Justin Aaberg was fifteen, and shy; he played the cello, and came out to his mother when he was just thirteen. “I actually thought he had the perfect life. I thought out of anybody I knew that he had the perfect life,” said Tammy Aaberg, Justin’s mother. “But I guess he didn’t think so.”
Justin Aaberg killed himself on the ninth of July.
And in the weeks that have passed since her son’s suicide, Tammy Aaberg has discovered just how much Justin’s life was less-than-perfect. She spoke with friends of his from Anoka High School, and many of them told her that Justin had been bullied, and had recently broken up with his boyfriend.
Less than perfect. Less than.
And those same students told Tammy Aaberg about their own experiences being harassed and unsafe as gay and lesbian students. “These kids, they just hate themselves. They literally feel like they want to die. So many kids are telling me this,” said Tammy Aaberg, fighting tears.
But Tammy put aside the tears and spoke before the Anoka-Hennepin School Board about the district’s sexual orientation curriculum policy which states, in part, “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.”
And people wonder why kids are bullied. Their own school curriculum doesn’t deem them worthy of conversation.
After Tammy spoke, and asked the district to rewrite the policy and give teachers training in how to be more sensitive to GLBT students, two other recent graduates of Anoka High School spoke.
A lesbian student, who asked not to be identified, said, “If you have students feeling like they’re isolated, like they have no one to turn to, and then they fill with self-hatred, are we surprised that we’re having suicides in the district by GLBT students? Something needs to happen.”
Both she, and a teacher, who also asked not to be identified, believe three of the five suicides in the Anoka-Hennepin District last year were because of struggles with sexual identity.
One school district and five students have killed themselves in a year.
They say name-calling and bullying happen because teachers and students don’t stand up to it. The teachers says it’s partly because they are scared and confused about how to interpret the curriculum policy. The district said the curriculum policy and bullying are two entirely separate issues.
Wrong on all counts. Teachers and students who hear and see bullying need to stand up. All is takes to give bullies power is saying and doing nothing.
And the teachers need to step up and practice a zero-tolerance policy on name-calling and degradation of any kind.
And the school district needs to work to ensure that the students put into their care on a daily basis are not harassed, not called names, not shoved, pushed, taunted, or ridiculed, for any reason, including sexual orientation.
But, once again, as with the case of Billy Lucas yesterday [see post HERE] the school, the district and administrators know that bullying occurs, and they are adding new training to their anti-bullying policy, though they will not be changing the curriculum policy; they believe the new training will have an impact. Tammy Aaberg isn’t so sure; according to her, there needs to be more than training; she wants a culture shift where more people accept people like her son.
Accept him because he’s gay? Not really. How about accepting him as a human being and treating him with enough dignity and respect that he doesn’t feel the own way out is with his life.
How about that?