Parents Action League
|Legal status||ad hoc|
|Anoka-Hennepin (Minnesota) School District 11|
|Affiliations||Minnesota Family Council|
Parents Action League (PAL) is a citizens organization started in 2010 to oppose changes in the Anoka-Hennepin (Minnesota) School District 11 policy which limited discussions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues in district classrooms. PAL's roots go back as far as 1994, when one of its most-vocal members, Barb Anderson, successfully influenced the school district's board to exclude homosexuality from its sex-ed curriculum.
The school district abandoned the 2010 policy following several student suicides, lawsuits and investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Southern Poverty Law Center designated Parents Action League as an "anti-gay hate group" for "damaging propaganda about the gay community".
Between 2009 and 2011, nine students in Anoka-Hennepin committed suicide; the area is designated by state health officials as a "suicide contagion area". At least four of these students identified as gay or were perceived by their classmates to be gay, leading to bullying. The district is the subject of a federal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education over the climate of anti-gay harassment and discrimination based on sex, including peer-on-peer harassment based on not conforming to gender stereotypes.
The district received criticism for its Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy because it stated that teachers should be neutral when addressing issues of sexual orientation in their classrooms. Critics said this "neutrality policy" prevented acceptance and open discussion of GLBT people and issues in schools, and was essentially a "gag order" on teachers. The "neutrality policy" as it was called, allows teachers to address LGBT issues in the classroom but forbids them from staking out positions on such issues. The policy was characterized as contributing to the harassment and bullying of LGBT students. Advocates for the students charged that several student suicides in the district have been linked to such harassment, and they want the policy repealed. The controversy escalated into lawsuits and a federal investigation. District administration attempted to clarify the policy by explaining its anti-bullying and harassment policies specifically name sexual orientation as a protected class of people. The Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy stated teachers can address issues of sexual orientation in their classes provided the discussion is age-appropriate, fact-based and connected to the curriculum.
The Minnesota Family Council is the statewide sponsor of the Parents Action League (PAL). PAL member Barb Anderson, a former district Spanish teacher and a longtime researcher for the Minnesota Family Council, fought "gay influence" in local schools for two decades. When the Anoka-Hennepin district's sex-ed curriculum was due for re-evaluation in 1994, Anderson and four like-minded parents joined the review committee. They argued against teaching gay tolerance in school, suggesting that it would "promote homosexuality", and that discussing it openly might actually "turn straight kids gay".
At the end of the committee's seven-month-long sex-ed review, Anderson and her colleagues wrote to the Anoka-Hennepin school board, concluding, "The majority of parents do not wish to have their children taught that the gay lifestyle is a normal acceptable alternative." The school board voted to adopt the measure by a four-to-two majority, using language from the committee's memo to create a district-wide policy. The policy prohibited homosexuality to be taught as a "normal, valid lifestyle", within the health curriculum. The policy was unofficially known as the "No Homo Promo". Teachers said it had a chilling effect and they became concerned about mentioning gays in any context. Gradually discussion of homosexuality disappeared from classes.
In 2011, the Parents Action League circulated an online petition supporting the Anoka-Hennepin school district's sexual orientation curriculum policy, which has been challenged by advocates for LGBT students. The School district has disclaimed connection with the outside group.
As part of their list of demands to the school district, members of PAL included "incorporating ex-gay (conversion therapy) into the school resources." They specifically called for a new division within the student support services and a special section on the District 11 website devoted to "students of faith, moral conviction, ex-homosexuals and ex-transgenders". They also asked for school administrators and staff work closely with "pro-family and ex-homosexual and ex-transgender organizations", and for the district to provide information on the history of "Gay-related immune deficiency (GRID), acquired immune deficiencies and the medical consequences of homosexual acts". As a result of their activities, PAL was scrutinized by other parents who questioned the group’s ties to the Minnesota Family Council.
On February 9, 2009 the Anoka-Hennepin District #11 School Board passed the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy (Neutrality Policy). This policy makes it clear that “Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student-led discussions.”
