Students are driving lawmakers to make significant changes in legislation designed to eliminate bullying in Michigan schools.
Katy Butler and Carson Borbely, Michigan students who say they have suffered bullying, launched a petition on http://www.Change.org to protest the Michigan Senate’s so-called anti-bullying bill. Over 50,000 people signed the petition within 48 hours.
State Sen. John Gleason (D-Flushing) said the petition is important.
“That’s the purest form of democracy,” Gleason said. “Under the right circumstances, one letter means a lot. One letter can change our mindset and when you have 50,000 that’s a very zealous effort.”
“It’s been incredible to watch this campaign explode almost overnight,” said Change.org Organizing Manager Mark Anthony Dingbaum. “Katy and Carson’s campaign has effectively injected youth voices into a debate where students have been noticeably absent, and they’ve sent a very clear message to Lansing: We won’t tolerate bullying in schools or at the state capitol.”
The backlash comes after the Republican dominated Senate passed legislation in early November that Democrats said amounted to a “license to bully.” The legislation contained a caveat that would allow bullying based on sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions. Outcry over the caveat made national headlines and was skewered by Keith Olberman and others in the national media. Kevin Epling, the father of Matt Epling for whom the legislation was named, said the bill did not reflect the values of his family or Matt.
Republican lawmakers in the House passed legislation that did not include the “license to bully” provision, and it has been sent to the Senate for action. Ari Adler, spokesperson for House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) has promised that the “license to bully” provision will not be in the final language of the bill.
Youth speak out, share horror of bullying
As to why these Ann Arbor based youth spoke out, they had much to say.
“I’m speaking out for all those students who suffer every day at school,” said Butler, a 16-year-old junior at Greenhills High School in Ann Arbor. “As students, we deserve a bill that will actually protect us at school. Unfortunately, the bills being considered in Lansing fall short of doing that.”
“People keep telling us youth that ‘it gets better,'” Butler added. “Well, it can’t get better if you don’t make it better. I’m doing my part to help; please do yours.”
In a personal statement posted online, Butler explained her experiences with bullying:
“I was in seventh grade putting my books in my locker when a few guys game up behind me calling me a faggot and a dyke and asking me why I even bothered to show my face at school because no one liked me. I ignored them because I was scared of what else they might say and who else they might tell if I stood up to them. I went to shut my locker when an eighth grader pushed me against the wall. I didn’t know what to do, so I stood there, alone and afraid. One of his friends slammed my locker shut on my hand breaking my fourth finger. I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing. When I got home I lied to my parents about what happened to my finger because I didn’t want them to tell the school. I was afraid the school would do nothing except call me out in front of everyone. I told them that I accidentally closed my locker the wrong way on my own hand.
“The constant whispers, even comments to my face, and stares I got in the locker room during gym were enough for me to go talk with one of my teachers. They said that bullying was wrong and they would take care of it. They never did anything.”
Borbely also posted a statement online about the harassment she has been experiencing:
“Being an eighth grader can be exceedingly challenging sometimes, even without this – but being the only openly gay kid in your school is even more difficult. There are some people who give you hope on this, they smile, say it’s fine, move on. There are the people that laugh, make asinine comments, move on with their days.
“Something about it sticks with you. The thickness of the words grows on my skin, dissolving the confidence I thought I had. Slowly it wears me down, it’s like a battle. Walking into school every morning feels like a sentence, and as the doors shut behind me I sigh deeply. It’s an ache in my chest. Seven more hours for today… Four more days in the week…Seven more months of the school year… I tick the numbers off on my fingers, and for some reason it feels like they never, ever change.
“A few weeks ago in class, I brushed a friend’s hair away from her face. A loud voice sharply interrupts my thoughts, ‘Don’t touch her. Trannies carry diseases.’ The teacher didn’t do anything. That was the fourth incident in her class that I had been harassed by the same boy. Nothing was done. The only reprimand he got was a sharp calling of his name. The teacher asked him passively to stop. He continued.”