Almost three years ago in the state of Minnesota, Anoka High School student Justin Aaberg hanged himself after being subjected to continuous anti-gay harassment. However, GOP politicians in the state seemed to have lost interest in the case after the Pioneer-Press reported on Monday that an anti-bullying bill has been withdrawn before Republicans even debated the issue.
In the wake of Aaberg’s death, Sen. Al Franken made a strong push for tougher, clearer legislation to protect students. “No student should have to dread going to school because they fear being bullied,” he said. “It’s clear that we need to do more to ensure schools are a safe environment for all students. Ending this bullying and harassment in schools will be a priority for education reform in the next Congress.”
Aaberg’s death was just one of many nationally reported suicides of tormented gay youth.
Minnesota passed the anti-bullying bill earlier this month. But ironically, the bill has been hindered by great strides in gay rights efforts in the state. Last week, Minnesota became the 12th state to approve marriage equality, an event that has galvanized conservatives and entrenched them even deeper in the fight for social issues.
Deepening the divide, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis sent out a bizarre letter to Catholics that claimed the measures to prevent school bullying was simply a “reeducation camp” disguised in anti-bullying rhetoric. In the letter, the Archdiocese referred to the anti-bullying effort an “Orwellian nightmare,” going on to say that, “this bill is not designed to protect all kids from school bullying” and calling it part of “the relentless assault in our schools on the dignity of the human person, authentic sexuality, and the institutions of marriage and family.”
According to Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams, “The term ‘bullying’ is inherently vague, and there’s always the risk, in legislating behavior, of imposing a moral value on uncomfortable opinions. But proponents of ‘traditional’ marriage and relationships shouldn’t fear an ‘Orwellian’ nightmare – or worse, pretend that kids don’t need to be educated about bullying and protected from it. Living in a free country means that we should all have the expectation of interacting with people who feel and believe differently than we do. It shouldn’t mean that our kids should be verbally abused and tormented in their schools. That’s what this is issue about. And until our kids stop killing [themselves], our kids should come first.”