Connect with us

National

DOJ, DOE reach anti-bullying deal with Minn. school district

Nine youths had committed suicide after being bullied

Published

on

The Obama administration has arranged an agreement requiring Minnesota’s largest school district to change its policies after it allegedly allowed students to be subjected to anti-gay harassment.

On Monday night, the Departments of Justice and Education announced it had come to an agreement with six student plaintiffs and the Anoka-Hennepin School District and filed a proposed consent decree with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.

According to a statement from the Departments of Justice and Education, the consent decree will remain in place for five years and require the Anoka-Hennepin School District to undertake several initiatives:

  • retain an expert consultant in the area of sex-based harassment to review the district’s policies and procedures concerning harassment;
  • develop and implement a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment at the middle and high schools;
  • improve its training of staff and students on sex-based harassment;
  • appoint a Title IX coordinator to ensure proper implementation of the district’s sex-based harassment policies and procedures and district compliance with Title IX;
  • retain an expert consultant in the area of mental health to address the needs of students who are victims of harassment;
  • provide for other opportunities for student involvement and input into the district’s ongoing anti-harassment efforts;
  • improve its system for maintaining records of investigations and responding to allegations of harassment;
  • conduct ongoing monitoring and evaluations of its anti-harassment efforts;
  • and submit annual compliance reports to the departments.

The agreement that must still be approved by U.S. District Judge Joan N. Ericksen, who’s adjudicating litigation involved in the case, for it to take effect.

In November 2010, the Justice Department received a complaint alleging the school district — which educates more than 40,000 students and oversees 37 schools — was allowing anti-gay harassment of students because they weren’t conforming to gender stereotypes.

In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the consent decree “provides a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform” to enhance the Anoka-Hennepin School District’s policies to protect students.

“The consent decree will build upon the district’s existing anti-harassment efforts to help create  an environment where all students feel safe in school, are free from harassment and can be themselves,” Perez said.

Russlynn Ali, the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights, said the deal represents collaborative work to ensure students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District feel safe.

“We think their experience can be a model for other districts facing similar struggles, and we’re out here today to say that harassment of students based on failure to conform to gender stereotyping will be not tolerated,” Ali said.

No federal law prohibits schools from allowing harassment or discrimination on basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the Obama administration found that the Anoka-Hennepin School District was in violation of Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibit harassment on the basis of gender, because schools allowed harassment against students who weren’t conforming to gender stereotypes.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to school districts in November 2010, the Department of Education informed schools it could be violation of existing laws protecting against discrimination on the basis of gender if it allowed anti-LGBT harassment in schools.

In July, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against the district on behalf of six students who say they experienced harassment and violence as a result of an anti-gay environment. As a result of this litigation, the district on the same day it announced it agreed the terms set forth by the Obama administration agreed to pay student plaintiffs a total of $270,000.

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the agreements “an important step” in making LGBT and gender non-conforming students feel safe in school.

“The district has committed to a detailed long-term plan to prevent and address harassment, as well as ongoing review of its implementation of the plan by federal agencies,” Minter said. “Along with the district’s repeal last month of its harmful and stigmatizing Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, which prevented teachers from effectively responding to harassment, this agreement points the way toward a better future for LGBT students in the district.”

On the same day the agreement was reached, the Justice Department filed a complaint as part of its standard practices to intervene in federal litigation against the Anoka-Hennepin School District. The complaint details harassment of ten students who are identified by letters such as Student A or Student B.

Student A alleged he was told “You’re a guy, act like it” was called “so gay” and “fag,” despite having never identifying his sexual orientation. Students spread false rumors that he was a “pedophile” and alleged he raped his mother. Additionally, other students threatened to kill him, pushed him, threw food at him and called him names nearly every day for two years.

In response, the district discouraged Student A from engaging in gender nonconforming behavior and implemented measures isolating Student A that failed to stop the harassment. One assistant principal allegedly told Student A’s parents to stop him from wearing feminine clothing to school. Staff members took away Student A’s feminine clothing and, in reference to his singing, told him, “Boys don’t do that.”

Another student, Student B, was allegedly called “‘gay boy,’ ‘homo,’ and ‘fag.'” He was allegedly pushed up against a wall and forcibly restrained. Students harassed him with taunts of a sexual nature, saying, ‘Your dads are gay, so you’re going to be gay. Why don’t you just go and suck their cocks now?’”

Student B identifies as straight, but, according to the complaint, participates in a sport “that his peers view as a feminine activity.” He was allegedly told he participates in “a girl’s sport,” and “If a boy is in a girl’s sport, then he must be gay.” Students allegedly also said, “Why don’t you join a real sport like football?”

