Southern Poverty Law Center names Anoka-Hennepin parents group to hate list; group decries 'name calling'

Pioneer Press, Minnesota/March 12, 2012

A national civil rights organization has named an Anoka-Hennepin school district parents' group critical of gay and lesbian lifestyles as a hate group.

The Parents Action League joined the Ku Klos Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the American Aryan Reich and Bare Naked Islam as some of the latest organizations to make the Southern Poverty Law Center's annual list.

The list was released a week after the center settled two anti-gay bullying lawsuits filed against the Anoka-Hennepin district. The Parents Action League has been the most vocal critic of the aims of the Alabama-based civil rights organization.

In an email seeking comment on the listing, the president of the parents' group called its inclusion "a privilege."

"It is a privilege to be added to the long list of pro-family organizations that have been labeled as 'hate groups,'ā " Laurie Thompson said. "The SPLC continues their strategy of defaming and name calling toward those whom they disagree with."

The group was listed for the way it defames and demonizes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, said Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's quarterly Intelligence Project.

Specifically, Beirich said the group advocates resources and ideas that claim "homosexuals are promiscuous, dysfunctional, unhealthy and harmful to public health.

"In other words, this group is putting out ugly propaganda about this population," she said.

She said the center spent months studying the behavior of the group before adding it to the list.

Thompson said the listing was simply "name calling towards those (with) whom they disagree."

"If anything, the SPLC should be listed first on their own national 'hate group' list,'ā " Thompson said in the email.

The Intelligence Project - the Southern Poverty Law Center's quarterly magazine - included the annual report in its most recent edition, "Year in Hate." The center - known for its legal victories supporting the rights of minorities - started tracking what it terms as hate groups in the 1980s.

Its list includes groups deemed to have "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people," according to the organization's website. The roster includes white supremacists, black separatists and anti-Muslim, anti-Jew and anti-gay groups, as well as others.

Of those identified in 2011, 12 were based in Minnesota. Only 27 of the 1,018 groups across the country were deemed anti-gay, Beirich said.

"That's because you have to do more than oppose marriage...that alone does not rise to our criteria level," she said. "You have to step over the line into lying and demonizing (the GLBT community)."

The Family Research Council, a socially conservative, Christian-based group that promotes what it considers traditional family values, joined the ranks in 2010 for its views on same-sex relationships - an inclusion that outraged many on the right.

Along with the Parents Action League, Bradlee Dean's Minnesota-based group You Can Run But You Cannot Hide was added this year. Dean is a radio-show host and preacher who has called homosexuals predators and molesters, and made headlines last year with an opening prayer in the Minnesota House.

The Parents Action League formed in 2010 in defense of the Anoka-Hennepin school district's contested policy on sexual orientation, which required teachers to stay neutral on any GLBT-related discussion in schools.

Among other points, the group's said that policy protected students from teachers who might affirm homosexuality as "normal and healthy."

The group's notoriety rose as it opposed those who claimed the policy fostered an anti-gay environment for students. Members regularly spoke out at school board meetings about protecting children from the "homosexual agenda."

When the district settled the anti-gay student bullying lawsuit led by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group denouced the agreement as "a travesty." Among other points, the settlement requires the district to do more to protect GLBT students.

"Making schools safe for 'gay' kids means indoctrinating impressionable, young minds with homosexual propaganda," Thompson, the group's president, said in an email after the announcement.

Further insight into the group's stance on same-sex relationships is found on the district's website.

Under the "FAQs" section, the group says there is no proof that gay people are born that way and suggests "dysfunctional family relationships, experimentation with men or boys, incest...not bonding correctly with your own gender parental figure, abandonment, early trauma such as sexual victimization, and media influences" are among reasons a person chooses to be gay.

Still, Bryan Lindquist, a member of the Parents Action League, said his group is not anti-gay.

"That has never been what this group is about," Lindquist said. "We just want discussion of sexual orientation to take place in the homes with parents and not with a teacher in a classroom full of impressionable kids."

For that to elevate his group to that of a "hate group" is a disservice to public discourse, he said. Lindquist said the Southern Poverty Law Center has a tendency to place the label on anyone with whom it disagrees.

"How can you have a dialogue if you classify everyone who disagrees with you as a hate group?" Lindquist asked.

The point of the label is exposure, said Beirich, the center's director.

"We're not the government," she said. "We can't shut anyone down, but we feel it's very important for these groups to be called out so the public is aware of what they are doing."

It's unknown how many members the Parents Action League has.

Several Anoka-Hennepin schools officials declined to comment Monday.

Local gay-rights organizations OutFront Minnesota and Anoka-Hennepin's Gay Equity Team did not return calls for comment.

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