Two civil rights groups in the US are suing a school district in Minnesota to protect LGBT students from what they claim is harassment and a hostile environment.

The suit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) against the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

They said that LGBT students face “pervasive anti-gay harassment in the district’s schools” and that officials allegedly failed to address the abuse or repeal discriminatory policies.

The groups are also challenging a “gag policy” that prevents teachers from discussing issues related to LGBT people. They said that they began an investigation into the district after several LGBT students from the district committed suicide.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five students who have faced severe anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in school. It charges that the district’s gag policy perpetuates the abuses suffered by these students and others.

“School and district officials who are entrusted with the safety and education of all students continue to ignore, minimise, dismiss and even blame victims for the abusive behaviour of other students,” said Sam Wolfe, the SPLC’s lead attorney in the case.

Something “seriously wrong” in the Anoka-Hennepin School District

The lawsuit claims that LGBT students and students perceived as LGBT have been subjected to a constant torrent of slurs and have been physically threatened or attacked by peers.

While many of these abuses occurred in front of teachers or were reported to school officials, school personnel almost always took insufficient action to stop the abuse, said the groups.

“Our son has a right to go to school every day feeling safe and accepted. This is a basic right that every child has,” said Jeff Frei, the father of one student who was persistently bullied.

“His older sister shouldn’t have to spend an hour waiting outside his school so she can walk him home to make sure he gets there safely. We cannot go through another school year of this and we cannot lose any more of our young people to this. Enough is enough,” he said.

“There is something seriously wrong in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and district officials know it,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “In school after school, kids who are perceived as gay are harassed mercilessly until they drop out, melt down or lash back.”

The district is also at the centre of an investigation by the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights into reports of anti-gay bullying.

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