MN NOW supports Safe Schools for All Act, denounces Tom Emmer’s dismissal of gay teen suicide epidemic

Minnesota NOW Press Release, October 13, 2010



All Minnesotans, regardless of party affiliation, are shocked by the recent spike in gay teen suicides across the nation.  Here at home, 15-year-old Anoka resident Justin Aaberg took his own life in July, a desperate act his mother believes was motivated by unchecked bullying at her son’s school.  Minnesota NOW, as a partner in the Safe Schools for All Coalition, hopes that renewed attention to this public health emergency will finally increase momentum for anti-bullying legislation that could do so much to protect vulnerable adolescents.

But that won’t happen if Tom Emmer is elected Governor, warns Shannon Drury, State President of Minnesota NOW.

When Rep. Emmer was asked by a Fox 9 debate moderator on October 9 how he’d respond to this crisis, Emmer said he does not support this kind of legislation. Rep. Emmer said, “we should all be able to have [our] point of view and respect each other but we don’t need more laws trying to get in between people.”

With this statement, Emmer implied that bullies are entitled to their so-called “point of view,” even as they harass and intimidate their peers quite literally to death.  “Sexism and racism are also points of view,” says Drury.  “Would Governor Emmer fail to enforce other Minnesota civil rights statutes as well?”

Minnesota NOW, the Safe Schools for All Coalition, and a bipartisan majority in the State Legislature  supported the Safe Schools for All Bill that was vetoed by Governor Tim Pawlenty in May 2009.  Today, State Senators Scott Dibble and Jim Davnie (both DFL-Minneapolis) announced plans to re-introduce this bill in the upcoming special session. Minnesota NOW’s statewide membership applauds the Senators for moving this important bill forward.

Rep. Emmer claims “we don’t need more laws,” yet he supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage (Source:  “Apparently, Emmer does support more laws, after all—laws that reinforce his social agenda at others’ expense,” Drury says.

“Minnesotans are compassionate people.  They want to do whatever they can to prevent another death like Justin Aaberg’s.  They don’t want other parents to have to do what Tammy Aaberg did—bury her child.”

Who cares about Minnesota women? We do.

Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman issued a challenge in his September 19 column: who will speak for Minnesota women? I can’t claim to represent every female in our state, but I can speak on behalf of the more than 2000 women and men who are members of our state’s chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW).  The statistics quoted by Mr. Coleman, while disturbing, are not new to us; they are the reason that we do the work we do.

Unfortunately, Minnesota NOW and our allies are increasingly fighting against a culture that sees gains made by individual women as evidence of gains for all women.  The electoral victories of Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Sarah Palin are laudable, but as Coleman points out, these wins have done little to end domestic violence or close the wage gap.  The appointments of Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan won’t truly make history until their review of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 renders the 2007 Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling null and void (for those not up to date on feminist history, that doozy of a decision allowed Goodyear to get away with shorting Ledbetter’s salary for over twenty years).

I was born and raised in Minneapolis by Hubert Humphrey voters who believed him when he said “compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.” As Coleman wrote in his column, a disproportionate number of today’s low-wage workers are women, a large segment of whom also unpaid caregivers to children and/or elders.  Quality health care (including, as Coleman notes, sexual health care), child care, and schooling are increasingly out of reach for Minnesota women, but our current governor recently likened federal health care funding to illegal drugs: toxic and corrupting.  In such an environment, one can forgive Coleman for guessing that nobody cares.

What happened?  I have some theories: inevitable backlash, conservative retrenchment, and a consumer culture that hijacked feminism’s language to sell us cigarettes, luxury cars, and high-heeled shoes.  We’ve come a long way, baby.

It’s an irony not lost on me that the study Coleman quotes comes from the research institute that carries the name of my hometown’s former mayor. Minnesota has moved away from its culture of inclusion, towards an attitude of every man (pun intended) for himself.  I commend Coleman for bringing these inequities to light, and I urge Minnesotans to ask their governor candidates what specific plans they have for eradicating them.

Shannon Drury

President, Minnesota NOW