Today, the non-profit student advocacy organization StudentsFirst issued a statement denouncing the actions of Tennessee Rep. John Ragan for his co-sponsorship of the state's notorious "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" as well as expressed support for anti-bullying legislation federally and in states. The statement also expressed support for Marcel Neergaard, an 11-year-old self-identified gay child who started a petition on MoveOn.org calling for StudentsFirst to rescind the honor of "Reformer of the Year" given to Ragan by the organization. The petition gained more than 53,000 signatures.
"Three days. It didn't even take a week to change StudentFirst's mind," said Marcel. "I'm pretty proud. I want to make sure to thank all the people who signed my petition, because without them, it would not have been possible."
"I can't believe the way in which Marcel's story changed so many minds, beyond just StudentsFirst," added Marcel's father Mike. "We heard from people talking about what it was like to be bullied as an 11 year-old. It was an honor to have Marcel inspire so many people to share their stories."
"It's not just Marcel who is surprised," said Marcel's mother Misty. "Mike and I were literally speechless. It just goes to show the amazing power a child's voice can have. I told Marcel that I could not be prouder of him."
GLAAD worked with the Neergaard family when they launched the petition, helping them tell their story, both in the petition language and to the media. We also worked with several LGBT advocates to call upon allies and members of the LGBT community to sign the petition, and bring awareness to the anti-LGBT sentiments and legislation that Ragan has openly defended, with the support of StudentsFirst. Ragan has systematically targeted LGBT students in his past attempted legislation, including the "Don't Say Gay" bill and its latest addition called the "Classroom Protection Act," which 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.
"StudentsFirst is making the right decision by supporting families like Marcel's in the face of anti-LGBT bigotry aimed at youth," said Ross Murray, GLAAD's Director of News and Faith Initiatives. "All students should feel safe and welcome at school, but proposed legislation like the 'Don't Say Gay' bill would specifically harm LGBT students and allies."