This policy strengthens the authority and rights of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their own children—especially on sensitive topics such as sexual orientation. The Gay Equity Team and other radical homosexual activists in our school district are fighting to overturn this policy.
– Parents Action League Flyer (2011)
On February 13, 2012, the policy was repealed and replaced by a vote of 5-1 with a new Respectful Learning Environment Policy. The old policy was repealed because the US Department of Justice "agreed with the crux of the lawsuit -- that the neutrality policy and the policies that preceded contributed to harassment of gay kids" including six bullied gay students (including one who committed suicide). The new policy requires teachers to discuss contentious issues in a way that "shall affirm the dignity of all students."
PAL's controversial role influencing the school district's Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy caught the attention of civil rights groups as well as the national media, in part because its influence occurred within the 2012 presidential contender Michele Bachmann's home district and because the Parents Action League is a local affiliate of the Minnesota Family Council, one of Michele Bachmann's largest supporters in the district. Bachmann and Newt Gingrich were both headline speakers at a fundraiser for PAL's statewide sponsor, Minnesota Family Council.
Hate group designation
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated the Parents Action League as an anti-gay hate group. SPLC's Heidi Beirich said "the Parents Action League was included on their hate list for 'damaging propaganda about the gay community,' including calling gays and lesbians 'promiscuous, dysfunctional, unhealthy'." The SPLC noted for groups including Parents Action League, "viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups." She added that they studied the behaviour of the Parents Action League before adding them the list.
Parents Action League president Laurie Thompson, in email, did not respond directly to the SPLC accusations but did pose "pointed questions": "How does being pro family/pro parental rights constitute a group as a hate group?" and, "How does being an advocate for parental rights to raise their children come off as being hatred?" Thompson also said: "It is a privilege to be added to the long list of pro-family organizations that have been labeled as 'hate groups. The SPLC continues their strategy of defaming and name calling toward those whom they disagree with."
- Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment
- List of organizations designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-gay hate groups
- Suicide among LGBT youth
- Birkey, Andy (January 12, 2012). "Conservative Christian parents fight for right to discriminate against LGBT students at Anoka Hennepin". The Twin Cities Daily Planet. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
- Erdely, Sabrina Rubin (February 16, 2012). "One Town's War on Gay Teens". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 14, 2012.
- Parents Action League. "Frequently Asked Questions". Archived from the original on April 11, 2012. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- Birkey, Andy (August 22, 2011). "Parents Action League warns of 'radical homosexual agenda' in Anoka-Hennepin schools". The Minnesota Independent. Archived from the original on June 10, 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- Southern Poverty Law Center. "Active Anti-Gay Groups". Retrieved July 8, 2012.
- Louwagie, Pam (August 12, 2012). "Trying to track hate, in Minnesota and around the country". Star Tribune. Minneapolis, MN. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
In the case of groups the center considers anti-gay, including the Anoka-Hennepin district's Parents Action League, the center says listings are based on "propagation of known falsehoods -- claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities -- and repeated, groundless name-calling. Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups." The center's Heidi Beirich said the Parents Action League was included on their hate list for "damaging propaganda about the gay community," including calling gays and lesbians "promiscuous, dysfunctional, unhealthy."
- Mencimer, Stephanie (July 25, 2011). "The Teen Suicide Epidemic in Michele Bachmann's District". Mother Jones.
- Baca, Maria Elena (December 11, 2011). "Rifts still evident at hearing on embattled GLBT policy". Star Tribune. Minneapolis, MN. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- Harlow, Poppy & Probst, Emily. (July 20, 2011). "Minnesota school district investigated after civil rights complaint". CNN.com.
- Birkley, Andy (September 29, 2010). "Following suicides, Anoka-Hennepin community presses school board for change". Retrieved September 14, 2012.
- Draper, Norman (August 18, 2011). "Petition supports Anoka-Hennepin GLBT policy". Star Tribune. Minneapolis, MN. Retrieved September 8, 2012.
