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Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Justin Aaberg, 15, courtesy of his mother, Tammy

Anoka-Hennepin School District, Minnesota – A 15-year-old gay teen hanged himself after being continually hounded for his sexuality on July 9.  The story of Justin Aaberg, which was regional before the explosion in national consciousness on gay teen suicide in public schools and universities, has grabbed the country’s attention.  His mother Tammy Aaberg describes her son as “a very sweet boy who seemed to always have a smile on his face; he didn’t have a mean bone in his body…He was always a shoulder [friends] could cry on and would help them with their problems. He was also an extremely good cello player who even composed a few of his own songs.”  Justin was a student at Anoka High School, and a member of the school orchestra.  His mom told WCCO in Anoka, the CBS affiliate, “I actually thought he had the perfect life. I thought out of anybody I knew that he had the perfect life.  But I guess he didn’t think so.”  She found his lifeless body hanging in his room.  Justin’s friends related to her how severely he was harassed by anti-gay bullies in school, and how he had recenctly broken up with his boyfriend from the stresses he was facing. Mrs. Aaberg testified to the Anoka-Hennepin School Board that her son was harassed mercilessly by bullies at Anoka High School because of his sexual orientation.   “I’m not asking you to accept this as a lifestyle for you,” she told the Board according to The Colu.mn, an LGBT online newspaper in Minnesota. “I’m only asking that you please make the school safe for GLBT students still alive and in this district today they are people just like us and deserve to be treated like the rest of us. Suicide should not feel like the only way to take away the pain and shame.”  Mrs. Aaberg has been joined by Minnesota LGBTQ activists who are calling for the school district, the largest in the United States, to change its policies explicitly to protect students who are members of the sexual minority.  As EDGE reports, the district is finding it hard to deny there is a problem for its LGBTQ students, since this past year there were two other LGBTQ teen suicides in area schools in addition to Justin, besides the scandal of two district teachers who conspired to torment a teen because they knew he was gay.  The district has defended its responses as adequate, and tauted its “neutrality” policy that mandates no one in the employ of the schools will speak in favor or in opposition to the “LGBT lifestyle.”  Gay Equity Team members have criticized district officials for a policy of “neutrality” they believe is in place because of the conservative, disapproving attitudes of politically powerful citizens who loathe gay people.  Officials admit that their vaunted policy is hardly neutral when it comes to LGBTQ teens and their orientation.  The Minnesota Independent reports that Dale Schuster, a former student of the district, criticized the way district policy speaks openly their support of heterosexuality and opposite sex marriage, but only remains mum when gay concerns are at stake. “There is no way to be neutral on this issue, he said. “Either we support the GLBT students as we do their straight peers or we don’t. It’s impossible to explain why hateful rhetoric is wrong with a neutrality policy in place.  How do you stop the anti-gay rhetoric without explaining why it’s wrong in the first place?” Drawing a bead squarely at the School Board, Schuster added, “The time to remain neutral while our GLBT students are taking their own lives needs to end.”  Tammy Aaberg agrees that the policy of the School Board contributed to the death of her son, and she is not going to rest until the policy changes for the better, so that LGBTQ students like Justin can be safe at school, and no other family will have to endure the loss hers has faced because of unreasoning hatred and harassment.

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