By Kevin OKeeffe
Originally published on Advocate.com March 11 2014 12:33 PM ET
Marcel Neergard, a gay 12-year-old from Oak Ridge, Tenn., is still fighting for the right to be himself.
In today's op-ed for The Huffington Post, Neergard shares his sometimes-painful experiences of being openly gay in elementary school. The piece's title, "Different," refers to what Neergard describes feeling often.
"Sometimes being openly gay is like having a sign above my head that flashes 'Different' in neon colors," he writes.
Neergard had previously written for HuffPo when he protested Republican state representative John Ragan's Classroom Protection Act, an updated version of the infamous, failed "Don't Say Gay" bill. While the original bill would have barred teachers talking about homsexuality in the classroom, the modified version also would have required teachers and administrators to inform parents if they thought their child was gay.
After Neergard created a petition, the bill died in a subcommittee. But that apparently hasn't stopped Neergard's school from attempting to enforce it anyway.
"One day I was talking with my friends about Zachary Quinto being gay. An otherwise supportive teacher stopped me and told me 'talking about being gay in the classroom is illegal in Tennessee,'" Neergard writes. "I wanted to scream, 'NO IT'S NOT!'" He ascribes the teacher's overreaction to confusion, but says that because the dead bill's shadow remains, "I am not allowed to talk about myself with my friends."
Despite the difficulties, Neergard is remaining steadfast — with a strength that would be admirable for any person, much less a 12-year-old.
"I'm not the only gay youth in Tennessee. I'm not the only gay kid in Oak Ridge," Neergard writess. "I'm not even the only gay student in my school, I'm just someone who is standing up."