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Trans student leads walk out over sexual assault allegations in Minnesota

“It was disturbing how many kids came forward to say that they too had been the victims of sexual harassment or assault”

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Melinda, Eben, Ferris, and Steven Santineau (Photo Credit: Santineau family)

PLYMOUTH, Mn. – Armstrong High School senior Ferris Santineau had decided that he was over being talked down to and patronized by school officials over his concerns that an alleged perpetrator of sexual assaults- a fellow student, was still allowed on campus.

The 17-year-old, who identifies as trans-male and bisexual, led a protest of approximately 250 plus fellow students and classmates out to the athletic fields Friday afternoon to send a highly visible message that enough was enough.

Santineau, who spoke to the Blade by phone immediately after the protest rally, said that his actions and the support from other students stemmed from a series of alleged sexual assaults against another 17-year-old Trans student on the campus that he is a close friend of.

According to Santineau, school administrators had been far less willing to believe the victim and when he attempted to intervene, he was met with an adversarial attitude by the school resource officer, (SRO) and a staff member who kept him in room for ninety minutes and interrogated him by himself. Santineau, told the Blade that he felt threatened by that encounter, noting that the entire time of the interview, the SRO had his hand placed on top of his taser on his duty belt.

Santineau, also told the Blade that he has been diagnosed with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, (ADHD) which made the confrontation with the SRO and staff member worse.

“I felt like it was an interrogation, I have ADHD and asked them to be patient, but they kept interrupting me which made it worst,” he said. “I was trying to keep track of what we were talking about, then they’d interrupt and I’d try to ask a question then they told me I needed to be patient.” He added that he felt as though they were not listening at all.

He characterized the school administrators, the SRO and other staff as not believing the victim and even after multiple students and he had approached them to plead for the alleged perpetrator to be removed from campus, instead allowed him to stay enrolled and at least two occasions escorted the alleged assailant to his car. His presence had caused the victim to not attend classes and stay away from the school..

Santineau noted that Armstrong is running both in-person and virtual classes as a result of COVID-19 protocols.

Asked why the victim, his best friend, hadn’t reported the incidents to law enforcement or others and Santineau’s answer was blunt; “He didn’t think anything would be done about it especially since he was dating the assailant- and he wasn’t going to be believed.”

Steven Santineau and his wife Melinda, Ferris’ parents, are frustrated and angered by the high school administrators attitudes. Steven Santineau told the Blade that he and his wife had gone to the school Friday to support his son’s rally and to be there in solidarity with the students and the victim who they also know.

“I spoke to the principal who basically said that I was lucky that the school was communicating with me. He literally implied that the only people the school would be dealing with was the victim and his parents- it was a ‘ we don’t need to deal with you mind your business,’ attitude,” Steven Santineau said. He indicated that the school was also blaming his son for creating a firestorm on social media when according to the school, “as a result of the ‘interview’ the school claimed that only Ferris was knowledgeable of the assaults.” The Santineaus say that is untrue.

What stood out to both he and his wife were the number of students at the rally who spoke out on the subject of sexual assaults. “It was disturbing how many kids came forward to say that they too had been the victims of sexual harassment or assault and the school took no action,” Melinda Santineau said.

In the case of the first victim, according to Ferris Santineau, nearly half the of sexual assaults took place on campus with the remainder off-campus. His father noted that the school claimed to him that it had reviewed three years of video surveillance footage from school property in a single day prior to Friday’s rally.

Ferris Santineau indicated that because the alleged perpetrator was still attending Armstrong, he and the others want him expelled and a proper investigation conducted. His father told the Blade that principal said that the victim needed to file a police report and the school would then take appropriate action.

“I want my friend to feel safe,” Santineau told the Blade “I want the school to actually do something when somebody comes to them, because during the protest I asked ‘How many people felt like they weren’t being heard?’ many more hands came up. ‘how many people were sexually assaulted?’ too many hands came up. ‘How many people were silenced?’ and like that.”

