Marcel Neergaard, an 11-year old boy from Tennessee, is openly-gay. After continued threats from bullies at school caused him to switch to home-schooling, he has decided to speak out against anti-gay legislation in his state.
The year Neergaard left public school, the “Classroom Protection Act,” also known as the "Don't Say Gay Bill" was introduced in the Tennessee state legislature “to prevent teachers from talking with kids like Marcel about being gay.” Bullying had already become so detrimental to Neergaard’s mental health that he had contemplated suicide. If this act were passed, he would have been disallowed to talk to any school authorities about anti-gay bullying, likely worsening the already-existent problem exponentially.
Neergard says that his backing the “Don’t Say Gay Act” would have meant that:
If a student were to talk to a teacher about being bullied because he or she is gay or possibly gay, the teacher would be required to say something like, "That subject is inappropriate for your age group." If the student managed to find an "appropriate" person, that counselor, nurse or principal would have to tell the student's parents that their child may be gay. What happens if the family is homophobic? Even if the family is supportive, every student deserves the right to come out to family members when he or she wants.
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As a response to state representative John Ragan’s being named “Reformer of the Year” by StudentsFirst, Neergaard wrote a petition that had reeled in over 55,000 signatures last week. The Neergaard family also maintains a Facebook page in support of Marcel and the actions he has taken for LGBT rights. Currently, it has nearly a thousand likes.
“I was bullied in fifth grade and I really didn’t want that to happen to anyone else,” says Marcel. “Doing all of this will prove to myself and to the bullies that they didn’t win. It will prove to them and to myself that I can still make a change, and change the world.” His father says he is “tremendously proud” of Marcel’s efforts.
StudentsFirst recently announced that they “Stand with Marcel,” and rescinded the award.