Our Foot Soldier this week is 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard, whose experience being bullied in elementary school led him to become an activist for gay students and anti-bullying legislation. When Marcel heard about Tennessee Representative John Ragan introducing the Classroom Protection Act, also known as the “don’t say gay bill,” he was able to connect the Act’s potential consequences with his own experiences. The act might prevent students from coming forward about anti-gay bullying in schools. When he found out Rep. Ragan was receiving a “Reformer of the Year” award from the organization StudentsFirst, he decided to get involved. His petition on MoveOn.org asking StudentsFirst to withdraw the award received over 50,000 signatures, and on Wednesday, StudentsFirst announced they “Stand with Marcel” and rescinded the award. We had a chance to talk to Marcel about the success of his campaign.
Marcel Neergaard: I was taken out of school because I was bullied in fifth grade. I was bullied because at that time I had already come out to myself, and to my family, and coming out to myself made it more obvious.
In sixth grade I was home schooled, and I was able to strengthen myself and make myself more capable of going back. That’s why this year, in seventh grade, I’m going to go back to regular school.
LR: What made you want to get involved in the fight against Rep. John Ragan’s award from Students First?
MN: Well, I was bullied in fifth grade and I really didn’t want that to happen to anyone else. Doing all of this will prove to myself and to the bullies that they didn’t win. It will prove to them and to myself that I can still make a change, and change the world.
LR: Were you nervous about making this video and sharing your story with the whole world?
MN: No, I was more excited, actually.
LR: How do you feel about the success you’ve had, and the award having been taken away from State Rep. John Ragan?
MN: Well, I’m really happy that StudentsFirst said that they stand with me. But, as I said, I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. There’s a lot of work to be done. What we’ve done so far is we’re getting people on our side to try to stop bullying, but the bullying itself hasn’t gone down that much. So there’s still a lot of work to be done. We have to pass anti-bullying legislation.
LR: How do you feel about going back to school?
MN: I think that I’m ready to go back to school. I think it’s going to be pretty exciting.
LR: Is there anything you want to say to young people out there who might be going through the same situation?
MN: This is an important thing to get laws passed on, to stop bullying. Everyone can do changes. I’m only eleven years old, and I made a change. And I think everyone can do that. Just because you’re one small person doesn’t mean you’re nothing.
What happened to me in fifth grade was devastating. And my big goal is for that not to happen to anyone else. I’m really happy that StudentsFirst said they support me, but that’s not where we can stop. We have to continue and keep going and keep fighting.