As a result of this bullying, nine youths have committed suicide in this school district over the past two years. At least four suicide victims were victims of bullying because they were gay or perceived to be gay. Justin Aaberg, who was 15, hanged himself in July 2010 after being subjected to anti-gay harassment.

Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dennis Carlson called the consent decree “a positive statement” of the continuing efforts to ensure a “welcoming environment for all students and families in our district.”

“The District and its staff want the public to know that there is another side to the story that we have been and remain unable to tell due to data privacy laws: without exception, our staff investigated and responded properly to reported harassment,” Carlson said. “They disciplined students found to have bullied or harassed other students. However, no one would deny that bullying and harassment are real problems in our society and must be more thoroughly and consistently addressed.”

B. Todd Jones, U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, emphasized the component of the deal requiring the district to hire by September a Title IX consultant to review school policy, including practices that could affect students at risk for mental health problems.

“By the end of the year, the mental health consultant hired by the school will prepare a comprehensive report to the school board with very specific recommendations, and by January of next year, the school will present a plan implementing those recommendations,” Jones said. “We firmly believe that this’ll make a real difference in the lives of students who are struggling as victims of harassment.”

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Anoka-Hennepin School District board voted 5-1 on Monday to approve the agreement. The lone school board member to vote it, Kathy Tingelstad, resigned afterwards, reportedly citing concerns about cost, federal intervention in local schools and the precedent set for other districts.

In the conference call, Perez said the U.S. government is involved because it’s responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws prohibiting against harassment in schools on the basis of gender.

“We have federal laws on the books that protect situations such as this, and so we are simply doing our job or ensuring equal educational opportunity and promoting a safe and healthy learning environment,” Perez said.

Perez said the cost of the deal over the course of five years was $500,000 based on estimates from the district superintendent, but added the district will have opportunities to access federal money to pay for initiatives.

“I think when you address the question of costs, you also have to address the question of benefits, and I think the benefits are priceless,” Perez said. “When you have a nurturing environment that enables students to learn that return on investment is absolutely priceless.”

Legislation that would explicitly ban discrimination against LGBT students, known as the Student Non-Discrimination Act, is pending before Congress. The bill is sponsored in the House by gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and in the Senate by Sen Al Franken (D-Minn.). The Obama administration has yet to endorse the legislation.

Perez said a having law on the books like the Student Non-Discrimination Act would “certainly be helpful,” but stopped short of offering a full-throated endorsement of the bill.

“We have had conversations with various stakeholders on the Hill and spoken about that, and are carefully reviewing that particular proposal,” Perez said.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

Published

on

The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

Continue Reading

Federal Government

Federal government prepares for looming shutdown

White House warns of ‘damaging impacts across the country’

Published

on

U.S. Capitol Building (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

However remote they were on Monday, odds of avoiding a government shutdown were narrowed by Thursday evening as House Republicans continued debate over their hyper-partisan appropriations bills that stand no chance of passage by the Upper Chamber.

As lawmakers in the Democratic controlled Senate forged ahead with a bipartisan stop-gap spending measure that House GOP leadership had vowed to reject, the federal government began bracing for operations to grind to a halt on October 1.

This would mean hundreds of thousands of workers are furloughed as more than 100 agencies from the State Department to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation roll out contingency plans maintained by the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday the Office of Personnel Management sent out memos to all agencies instructing them to ready for a shutdown on Sunday.

Before 1980, operations would continue per usual in cases where Congress failed to break an impasse over spending, as lapses in funding tended to last only a few days before lawmakers brokered a deal.

Since then, the government has shut down more than a dozen times and the duration has tended to become longer and longer.

“Across the United States, local news outlets are reporting on the harmful impacts a potential government shutdown would have on American families,” the White House wrote in a release on Thursday featuring a roundup of reporting on how the public might be affected.

“With just days left before the end of the fiscal year, extreme House Republicans are playing partisan games with peoples’ lives and marching our country toward a government shutdown that would have damaging impacts across the country,” the White House said.

The nature and extent of that damage will depend on factors including how long the impasse lasts, but the Biden-Harris administration has warned of some consequences the American public is likely to face.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, for example, warned: “There is no good time for a government shutdown, but this is a particularly bad time for a government shutdown, especially when it comes to transportation.”

Amid the shortage of air traffic controllers and efforts to modernize aviation technology to mitigate flight delays and cancellations, a government shutdown threatens to “make air travel even worse,” as Business Insider wrote in a headline Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers including California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters, meanwhile, have sounded the alarm in recent weeks over the consequences for the global fight against AIDS amid the looming expiration, on Oct. 1, of funding for PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

Continue Reading

Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

Published

on

QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular