Marcel Neergaard is an 11-year-old sixth-grader in Oak Ridge, Tenn., who happens to be gay. In a new video calling attention to a petition he began, Neergaard says that he was bullied so severely in middle school that he had to be homeschooled because the harassment was leading him to contemplate suicide.
When Neergaard discovered that Tennessee nonprofit StudentsFirst had decided to give a Reformer of the Year award to rabidly antigay state representative John Ragan, he launched a petition on MoveOn.org asking the group to rescind the award. That petition now has more than 40,000 signatures.
In February, Ragan, an Oak Ridge Republican, introduced the Classroom Protection Act, which has been described as an even more homophobic version of state senator Stacey Campfield's infamous "don't say gay" bill. Campfield is also a cosponsor of the Classroom Protection Act, which would forbid teachers from discussing any sexual activity that is "inconsistent with natural human reproduction." The bill later died in the legislature.
In an op-ed for The Huffington Post, Neergaard contends that the bill would have required teachers to respond to students trying to report antigay bullying by saying something like, "That subject is inappropriate for your age group." If the student was able to find one of the limited number of school officials who can discuss homosexuality — a nurse, counselor, or principal — that official would be required by the law to report the gay or lesbian student's sexuality to the student's parents.
Officials with StudentsFirst, the controversial nonprofit launched by former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, told Salon in April that they decided to honor Ragan nearly a year before he introduced the bill, which the group denounced as "an ill-conceived, harmful piece of legislation that would have represented a backward step for Tennessee schools and kids." Rhee also issued a statement in May claiming the group was unaware of Ragan's antigay record when it selected him for the award.