Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann's failure to address a disturbing trend of teen suicides within her own congressional district does not reflect well on her White House ambitions, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi told The Advocate Thursday.
Over the past two years, nine teens have committed suicide in Minnesota's largest school district, resulting in federal investigations, lawsuits from advocacy groups, and the morbid designation of a "suicide contagion area" by state public health officials. At least four suicide victims, as Mother Jones noted in a feature published Monday, had been reported victims of bullying because they were LGBT or perceived to be LGBT.
But Bachmann has yet to speak out on the suicides within the state's sixth congressional district and appears to have opposed antibullying legislative efforts in the past.
Pelosi told The Advocate of Bachmann's silence on the issue, "I would think that if she wanted to be the president of the United States, she would understand that this is a larger issue than whether someone is gay or not, but as to whether someone is harassed and bullied to the point of seeing no way out."
"Obviously, it's an issue bigger than Michele Bachmann's district, so maybe we should all be speaking out about it and not just leaving it to her," Pelosi added.
"I am running for the presidency of the United States," Bachmann said in response to a question submitted by the Washington Blade and asked by National Press Club president Mark Hamrick during a Thursday press club event. "My husband is not running for the presidency, neither are my children, neither is our business, neither is our foster children. And I am more than happy to stand for questions on running for the presidency of the United States."
The 38,000-student Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, which has been under investigation by the U.S. departments of Justice and Education for allegations that it has failed to appropriately address antigay bullying, has also recently been targeted by a federal lawsuit, filed by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of students who allege that they have been harassed because of their sexual orientation.
The school district maintains a position that educators must be "neutral" on sexual orientation issues, one that attorneys for the bullied students have called "blatantly discriminatory and unconstitutional."
But in the past, Representative Bachmann has criticized antibullying legislation, saying in 2006 that "there have always been bullies, always have been, always will be."
"I just don't know how we're ever going to get to point of zero tolerance, and what does it mean?" Bachmann said during a 2006 Minnesota state legislature hearing. "What will be our definition of bullying? Will it get to the point where we are completely stifling free speech and expression? Will it mean that what form of behavior will there be -- will we be expecting boys to be girls?"
Regarding allegations of ex-gay therapy performed at the Bachmanns' clinics, Pelosi said, "You know, 20 years ago somebody might ask, Does it work? I think today, people are asking, Why would you want to have somebody be who they aren't?"
Calls to Representative Bachmann's office for comment have not been returned.