Meet Marcel. He’s 11, and he’s afraid to go to school in his home state of Tennessee, because politicians have introduced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. About the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Marcel says,
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill would not educate people about gays. It would say straight is the only thing in life. Just the idea of it made me realize there are people out there who would not like me just because I’m gay. It made me feel really terrible. It made me feel unaccepted.
In a nutshell, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill prevents teachers from talking about sexual orientation at all, even with children who might really need to talk to someone about being bullied or coming out or having one person in the world who understands what it might be like to be LGBTQ at their particular school. Marcel began being bullied in 5th grade to such an extent he contemplated taking his life. He is 11 years old and has contemplated suicide. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill severely limits the power of any of his teachers to help him, even if they want to.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been around in some form since 2011, and unfortunately hasn’t gone away yet. Although policies that require educators to maintain “neutrality” on topics regarding gay kids or pretend they don’t exist have proven harmful, this legislation is still being spun as a law that will protect kids, when actually it will be making things worse for them, at least when you include gay kids in your calculations. Which is why Marcel’s statement is so important: even when the numbers and the facts are indisputable, sometimes lawmakers can only be swayed by personal stories, and Marcel’s is hard to ignore.
John Ragan is the politician behind the new updated version of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill (the “Classroom Protection Act,” ugh). Marcel lives in Ragan’s district. Now, here’s where it gets tricky:
Over a year ago StudentsFirst named state representative John Ragan their Tennessee educational “Reformer of the Year.” StudentsFirst continued supporting John Ragan with donations and fundraising on his behalf. In February of 2013, Representative Ragan introduced the “Classroom Protection Act” which the Tennessee American Civil Liberties Union called “disgraceful” and an even “harsher version” of Tennessee’s notorious ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. On April 29, 2013, StudentsFirst made a statement which they felt addressed the situation. While StudentsFirst made it clear they do not support the bill, they declined to rescind the award. Additionally, they did not specify if they would support John Ragan and his efforts in the future.
Marcel wants StudentsFirst to withdraw their award to John Ragan. Obviously, he’s not the kind of reformer Tennessee schools need. You can sign the petition on MoveOn.org.