- Carlson, Dennis. StarTribune.com 10 Aug. 2011 "Superintendent: GLBT neutrality policy is best for Anoka-Hennepin schools"
- Bazelon, Emily (March 7, 2012). "A Big Win - The landmark settlement in a Minnesota bullying case and how it could help gay students everywhere. A Big Win in the Fight Against Gay Bashing Bullies". Slate.
In 2010 the head of the group told the Minnesota Independent that LGBT students had killed themselves not because of bullying, but because of “homosexual indoctrination” and their own “unhealthy lifestyle.” ( The statewide sponsor of the Parents Action League is a group called the Minnesota Family Council; last spring, Bachmannn and Newt Gingrich were the headline speakers for an MFC fundraiser.)
- Birkley, Andy (August 26, 2011). "Anoka-Hennepin schools' long history in the culture war". Retrieved September 14, 2012.
- Avidor, Ken; Bremer, Karl; Young, Eva (December 6, 2011). The Madness of Michele Bachmann: A Broad-Minded Survey of a Small-Minded Candidate. ISBN 978-1118197677.
Barb Anderson is a researcher for the Minnesota Family Council and a member of the Parents Action League (PAL), a shadow group formed to oppose "the Gay Agenda" in the Anoka-Hennepin School District....Barb Anderson and her husband are big contributors to Michele Bachmann's campaigns.
- Jessica Lussenhop. "Parents Action League listed as a hate group". CityPages. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- Birkey, Andy (January 13, 2012). "Conservative Christian parents fight for right to discriminate against LGBT students at Anoka Hennepin". Twin Cities Daily Planet. Retrieved September 9, 2012.
- Ford, Zack (January 17, 2012). "Some Minnesota Parents Call For Ex-Gay Therapy, Teaching About AIDS As 'Gay' Disease". ThinkProgress.org. Retrieved September 14, 2012.
- Birkey, Andy (August 24, 2011). "Anoka-Hennepin lawsuit spurs petition, tough settlement talks". The Minnesota Independent. Retrieved September 15, 2012.
- Baca, Maria Elena (February 13, 2012). "Anoka-Hennepin school district votes to replace neutrality policy". StarTribune. Minneapolis: StarTribune. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- Jessica Lussenhop. "Anoka-Hennepin settles lawsuit with bullied students". CityPages. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- Anoka-Hennepin District No. 11. "Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy". Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- Mencimer, Stephanie (July 25, 2011). "The Teen Suicide Epidemic in Michele Bachmann's District Two years. Nine suicides. Why critics blame the congresswoman's anti-gay allies for contributing to a mental health crisis". Mother Jones. Retrieved September 16, 2012.
Both policies were put into place at the behest of conservative religious activists who have been among Bachmann's biggest supporters in the district. 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.
- Horner, Sarah (August 14, 2011). "The policy: Neutrality. The effect: Controversy - Anoka-Hennepin district faces gay-rights lawsuits, unwanted attention". St. Paul Pioneer Press. St. Paul, MN. Accessed September 17, 2012.
The debate has grabbed the attention of civil rights groups and the national media. And as it rages within presidential contender Michele Bachmann 's home district and before a 2012 statewide vote on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, Anoka-Hennepin and its policy aren't likely to escape the spotlight anytime soon.... The Minnesota Family Council and the local Parents Action League - a group that says district schools should stay focused on core academics - say the policy has nothing to do with bullying.
- Murphy, Tim. "Gingrich, Bachmann Address Wannabe Hate Group". Political Mojo. Mother Jones. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- Horner, Sarah (March 13, 2012). "Anoka group makes rights center's hate list - Parents Action League earns designation for stands on gay". St. Paul Pioneer Press. St. Paul, Minnesota. Accessed September 9, 2012.
- Official web site
- Letter sent from the Southern Poverty Law Center to the Anoka-Hennepin School District on May 24, 2011
- Parents Demand School Teach Ex-Gay Therapy (video)
- Respectful Learning Environment Policy[Official Text Pending Publication]
- School District Revokes LGBT Policy In Light of Suicides (video)