A little over a year ago, Justin Aaberg killed himself after being bullied at school because he was gay.
Just weeks after finishing his freshman year at Anoka High, Justin killed himself in his bedroom. His mother and his two brothers found him.
“I touched him — because I just couldn’t believe it,” Tammy Aaberg said. “I thought I was in a nightmare — and he was so cold and I just screamed and ran out and called 911.”
Tammy Aaberg had known her son was gay for a year and feared for his safety. After he died, she started hearing from other students about how Justin was harassed and bullied.
“He probably hated himself, and thought that no one would like him even though he had tons of friends,” she said.
Aaberg said there was probably not one thing that pushed Justin to suicide, but she’s focusing her grief now on trying to get the Anoka-Hennepin school district to clarify its policies regarding gay students.
She doesn’t specifically blame the bullying, but she wants it to stop before more students die. Four teenagers are thought to have killed themselves recently over issue relating to their sexual orientation, two because of bullying at school. Five more are suing over bullying. So far, the Anoka-Hennepin school district has turned down offers by an LGBT group to put on anti-bullying training as well as requests to change their policy that says that staff must be neutral on sexual orientation “in the course of their professional duties”–a policy which, in practice, means that anything other than heterosexuality is not mentioned in the school.
Last week, Justin’s mother delivered a petition with 140,000 signatures on it to Michele Bachmann, asking her to do what she can to stop the harassment that is happening in her district. Today, she sort of gave her answer.
At a campaign rally in California, an attendee repeatedly called out to Bachmann, asking her to address the suicides.
“That’s not a federal issue,” she reportedly said, before moving on to the next question.
I suppose it’s no real wonder she didn’t tell Aaberg directly.
She’s wrong, as usual. Civil rights are very much a federal issue, which is why the Department of Justice is investigating the school district. It’s also why Al Franken is supporting a bill (you know, at the federal level) that would make the bullying of gay and lesbian students explicitly covered under existing civil rights legislation, even though it’s already included by general reference now.
Whether our children–all our children–are allowed to receive the education they need to be full participants in our society has been a national issue for half a century. We’ve dealt with it at the national level because we’ve considered it too important a matter to be left up to the preferences and prejudices of any one state or school district. We’ve numbered it among our inalienable rights (though how well we’ve carried through on that has varied).
But not Michele Bachmann. “That’s not a federal issue,” she says. What she means is that it’s not her issue. She’s happy to let the local prejudices, which just happen to match her prejudices, stand as they are, no matter how many people ask for her help or how they’ve been hurt by the status quo.
Michele Bachmann, Representative for the bullies.