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.
Gay man shot to death on NYC subway train
Police say shooting was random and unprovoked
A gay man became the latest victim of a New York City subway shooting on Sunday when police say a male suspect shot Daniel Enriquez, 48, in the chest in an unprovoked random act inside a subway car traveling from Brooklyn to Manhattan.
Police on Tuesday arrested Andrew Abdullah, 25, who they identified as the sole suspect in the shooting, after attorneys representing him from the Legal Aid Society attempted to arrange for his surrender, according to a report by NBC 4 News in New York.
Police said the shooting occurred around 11:42 a.m. while the train was traveling over the Manhattan Bridge. The then unidentified suspect walked off the train and disappeared into a crowd of people when the train stopped at the Canal Street station minutes after Enriquez lay dying on the floor on the train car, police said.
Possibly based on the viewing of images from video surveillance cameras, police sources told the New York Times that investigators identified the suspect as Abdullah whose last known residence was in Manhattan, as a suspect in the fatal shooting. NYPD officials released two photos of Abdullah and appealed to the public for help in finding him.
Adam Pollack, Enriquez’s partner of 18 years, told both the Times and the New York Post that Enriquez took the subway to meet his brother for brunch. According to Pollack, Enriquez previously had taken Ubers into Manhattan, where he worked and socialized, from the couple’s home in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. But in recent weeks the cost of taking an Uber rose dramatically to more than $80 for the round-trip fare, prompting Enriquez to begin taking the subway, Pollack told the Times and Post.
“I don’t love the subway,” the Post quoted Pollack as saying. “I know how dangerous New York is. It took me two years to get back on the subway. I don’t feel safe on the subway,” he said.
The fatal shooting of Enriquez took place six weeks after another gunman identified as Frank R. James began shooting inside a crowded rush-hour subway car in Brooklyn, injuring at least 23 people.
Pollack told the Times his partner was a native New Yorker who worked as a researcher for the Goldman Sachs investment bank in Manhattan. Enriquez was the eldest of five children and a beloved uncle known for taking his nieces and nephews for ice cream in local parks and out to amusement parks when he visited them, Pollack told the Times.
When asked by the Washington Blade if any evidence has surfaced to indicate suspect Abdullah targeted Enriquez because he thought Enriquez was gay, a police public information officer said the investigation into the incident was continuing.
“There’s nothing on that now,” the officer said. “Everything, the motive, and all of that stuff, is part of the investigation and that is still ongoing. So, there’s no comment on that yet.”
The Times reports that court records show Abdullah, who is now in police custody, was charged along with others in 2017 in an 83-count indictment for alleged gang related activity. The following year he pleaded guilty to criminal possession of weapons and other charges in 2018 and was sentenced the following year to a prison term and released on parole several months later.
According to the Times, he faced new gun charges in 2020, was charged in 2021 with assault and endangering a child, and in April of this year was charged with possession of stolen property and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
“We are devastated by this senseless tragedy and our deepest sympathies are with Dan’s family at this difficult time,” Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon said in a statement.
Federal judge blocks White House from ending Title 42
Advocacy groups say policy further endangered LGBTQ asylum seekers
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic was to have ended Monday, but it remains in place after a federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s plans to end it.
The White House last month announced it would terminate Title 42, a policy the previous administration implemented in March 2020.
U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays in Louisiana on May 20 issued a ruling that prevented the Biden administration from terminating the Trump-era policy. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement announced the Justice Department will appeal the decision, while adding the administration “will continue to enforce the CDC’s 2020 Title 42 public health authority pending the appeal.”
“This means that migrants who attempt to enter the United States unlawfully will be subject to expulsion under Title 42, as well as immigration consequences such as removal under Title 8 (of the U.S. Code),” said Jean-Pierre.
Advocacy groups and members of Congress with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Title 42 took effect say it continues to place LGBTQ asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups who seek refuge in the U.S. at even more risk.
Oluchi Omeoga, co-director of the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project, last month described Title 42 as a “racist and harmful policy.” ORAM (Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration) Executive Director Steve Roth said Title 42 “put asylum seekers in harm’s way in border towns and prevented them from seeking safety in the United States.”
Title 42 was to have ended less than a month after five members of Congress from California visited two LGBTQ shelters for asylum seekers in the Mexican border city of Tijuana.
The Council for Global Equality, which organized the trip, in a tweet after Summerhays issued his ruling described Title 42 as a “catastrophe.”
“The Biden administration cannot breathe a sign of relief until it’s a matter of the past,” said the Council for Global Equality on Saturday. “We remain committed to end Title 42.”
— The Council for Global Equality (@Global_Equality) May 20, 2022
U.S. Army considers allowing LGBTQ troops to transfer from hostile states
Proposed guidance remains in draft form
A draft policy is circulating among top officials of the U.S. Army that would allow soldiers to be able to request a transfer if they feel state or local laws discriminate against them based on gender, sex, religion, race or pregnancy.
Steve Beynon writing for Military.com reported last week the guidance, which would update a vague service policy to add specific language on discrimination, is far from final and would need approval from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. But if enacted, it could be one of the most progressive policies for the Army amid a growing wave of local anti-LGBTQ and restrictive contraception laws in conservative-leaning states, where the Army has a majority of its bases and major commands.
“Some states are becoming untenable to live in; there’s a rise in hate crimes and rise in LGBT discrimination,” Lindsay Church, executive director of Minority Veterans of America, an advocacy group, told Military.com. “In order to serve this country, people need to be able to do their job and know their families are safe. All of these states get billions for bases but barely tolerate a lot of the service members.”
This policy tweak to the existing Army regulations pertaining to compassionate reassignment would clarify the current standard rules, which are oft times fairly vague.
A source in the Army told Beynon the new guidance has not yet been fully worked out through the policy planning process or briefed to senior leaders including the Army secretary or the office of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
“The Army does not comment on leaked, draft documents,” Angel Tomko, a service spokesperson, told Military.com in an emailed statement. “AR 600-100 and 600-200 establish the criteria for which soldiers may request for a compassionate reassignment. The chain of command is responsible for ensuring soldiers and families’ needs are supported and maintain a high quality of life.”
The Crystal City-based RAND Corporation had published a study on sexual orientation, gender identity and health among active duty servicemembers in 2015 that listed approximate six percent of LGBTQ troops are gay or bisexual and one percent are trans or nonbinary.
A senior analyst for RAND told the Washington Blade on background those numbers are likely much lower than in actuality as 2015 was less than four years after the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and prior to when the Trump administration enacted the trans servicemember ban in 2017, which has had a chilling effect on open service.
The Biden administration repealed the Trump ban.
Another factor is that the current 18-24 year old troops colloquially referred to as “Gen Z” are much more inclined to embrace an LGBTQ identity and that would cause the numbers to be higher than reported.
Also factored in is uncertainty in the tweaking of policy in light of the recent leak of the draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that would effectively repeal Roe v. Wade.
According to Military.com it’s unclear whether the Army’s inclusion of pregnancy on the list would protect reproductive care for soldiers if Roe v. Wade is overturned. That language could be intended to protect pregnant service members or their families from employment or other discrimination, but could also be a means for some to argue for transfers based on broader reproductive rights.
One advocacy group pointed out that the current wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation will negatively impact the moral of service members:
“What we’re seeing across the board is a small group of elected officials who are trying to politicize and weaponize LGBTQ identities in despicable ways. They’re not only doing that to our youth, but the collateral damage is hurting our service members,” Jacob Thomas, communications director for Common Defense, a progressive advocacy organization, told Military.com. “[Troops] can’t be forced to live in places where they aren’t seen as fully human.”
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