Pelosi: Suicide Spike Shows Bachmann to be A Poor Presidential Pick

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 29, 2011

Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says that Michele Bachmann's failure to address a surge in teen suicides in her congressional district demonstrates why Bachmann would be a poor choice for the Oval Office, the Advocate reported on July 29.

Nine students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, which lies in Bachmann's congressional district in Minnesota, have killed themselves in the last two years and a number of others have 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.

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. 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 Mother Jones article suggested.

The Advocate article also took note. "At least four suicide victims, as Mother Jones noted in a feature published Monday, had been reported victims of bullying because they were LGBT or perceived to be LGBT," the Advocate reported.

"But Bachmann has yet to speak out on the suicides within the state's 6th congressional district and appears to have chided anti-bullying legislative efforts in the past," added the Advocate.

"I would think that if she wanted to be the President of the United States, she would understand that this is a larger issue than whether someone is gay or not, but as to whether someone is harassed and bullied to the point of seeing no way out," Pelosi told the Advocate.

"Obviously it's an issue bigger than Michele Bachmann's district, so maybe we should all be speaking out about it, and not just leaving it to her."

The Anoka-Hennepin school district had what some called a "no homo promo" policy forbidding discussion of gays or gay-related topics in the classroom, Mother Jones reported.

"There could be no discussion of homosexuality," the article said, "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 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, and was told that God creates all human beings to be heterosexual.

The report galvanized GLBT equality advocates and brought the attention of mainstream America to the issue of so-called "ex-gays," people who claim to have been gay or lesbian but to have "chosen" to become heterosexual. However, a number of "ex-gays" have later become "ex-ex-gays," and renounced their former claims to have been "cured" of homosexuality. Moreover, mental health professionals say that "ex-gay" therapy can do far more harm than good.

The question of whether "reparative therapy" is offered at Marcus Bachmann's clinics, which have received over $160,000 in state and federal money, came under media scrutiny shortly after it became known that Marcus Bachmann had told a Christian radio program that gays are "barbarians" and need "discipline" rather than a sympathetic ear.

Though Bachmann has remained silent on the issue of teen suicides in her congressional district, she has addressed the controversy that has grown around her husband, telling the press that she, and not Marcus Bachmann or their business interests, is running for the presidency, the Associated Press reported on Aug. 29. Michele Bachmann made the comments during a National Press Club luncheon, the article said.

"I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for the presidency of the United States," Bachmann said. "I have no doubt that every jot and tittle of my life will be fully looked at and inspected prior to November of 2012."

Among the areas of interest to those who question Bachmann's sincerity in promoting smaller government are the federal funds received by the Christian counseling clinics she and her husband run. A family farm has also benefited from federal subsidies.

"She also faced questions about her opposition to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Washington Post reported this week that its analysis of her loan documents suggests her family used those federally subsidized programs in 2008," the AP article said.

"Unlike all of you, who I'm sure paid cash for your homes, there are people out there like myself who actually have to go to a bank to get a mortgage," Michele Bachmann remarked at the luncheon. "This is a problem: It's almost impossible to buy a home in this country today without the federal government being involved."

Bachmann suggested that the federal government should no longer provide funds to American families seeking home ownership.

But Bachmann's fiscal ideology has been eclipsed by persistent questions regarding her views on gays and the views of her husband. Some have suggested that Marcus Bachmann's views are central to the question of whether, as president, Michele Bachmann would serve her constituents, or -- in accordance with evangelical faith -- her husband, who, according to some faith traditions, would also be her master on earth.

Bachmann's lack of response to the suicide crisis in Minnesota, and her record of promoting an amendment to that state's constitution to ban marriage equality for any but heterosexual couples, has left skeptics speculating.

"You know, twenty years ago somebody might ask, 'Does it work?' " Pelosi said of so-called reparative therapy. "I think today, people are asking, 'Why would you want to have somebody be who they aren't?' "

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

Comments on Facebook