Rash of Gay Suicides in Bachmann’s District: Her Homophobia at Fault?
A study published earlier this year in the health journal Pediatrics showed that gay youth in conservative regions were up to five times more likely to engage in suicidal behavior than straight teens. One case in point is the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota -- which lies in the district represented by Congresswoman and anti-gay politician Michele Bachmann.
Nine students in the school district have killed themselves in the last two years, with a number of others having attempted suicide, noted a July 25 Mother Jones Magazine article. Teen suicide is so prevalent in the Anoka-Hennepin School District that health authorities in the state have labeled it a "suicide contagion area," Mother Jones reported.
Given the results of the Pediatrics study, and Bachmann’s intense, high-profile attacks on GLBTs, including youth services such as gay-straight alliances in schools, the question lingers: To what extent has Bachmann’s political career, first as a Minnesota state senator, then a U.S. Congresswoman, and now a contender for the 2012 Republican nomination, impacted at-risk gay youth?
"Bachmann, who began her political career as an education activist, has described gay rights as an ’earthquake issue,’ and she and her allies have made public schools the front lines of their fight against the ’homosexual agenda,’ " Mother Jones reported. "They have opposed efforts in the state to promote tolerance for gays and lesbians in the classroom, seeing such initiatives as a way of allowing gays to recruit impressionable youths into an unhealthy and un-Christian lifestyle."
But the health of some gay teens -- and straight teens perceived to be gay -- has suffered without support from peers and mentors, the article suggested, relating the story of Samantha Johnson, a teen in the Anoka-Hennepin District who sought to establish a GSA at her school, Anoka Middle School. The district delayed the implementation of a student-run support group, citing as its reason a lack of certainty about the legality of GSAs.
Meantime, Samantha, whose mother says was heterosexual, was being bullied about her looks and dress. Whether she wore her usual clothing or tried to appear more feminine, the article said, the other students harassed her relentlessly about being a lesbian. In the end, Samantha shot herself with a hunting rifle.
Warning signs had sent her mother to school authorities --but to no avail. The article noted said that Samantha’s friends claimed most of the bullying took place out of the sight of school staff and security cameras, but even when staff caught sight of her being harassed they did nothing to stop it. Nor did the volleyball coach contact Samantha’s mother when the teen, depressed, stopped showing up for practice.
"If I had known, I would have pulled her out of that school so quick," Samantha’s mother said of the things taking place while her daughter was supposedly safe in class. But she was left in the dark by school officials.
"Samantha’s death was among the first in a wave of suicides and attempted suicides that plagued this district for the next two years," the article reported. Some believe that a major contributing factor is a policy referred to locally as "no homo promo," the article said, a policy that had its beginnings in the mid-1990s.
"Back then, after several emotional school board meetings, the district essentially wiped gay people out of the school health curriculum," the article noted. "There could be no discussion of homosexuality, even with regard to HIV and AIDS, and the school board adopted a formal policy that stated school employees could not teach that homosexuality was a ’normal, valid lifestyle.’ "
At a later date, the district amended that policy to a "neutral" policy that left staff and faculty unsure about what was allowed and what might get them fired. Could they intervene in bullying situations? Could they invite students who seemed troubled to talk openly if they suspected that sexuality was at the root of the problem?
"Both policies were put into place at the behest of conservative religious activists who have been among Bachmann’s biggest supporters in the district," the article said. "They include the Minnesota Family Council (MFC), and its local affiliate, the Parents Action League, which has lobbied to put discredited ’reparative therapy’ materials in schools."
So-called "reparative therapy" is a faith-based approach to the issue of homosexuality that assumes people are born heterosexual but then suffer some form of early life trauma that sends them onto the path -- or contributes to their making a "choice" -- of homosexuality. With counseling and prayer, proponents of reparative therapy claim, gays and lesbians can be "freed" from a "lifestyle" that proponents say is "sinful."
Mental health professionals disagree, and warn that reparative therapy can do far more harm than good, in part by setting up an expectation for "healing" in a context in which there is no pathological condition to begin with. A growing body of scientific evidence points to homosexuality as an innate, in-born aspect of gays and lesbians. As such, it is seen more constructively as part of the naturally occurring, and normal, variation of human sexuality, rather than a deviation from it.
But not according to Michele Bachmann, whose claims about gays over the course of her political career have been breathtaking -- and almost uniformly negative. Bachmann has made the claim that all gays have suffered abuse in their life, the implication being that abuse "made" them gay. She has also dismissed gays as living "sad" lives, and said that it is "of Satan" to regard homosexuality as an aspect of human diversity worthy of understanding and acceptance.
A July 11 ABC News report profiled the reparative therapy allegedly offered at the Christian counseling clinics run by Bachmann and her husband, Marcus Bachmann. A staffer from Truth Wins Out, an organization dedicated to countering the "ex-gay" message that reparative therapy can "cure" gays, underwent several counseling sessions at Bachmann & Associates.
That staffer, Jonathan Becker, posed as a Christian man "struggling" with unwanted homosexual urges. Among other things, Becker heard that God had meant for him to be heterosexual.
A follow-up ABC News report on July 12 referred to reparative therapy as "discredited," and included an interview with Dr. Jack Drescher, who is the president for the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry.
"This is mostly faith healing," Drescher told ABC News. "There’s a lot of technical language that sounds like mainstream psychology or mainstream psychiatry, but it’s not." Drescher went on to add, "This is so far outside the mainstream it’s practically on Mars."
Wayne Besen, founder of Truth Wins Out, told EDGE something similar.
" ’Ex-gay’ therapy is junk science used to justify a fundamentalist worldview," Besen wrote in an email to EDGE. "Anti-gay activists realize that they cannot beat back LGBT equality with religious arguments alone. So they try to win over mainstream voters by distorting real scientific studies or inventing fake science that appears to back their beliefs. So-called ex-gay therapy fits into this mold."
But the campaign to characterize homosexuality as some form of moral failing or illness can have drastically negative consequences for the very people to whom it purports to offer healing. Drescher warned that gays and lesbians who undergo the therapy "may feel more depressed, more anxious, some people may feel more suicidal because this treatment didn’t work."