Almost overnight, Marcel Neergaard has become a national hero. The eleven-her old who created a MoveOn.org petition asking conservative education reformer Michelle Rhee to take back her StudentsFirst award of “Reformer of the Year” to Tennessee state Rep. John Ragan has been successful.
Yesterday, Rhee announced she too “stands with Marcel” — probably because over 50,000 others signed his petition.
Rep. John Ragan has a history of anti-gay behavior, even telling a constituent the day after a local Tennessee teen died by suicide that a gay person is not a “mentally healthy adult human being.”
But Marcel Neergaard’s petition focused on Ragan’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which, even though ultimately it didn’t pass, Neergaard says, changed how he perceived himself and how others did as well. The extreme bullying the mere talk of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill enabled led Neergaard to strongly consider suicide — which led his parents to homeschool him. But his successful petition has brought Neergaard hope.
“It made me feel like I went from a nobody to a person who had a national organization say we stand by you. All in five days,” he says in this local ABC affiliate TV interview:
Marcel says moves like the Classroom Protection Act would only make things worse for students who were going through what he did.
“It takes away from their freedom to talk to teachers, because teachers cannot mention the word gay. And they’d have to say something like that subject is inappropriate for your age,” he said.
Marcel’s petition was signed by more than 54,000 people.
In making its decision to withdraw the award, StudentsFirst founder and CEO Michelle Rhee issued a statement saying Ragan “does not represent the type of leadership we look for in our legislative champions. We have made that clear to Rep. Ragan and rescinded the recognition.”
“It says that I can be something, that everyone can be something,” Marcel said.
Rep. Ragan responded to StudentsFirst’s decision, saying his “top priorities are the views and values of the people of Anderson County. I am accountable to them, not a single-issue lobbying group located thousands of miles away.”
“Just because you’re a little group does not mean you’re nothing. Two and zero are not the same number,” Marcel responded.
For Marcel, it’s a major step in growing up and getting an important message out. “That being gay isn’t something bad,” Marcel said.
While Marcel was home schooled this year, he plans to go back to school next year.
One last note. Ragan’s claim, that StudentsFirst is “a single-issue lobbying group located thousands of miles away,” is false. StudentsFirst is based in Washington, D.C., but has state groups that operate somewhat independently. And the largest one is in Tennessee — where Michelle Rhee makes her home.
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