By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com June 06 2013 2:10 PM ET
An 11-year-old boy has persuaded StudentsFirst, a major education advocacy organization, to rescind its award to a Republican politician who had supported antigay legislation.
Marcel Neergaard’s efforts mean that Tennessee state representative John Ragan will not receive a Reformer of the Year award from StudentsFirst. Neergard and his family had started a MoveOn.org petition calling attention to the Ragan’s backing of a bill called the Classroom Protection Act, which would have prevented teachers from discussing any sexual activity that was “inconsistent with natural human reproduction,” therefore keeping them from responding to concerns about antigay bullying or discussing other LGBT-related issues. The bill, which Ragan introduced in February, ultimately did not pass.
Neergaard, who described himself as an “11-year-old gay activist and future musical actor” in The Huffington Post, withdrew from school in the sixth grade due to “severe bullying” from classmates, according to an op-ed he posted on the site Monday. He lives in the congressman’s district.
"People keep calling me brave, but it seemed like something I just wanted to do,” Neergaard wrote. “It seemed like the right thing to do, and the fact that there’s a chance to not do that sounded like you were saying, ‘Yeah, I was bullied and I’m going to let those bullies win.’ It’s giving up to them. It’s giving up to myself.”
In response to Neergaard’s petition, which has received more than 50,000 signatures, StudentsFirst founder Michelle Rhee posted an article Wednesday on the organization’s blog, titled “StudentsFirst Stands With Marcel.” She declared support for Neergard and his cause.
“Protecting our children is a top priority,” Rhee stated. “Without safe learning environments, children can not realize their full potential. At StudentsFirst we believe that strongly, which is why, today, we stand with Marcel in support of the federal Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act and will support similar measures in our active states. We encourage legislators across the country to support these measures to protect kids from bullying and discrimination as well.”
“Regardless of when Representative Ragan was named a 'Reformer of the Year' by our organization, his introduction of ill-conceived and harmful legislation including HB 1332 — which would have cultivated a culture of bullying — does not represent the type of leadership we look for in our legislative champions,” she continued. “We have made that clear to Rep. Ragan and rescinded the recognition.”
Read more about Neergaard and watch a video here.