Long Live Sarah Lindstrom and Desiree Shelton!
Finally, a story with a happy ending for gay and lesbian teens in the Anoka-Hennepin School District. And by happy ending, I mean a story that didn’t end up with a gay or lesbian student getting bullied…or worse. More like a sigh-of-relief ending.
Have you heard the story of Sarah Lindstrom and Desiree Shelton?
The two young women, both 18-year-old seniors at Champlin Park High School, were elected by a plurality of their peers to the school’s ceremonial royalty court, part of the annual Snow Days Pep Fest. Having grown up in Houston, Texas, I’m not quite sure what this event entails, or why it needs royalty, but I’m assuming it’s similar to homecoming and the court that typically accompanies it.
In years past, the honor of becoming Pep Fest royalty gave the chosen Champlin Park students the chance to walk into their festive assembly in pairs—as in the boy-girl pairs usually selected to be royalty.
That changed, however, earlier this year when Lindstrom and Shelton were elected. A girl-girl pair. The reign of boy-girl had ended. Long live girl-girl!
The prospect of two girls walking into an assembly together in 2011 so frightened Champlin Park school officials that they decided hastily to rewrite the rules of royal procession. Henceforth, all court members would have to enter the assembly alone, with a parent or a favorite teacher.
Brilliant! I’m pretty sure teenagers everywhere wait for the day they can walk into a room of their peers arm in arm with their mother. Or Mrs. Schweitzer, their AP English teacher.
Why do lesbian teens always have to ruin everyone’s fun?
The school, in its defense, tried to argue that it completely changed the format of the event solely to protect the girls from being teased.
But teased by whom exactly? The students who elected them to the court in the first place? Maybe the parents or teachers?
I never have met anyone from Champlin, but who knows?
Either that, or the students of Champlin Park High School are so evil, they elected Lindstrom and Shelton to the court solely for the purpose of harassing them during the Pep Fest. In which case, we really should change the name from Champlin to Salem, and start collecting kindling.
Instead of going quietly into the frigid Minnesota January night, Lindstrom and Shelton stood up for their royal rights. With help from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the Faegre & Benson law firm, they filed a federal lawsuit against the school district.
Do not mess with lesbians!
Ultimately, the two sides agreed to sit down before a federal judge, and craft a resolution together. The six-hour mediation session resulted in the district allowing Lindstrom and Shelton to do what they’d wanted all along: enter a room together.
Six hours, and Lord knows how much in time and legal fees, for grown adults to step up, and do the right thing.
Anoka-Hennepin School Board Chairman Tom Heidemann called the resolution a “win-win.” I’d call it “be grateful you changed your mind before it cost you even more time, money, and credibility.”
A real win-win would have involved the district addressing its profound lack of respect for the dignity of its GLBT students, so that a case like this never would have happened in the first place, much less would have needed to be brought before a federal judge—by the students themselves.
Is it any wonder that the Anoka-Hennepin School District has made news repeatedly in the past couple of years in connection with stories of alleged antigay bullying by its students—and, in one notable case, its very teachers?
Champlin Park High School’s initial reaction further illustrates that much work needs to be done within the school district. If letting two girls walk hand in hand is reason enough for a federal lawsuit, one wonders how well GLBT students really are being served day to day.
On a happy note, Lindstrom and Shelton did walk in the royal procession together…to the raucous cheers of their fellow students.