His parents want a greater sense of accountability but are frustrated with the lack of proactive action on the part of staff. The school notified parents via text and emails about the situation after the rally not prior Steven Santineau said and provided the Blade with a screenshot. He added another screenshot with student comments taken after the text was posted to social media accounts.

Calls to the Robbinsdale Area Schools, the district for Armstrong High by the Blade were not returned, however, in a statement to local NBC affiliate KARE 11 in Minneapolis, Armstrong administrators say they are investigating the alleged sexual assault between two students while students demand expulsion.

KARE also reported that on September 16, a letter was sent to inquiring parents that detailed the initial investigation.

“We have been in contact with the family and shared options with them, including the option to file a police report,” the letter stated, in part.

In the meanwhile the Santineau family is upset at the seemingly cavalier manner the school is handling the situation and angered at the treatment their son has received.

Video from KARE NBC 11 Minneapolis: Hundreds of students walk out of Armstrong High School to protest sexual assault allegations:

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Minnesota

Minnesota Governor Walz bars use of public funds for conversion therapy

“To ensure that no minor in Minnesota- anyone under 18 is subjected to this Byzantine torturous practice of conversion therapy”

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Minnesota Democratic Governor Tim Walz (Screenshot via CBSLocal St. Paul)

ST. PAUL – In a public ceremony today in the capitol surrounded by LGBTQ advocates and supporters, Minnesota Democratic Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order that bars public funds from being used for the discredited practice of conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth in the state.

“To ensure that no minor in Minnesota- anyone under 18, our Minnesotans, is subjected to this Byzantine torturous practice of conversion therapy,” Walz said.

Walz told the audience in the room that the executive order a first step to protecting young people in the community from the practice, which professional groups representing licensed medical doctors and health care across the United States have determined is baseless and harmful. Those experts also agree that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be changed by the so-called therapy.

“Taxpayer dollars should never be spent on the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy. Thank you to Governor Tim Walz for taking bold action to protect LGBTQ youth in Minnesota,” said Sam Brinton, Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. “We encourage more governors across the country to follow the North Star State and restrict this abusive practice disguised as therapy.”

To actually outlaw the practice rests with state legislature. In 2019, the Democratic-controlled House passed a proposal to ban the controversial practice. However, the proposal failed to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate CBSLocal St. Paul reported.

Because an executive order is easily undone by another gubernatorial administration, the leadership of the Governor’s party issued a call to enact legislation to permanently outlaw the practice in Minnesota.

“Conversion therapy is not backed by science and can cause life-long trauma for those forced to endure it. We applaud Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan on this step today to stop this barbaric practice,” the DFL statement read.

“Last year when the Governor and DFL leaders in the legislature tried to ban conversion therapy, Senate Republicans led by Senator Paul Gazelka blocked it. It is shameful that we have Republicans like Paul Gazelka and Scott Jensen who are not only on the wrong side of history on this issue, but who are actively contributing to a toxic environment that tells LGBTQ+ youth that they shouldn’t love and accept themselves for who they are,” the statement added.

“This executive order will do much to putting a stop to it here. However, executive orders are by their nature temporary. The legislature is not off the hook,” Sen. Scott Dibble told CBSLocal St. Paul.

 The Minnesota Family Council, an anti-LGBTQ organization listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, called Wlaz’s order a “direct attack” on individual choice in health care.

“We at OutFront are incredibly grateful and excited to see Gov Tim Walz and Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan signing onto this EO. This EO will protect LGBTQ+ youth and their families from the harmful practice of conversion therapy,” said James Darville, Director of Policy and Organizing for OutFront MN. “We also want to thank all of the survivors, organizers and Minnisotans who have worked tirelessly to eradicate this harmful practice in our State. We look forward to continuing our work alongside Legislators, Gov Walz and his team to make Minnesota a more equitable place for LGBTQ+ Minnesotans.”

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