Nine teenagers have taken their own lives in Rep. Michele Bachmann's district over the past two years, many of them after being bullied for their perceived homosexuality.
So far, the White House hopeful has remained silent on the issue.
Moreover, Bachmann’s critics allege that her conservative views on LGBT rights and her opposition to anti-bullying legislation in public schools may have contributed to the mental health crisis in her district, Mother Jones reports in a lengthy article.
Bachmann has a history of opposing anti-bullying legislation. In 2006, she told the Minnesota Legislature that passing an anti-bullying bill would be a waste of time. "I think for all of us, our experience in public schools is there have always been bullies," Bachmann said. "Always have been, always will be. I just don't know how we're ever going to get to the point of zero tolerance... What does it mean?... Will we be expecting boys to be girls?"
Critics say that this relaxed approach to bullying, coupled with Bachmann's opposition to gay rights, has proven a dangerous mix for at-risk teens in her district.
The same conservative religious groups in the district that now support Bachmann's presidential campaign – including the Minnesota Family Council and the Parents Action League – lobbied successfully for two local policies that stifle education on LGBT issues.
The first policy, which the district’s school board adopted in the 1990s, banned any discussion of homosexuality in public schools on the grounds that students should not learn that gays lead a "normal, valid lifestyle." The second policy, which is now in place, requires teachers to remain "neutral" on the subject of homosexuality should it come up in class, which critics say prevents staff from combating harassment of LGBT students.
For Samantha Johnson, a 13-year-old girl who committed suicide in 2009, many signs indicate that an anti-gay climate in the Minnesota school district may have influenced her decision. According to Samantha's mother, Michele, who spoke to Mother Jones, other students at the girl's school harassed her on the assumption that she was a lesbian. They also mocked Samantha for her weight. When Samantha made an extra effort one day to dress more like other girls in her class, her mother says the harassment only worsened. Then, one day in November, Michele returned home and found her daughter dead in the bathtub. Samantha had put a hunting rifle in her mouth and shot herself.
Michele says she regrets moving to the district. "I wish we had never moved here," she says. "I feel if I hadn't moved to this district my daughter wouldn't have died."