15 Minutes of Franken



Is Rep. Bachmann out of touch on the issue as Minnesota goes?

She represents some Minnesotans. And that’s why I think it may be a close vote. I hope it isn’t. I hope we win by a lot, I hope we send a real good message and I hope Minnesotans come through in a good way. And I think they might. I think they may just realize that this is something that should not be in our constitution.

What will you do to fight the measure?

I’ll campaign against it. I’ve been very active on these kinds of issues and I’ll be out there on the stump. Because this means a lot.

You’re the lead senate sponsor of the Student Nondiscrimination Act, which would prohibit schools from discriminating against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity or ignoring harassment based on those characteristics, whether actual or perceived. What’s the latest on this legislation?

I have every Democrat on the [Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions] Committee as a cosponsor. And so my hope is that when we reauthorize the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act], that it will be part of the bill.

What’s the genesis of this bill?

Well, we know that so many LGBT kids are bullied. We’ve seen suicides in Minnesota. Basically what I want is for schools to have a policy against bullying—and that parents would have a right of action, kids would have a right of action against the school district. I don’t think a lot of trial lawyers will change their practice from asbestos to antigay bullying. That’s not the point. The point is, once you give a right of action, schools know they had better comply. So then they make a policy.

Will there be a committee hearing?

There will be discussions in committee; I’m not sure if there will be a hearing. But I’d like there to be one.

In Minnesota, the Anoka-Hennepin School District has taken heat for its policy against sexual orientation topics in the curriculum, which LGBT advocates have said amounts to a gag order for faculty and staff. [Tammy Aaberg, whose 15-year-old son, Justin, committed suicide a year ago, has become a noted activist on the issue and has said that bullying contributed to her son’s death; on Monday, she co-delivered 12,000 online signatures from Change.org condemning the school district’s policy.]

In your view, how has the school district handled this issue?

From what I understand, it hasn’t been satisfactory. They should put a policy in place. Kids are going to be bullied, but the school has to do something about it. And so you need a policy in place to tell teachers that you have to do something and tell principals you have to do something. You have to send a message to kids that this isn’t cool, this isn’t right.

Do you expect support from any Republican colleagues on the bill?

I’m hoping I will [have support]. I’m not going to name them, I have a few of them that will come on—once another one comes on.

I actually had one senator tell me he wouldn’t [support the bill] because he didn’t want to do anything to help trial lawyers. That’s most frustrating to me because there have been other places where that senator has been good on this issue. And I just thought it was a disingenuous excuse. As I said, the whole point of this isn’t for there to be a lot of lawsuits. It’s basically giving LGBT kids the same rights that kids have in regards to race, national origin, language, disabilities, gender.... LGBT kids are bullied. There’s just no doubt about it. And it’s a problem that has tragic consequences. 

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