The Anoka-Hennepin school settlement: Comments from the six plaintiffs
Sarah Horner, Pioneer Press, March 6, 2012 –
The Anoka-Hennepin school district on Monday night settled two lawsuits brought by six students over its policy requiring staff to remain neutral when the topic of sexual orientation came up in the classroom. Here, the six speak out.
KYLE ROOKER, 15
Students at Anoka Middle School for the Arts harassed Rooker, who loves Lady Gaga and Cher, for not acting enough like a guy. He transferred out of the district after another student urinated on him in a school bathroom.
Today, he attends Lionsgate Academy in Crystal.
“I am still upset,” Rooker said. “That is going to be there in my heart forever, but I know maybe they were insecure so I shouldn’t really hold it against them….It might not be their fault.”
DYLON FREI, 14
Frei said he regularly reported being bullied to staff in middle school, but he said they mostly told him to do a better job “staying out of people’s way” or suggested he was exaggerating.
Now a freshman at Anoka High School, Frei said things feel different in the district.
“I have kids coming up to me saying they are here for me,” Frei said. “I have had more support than I have ever had in my whole life.
BRITTANY GELDERT, 15
Bullying against the lesbian middle-school student worsened in 2009 after Geldert’s friend Samantha Johnson committed suicide. She said students asked her: “Why don’t you kill yourself, too?”
Now a freshman at Champlin Park High School, Geldert said she has advice for other
“No matter what you think, you are not alone,” she said. “And also that school isn’t the end; there is life beyond those doors.”
DAMIAN MCGEE-BACKES, 15
Damian does not identify as gay, but students harassed him because he has two dads and participates in gymnastics. Once, he was stabbed in the neck with a pencil; another time, he was choked in a school bathroom. His fathers complained repeatedly to school staff, but nothing changed, he said.
“I am very proud the school district agreed to do this,” McGee-Backes said of the settlement. “I am glad other kids won’t have to go through what I went through.”
EBONIE RICHARDSON, 16
Richardson said she feared the harassment that would plague her as a lesbian student every day she walked into Jackson Middle School.
Now a freshman at Champlin Park High School, she said teachers step in more than before. Kids still bully when teachers aren’t looking though, she said.
“I got tired of bullying. I got tired of not having friends. I got tired of not having someone to turn to,” Richardson said. “This right here is making people wake up.”
JANE DOE, 19
Students at Anoka High School called the lesbian student “dyke,” “bitch” and “lesbo.” Once, a student threw a bottle of Gatorade at her and called her a “sinner.”
Staff made her feel like the bullying was her fault, she said.
In 2010, she attempted suicide. She dropped out of the district and got her high school diploma via an online school.
“When I was at that low point, I never thought I could be where I am now,” she said. “I feel like I am here for a reason that is really important.”
– Sarah Horner