Congratulations, Minnesota. Nearly three years after Anoka High School student Justin Aaberg hanged himself after allegedly being subjected to anti-gay harassment, state Republicans seem to have decided that bullying is no longer a problem. The Pioneer-Press reports Monday that an anti-bullying bill has been withdrawn "after Republicans said they planned 10 hours of debate on the issue."
Using mean, aggressive measures to get your way over a bullying bill? Anyone else feel an Alanis Morissette verse coming on?
After Aaberg's death -- just one of many high-profile 2010 LGBT suicides that made bullying a national issue -- 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."
Like most states, Minnesota does already have some anti-bullying measures in place, though as MinnPost noted in April, they're among the weakest -- and most vague -- in the nation. A 2012 statute calls for each school board shall to "adopt a written policy prohibiting intimidation and bullying of any student … in all forms, including, but not limited to, electronic forms and forms involving Internet use." The Safe and Supportive Schools Act would have gone further and more explicitly, providing "clear definitions of bullying, harassment, and intimidation; training and resources for students, staff, and volunteers; and forward specific procedures for schools to report bullying incidents."
The state's House passed the anti-bullying bill earlier this month. But its progress may have been impeded by, of all things, the tremendous recent progress for LGBT rights. Last week, Minnesota became the 12th state to approve marriage equality, a victory that has left many conservatives angry and frustrated. In April, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis sent out a strange, strongly worded letter to Catholics questioning the difference between "prevention of school bullying or re-education camp?" In it, the Archdiocese called the anti-bullying effort an "Orwellian nightmare, claiming, "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."
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 ourselves, our kids should come first.
Democratic State Sen. Scott Dibble told Minnesota Public Radio Monday morning that "Republican after Republican got up and said 'I talked to superintendents and they say things are just fine in our schools.' Not one of them talked about talking to kids themselves. Well, I talked to literally hundreds of kids and they tell us things are not fine in their schools."