A Tennessee family has started a petition calling StudentsFirst to retract a supporter of Tennessee's "Don't Say Gay" bill, which stated that teachers should not be able to talk about any type of sexuality that isn't, "related to natural human reproduction." GLAAD is calling upon allies and members of the LGBT community to sign the petition, and bring awareness to the anti-LGBT sentiments and legislation that Tennessee Rep. John Ragan has openly defended.
GLAAD first brought you information about the controversial non-profit organization student advocacy organization StudentsFirst in May. The non-profit, led by former chancellor of the DC public school system Michelle Rhee, awarded John Ragan, a Tennessee legislator with a history of anti-LGBT legislation and language, with the title of Reformer of the Year.
Ragan, the notorious co-sponsor of the "Don't Say Gay" Bill of 2012, has systematically targeted LGBT students in his past attempted legislation. While the "Don't Say Gay" bill died in 2012, it came back as of February 14, 2013 – this time with the name "Classroom Protection Act", and the Tennessee American Civil Liberties Union feels as though it's "disgraceful" and even harsher than its earlier counterpart. The Classroom Protection Act mandates that if a teacher has a student who identifies as LGBTQ, they must out them to the child's parent's and refer them to a psychologist. The mentality that identifying as LGBTQ is a mental disease is both outdated and harmful.
Despite backlash from concerned parents and allies of the LGBT community, the non-profit refuses to retract Ragan's honor of Reformer of the Year. While StudentsFirst has released statements claiming that they are in no way supportive of anti-LGBTQ legislation, it is unclear if they will continue to support Ragan financially as they have done in the past.
After hearing about John Ragan for over a year now, one Tennessee family has decided that enough is enough. The parents of Marcel Neergaard, an 11 year old, self-identified gay child, have launched a petition on MoveOn.org's website calling StudentsFirst to action in rescinding Ragan's title. In the video below, you will see a short interview with young Marcel who explains that when he heard about the legislation, it made him feel "terrible," and "unaccepted."
Marcel wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post, and posted this video:
Even more alarmingly, the video contains an actual quote from a letter of Ragan's to a constituent a day after the suicide of gay Tennessee teen, Phillip Parker. Ragan compares identifying as a member of the LGBTQ community to pedophilia, prostitution, and murder – commenting on the suicide by asking if society should, "avoid disapproving of pedophilia, prostitution, murder, etc. because practitioners of those behaviors commit suicide at a higher rate?"
While StudentsFirst has issued a statement claiming that they were not aware of Ragan's anti-LGBT sentiments, they have in no way shown remorse for the support of Ragan now that they are aware, and continue to stand by their choice of him as Reformer of the Year despite the backlash they are receiving from allies and members the LGBT community.
Through MoveOn.org, the Neergaards ask that StudentsFirst rescind Ragan's award, stop supporting Ragan financially, and focus on more LGBT affirming legislation such as Tennessee's Dignity for All Students Act, the Federal Safe Schools Improvement Act, and the Student Non Discrimination Act. It is important that allies and members of the LGBT community support the Neergaard's initiative, as StudentsFirst's refusal to discontinue support of Ragan leads one to wonder if the students of America really are first on Rhee's organization's agenda.
Show your support for LGBT students by signing this petition. With the support of allies and LGBT people we can bring attention to this serious issue.
GLAAD is not only calling upon StudentsFirst to withdraw Ragan as Reformer of the Year, but also on allies and members of the LGBTQ community to support the Neergaard's initiative in protecting their son, and others like their son from harmful anti-LGBT legislation.