On his Tuesday evening show "Anderson Cooper 360," the CNN host skewed his conservative guest's argument while the panel was discussing anti-gay bullying and what measures schools should take to prevent homophobia. In addition, he agreed with "anti-bullying" expert Rosalind Wiseman, who advocated for school measures to foster the growth of gay students and provide a safe environment for them.
In a recent case in Minnesota, Justin Aaberg, a gay teenager, committed suicide after being bullied for an extended period of time. Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council questioned the claim that Aaberg's suicide was due to anti-gay bullying, wondering instead if it was because of his lover reportedly having an affair, and because Aaberg had adopted an "unnatural" lifestyle.
However, he made it clear in his blog that he did not rule out the possibility of bullying having something to do with the suicide.
Cooper put words in Prichard's mouth to begin the segment. "You say the bullying had nothing to do with it, and that he and other gay teens who kill themselves die because they have adopted, in your words, 'an unhealthy lifestyle'," Cooper told Prichard.
"We wouldn't deny that it couldn't have played a role, but we never said it played no role," Prichard responded. He had written on his blog that "whatever the exact reason for Justin's suicide it's an enormous tragedy that shouldn't be manipulated for ideological purposes."
Later on in the segment, author Rosalind Wiseman pleaded that the issue of homophobia must be addressed in the schools, and Anderson Cooper agreed with her. Wiseman, NewsBusters reported yesterday, has said that social conservative groups arguing against protective measures for gay students are "anti-child."
"I mean, there are gay kids and they're going to be gay kids, whether you like it or not," Cooper bluntly scolded Prichard. "Isn't the question, how do we make them feel okay about themselves, and how do we make them feel safe and want to be able to go to school and get an equal education, like everybody else?"
Wiseman added that a number of Christian and evangelical parents have sided with her strategy of schools adopting measures protective of gay students. "Look, I have done work in the most conservative parts of this country, and I have never received pushback from Christian parents, evangelical parents," she claimed."I have only received support."
A transcript of the segment, which aired on October 6 at , is as follows:
ANDERSON COOPER: Tom, Justin Aaberg's mother says that the bullying that he experienced pushed him to kill himself. You say the bullying had nothing to do with it and that he and other gay teens who kill themselves die because they have adopted, in your words, an "unhealthy" lifestyle.
TOM PRICHARD, President, Minnesota Family Council: What I said is we oppose all forms of bullying, and we're concerned about the promotion of curriculums in the schools which promote acceptance of same-sex marriage and same-sex behavior.
But we never said – you know, there's a number of factors involved in his death, and it's a tragedy. And, you know, we feel very badly about that and think this bullying issue needs to be addressed.
COOPER: But you did say – quote – "Youth who embrace homosexuality are at greater risk because they have embraced an unhealthy sexual identity and lifestyle."
PRICHARD: Well, that – that was the point the mother made. She said that. And I concur with her that...
COOPER: Well, no, no, she said...
PRICHARD: ... gay and lesbian students – yes, she said that in a "Star Tribune" interview.
COOPER: The – the mother of -- of -- of this boy who killed himself is saying that bullying played a role. And -- and he was 13 years old when he -- when he came out. He was...
PRICHARD: It -- it certainly could have. We wouldn't deny that it couldn't have played a role, but we never said it played no role. We're saying, you know, obviously, there are many factors.
COOPER: His mom now is – is trying to get curriculum changes in the school to get other kids who are gay or identify as gay or lesbian in the schools to get them sort of more better accepted, to make them feel more comfortable.
You say that – that homosexual activists, in your words, are – quote – "manipulating his death to push a gay agenda into schools."
PRICHARD: Well, I think that's – I think that – I think that's clearly the situation here. The curriculum, the policy in the school...
COOPER: But, I mean, it's his mom – it's his mom, though, trying to get the curriculum changed.
COOPER: Are you saying his mom is now a homosexual activist?
PRICHARD: No, you have got a lot of homosexual activists promoting this. And our concern is, there's a policy dealing with curriculum alone. It doesn't deal with issues of bullying or inappropriate behavior in the schools.
And it's a neutral policy saying, hey, you're going to present both sides in the curriculum.
COOPER: Rosalind, let me ask you about that. You work in a lot of schools. Is that what you're pushing?
ROSALIND WISEMAN, Author, "Queen Bees and Wannabees, Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and the New Realities of Girl World": For 20 years, I have been trying to get into programs and working with schools to put content into these programs.
And if we make it so generalized and just talk about that kids should be nice to each other, our children are not only going to laugh at us. They're also going to think we're incompetent. And that's not acceptable when they're so desperate for our help.
WISEMAN: And these kinds of programs that are neutral don't do it.
COOPER: Well, let me ask you, because he's saying -- Tom is saying, look, address the problem, address the bullying; you don't need to necessarily talk about gays and lesbians in -- in specific.
WISEMAN: You cannot address bullying without addressing homophobia. You can't do it, because so many children are proving that they have to belong, that they are not gay, that they have to be silent in the face of cruelty, so they don't get this comment of, don't be gay, and it – don't be a fag.
And, so, if we don't address this in more concrete ways and – and ways that kids can relate to and visualize, and that they think we know what we're talking about, then we are not going to be able to give them the services and the – the support and the programs that they need.
COOPER: Tom, to some degree, though, aren't – aren't gay and lesbian kids who are 13, 14, 15 coming out at younger and younger ages in schools today? I mean, isn't it important to create a safe place for them, a place where they feel comfortable and good about themselves, rather than making them feel bad about themselves?
PRICHARD: Studies have shown in Minnesota that large numbers of kids are insecure with their sexual identity. And – and when you begin promoting and encouraging and endorsing it, you're going to – more kids are going to say, hey, I'm gay and lesbian. And there's all sorts of health problems...
COOPER: You're using those buzz words – you're – you're using the buzz words like promoting and endorsing and – and encouraging, rather – I mean, what about just, you know, talking about what is real?
I mean, you make it sound as if – I mean, there are gay kids and they're going to be gay kids, whether you like it or not. Isn't the question, how do we make them feel okay about themselves, and how do we make them feel safe and want to be able to go to school and get an equal education, like everybody else, rather than – we're – we're not about forcing – it's not about forcing it down somebody's throat. It's about making these kids not want to kill themselves.
PRICHARD: Well, I think you assume that there are just gay kids over here and others aren't gay over here, and they all know it.
But I – I think you're injecting a lot of confusion, and you're raising a lot of advocacy issues that we have concerns about. And those are controversial topics. And I think one has to ask, is that really helping promote the mission of the school?
COOPER: Look, there are a lot of parents around the country who are uncomfortable with the notion of their child learning about gays and lesbians from a teacher or in the school in – in the way that the parent doesn't want.
Now, whether you agree with that or not is – is, you know, up for our viewers to decide. But – but it is a fact there a lot of people around the country who don't want that for their kids. So, how do you – how do you reconcile that with a – with an anti-bullying program?
Look, I have done work in the most conservative parts of this country, and I have never received pushback from Christian parents, evangelical parents. I have only received support.
And the reason, I believe, I have received that support is because I say consistently, and believe it with all my heart, that this – that all children, regardless of their sexual orientation, must be treated with dignity. And that is where we begin, and that is where we end.
COOPER: We have got to leave it there.
Tom Pritchard, I appreciate your perspective, Rosalind Wiseman, you as well. Thank you.