009, she tried to have a banner depicting the Christian nativity scene hung in the Anoka High School cafeteria. She said because Gay-Straight Alliances are allowed to put up fliers, that her Christian son should have the same right.
“How sad it is that Jesus Christ, the son of God, who so many people turn to on a daily basis, has been taken out of our schools,” she said at a school board meeting in 2009. “Why? Because of the very few people who are offended by the Christian faith.”
But, for the most part the rest of the meeting was civil and the vast majority of the testifiers urged the school board to scrap the neutrality policy.
Tammy Aaberg, an Anoka parent whose son Justin was gay and took his own life in 2010, spoke about the Minneapolis schools, which recently passed a resolution creating LGBT-specific programming around bullying.
“Minneapolis school district just made their sexual orientation policy better, and it covers everybody,” she said adding that she hoped that Anoka-Hennepin would follow suit.
Dot Betzler, a 17-year resident of Andover and mother of three Anoka High graduates, told the board that she doesn’t support the current policies. She’s also the executive director of Twin Cities Pride.
“I’ve voted in favor of school levies in the past, but I can’t in good conscience support the sexual orientation neutrality policy of this board,” she said.
Betzler cited part of the policy that directs teachers to send LGBT students to a school counselor if issues arise — whether it’s related to bullying or the student is simply “coming out.”
“Being gay is not something that can change, and sending students to the counselor as if being gay is a behavioral issue is ridiculous,” she said.
She also warned the district about leaving the current policy in place, pointing to the lawsuit filed last month by two lesbians who were being prevented from walking in a ceremony together in Champlin Park High School.
Cindy Thurston, whose son Michael attends Anoka Middle School, said her son has experienced anti-gay bullying.
“Some things have improved,” she noted and praised several teachers and staff who have helped him. But, she said there was still work that needed to be done.
“I keep feeling angry because it’s all on Michael and the targets of abuse — it’s up to him to educate his peers,” she said. She said the victims of bullying shouldn’t need to educate their tormentors and that the district should provide better anti-bullying education.
“Just today he heard the word ‘fag’ four times,” she said.
“I’ve trusted you for the last 20 years,” she told the board. “I please just hope you will make a good decision; it won’t be as bad as you think it is going to be if you rescind the policy.”