"People keep calling me brave, but it seemed like something I just wanted to do,” said 11-year-old Marcel Neergaard, the Tennessee student who brilliantly succeeded with a petition to pressure a national education group to rescind its award to a legislator who’d sponsored Tennessee’s notorious “don’t say gay” bill, which would ban discussion of homosexuality in schools. “It seemed like the right thing to do, and the fact that there’s a chance to not do that sounded like you were saying, ‘Yeah, I was bullied and I’m going to let those bullies win.’ It’s giving up to them. It’s giving up to myself.”
On Wednesday, after months of pressure from LGBT activists, it was Marcel’s Moveon.org petition, accompanied by a video and an essay, that moved StudentsFirst to announce it “Stands with Marcel,” rescinding the “Reformer of the Year Award” award to GOP Rep. John Ragan and backing federal anti-bullying legislation.
“I was homeschooled because of the bullying in fifth grade,” Marcel said in an interview on my SiriusXM program, accompanied by his father, Mike Neergaard, recounting the bullying he experienced. “It came to a point where I gave two reasons for not committing suicide. Those two reasons were, ‘What would it do to my family?’ I had two parents and a brother. If I did that to them it would be terrible, and I had a whole future ahead of me. I could be something. “
“When I started school, I loved school,” Marcel continued. “I loved learning. I thought it was amazing. But once the bullies realized I was different they started picking on me. One of my friends turned on me. I was called -- I wore boots, and I got the nickname 'girl boots' because they were from the girl’s section. It was really, really terrible for me.”
“I think the most horrifying thing is that often we didn’t hear the stories,” Mike Neergaard said of his son’s struggles. “Every day Marcel would say, ‘Everything is fine. Everything is fine.’ And we didn’t know why things were slipping. It wasn’t until well into the year that we heard what was happening.”
Marcel is now celebrating a victory for him and for students across the country.
“I went from this nobody almost, to having so many things,” he said. “To having a head of a national organization say, ‘I stand with you. I agree with you. We’re going to change our ways.’ In five days. I felt so happy. I felt I had done something. I always dreamed that one day I would do something, that I would stop sitting around saying, ‘I want to do something but I don’t know how to do it.’ And I realized I did that, I changed something. And that made me feel so good.”