Tag Archives: bully

The petition craze | Progressive ‘click-tivism’ spreads virally on the Web

We, the people, are petitioning for greater gun control, marriage equality, term limits for Congress, bans against animal research, permits to hunt wolves, Texas’ secession from the union and Atlanta’s secession from Georgia.

We, the people, are petitioning to close Wal-Mart stores, build more Wal-Marts, free chimpanzees, pardon pot smokers, teach Creationism, mandate school prayer, repeal Obamacare and institute universal health care.

With ever-improving, ever-expanding digital tools, we, the people, have e-exercised our digits and made the petition all the rage. The fever has even seized anti-petitioners – who are signing a petition to stop petitions.

In May, the Boy Scouts of America will decide whether to repeal a ban against gay Scouts and troop leaders. Public pressure, largely from petition drives over the past year targeting both the youth group and its corporate supporters, propelled the BSA to reconsider a policy it had taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend. Only a year ago, the Scouts reaffirmed the anti-gay policy. But petition drives against the policy that were launched on Change.org and promoted by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation/GLAAD have yielded 1.4 million signatures.

In another campaign, Katy Butler, a teenager from Ann Arbor, Mich., launched a Change.org petition last spring that ended with a motion picture rating change for “Bully.” Without the change, a key audience – kids – could not see the documentary. Butler’s petition, witht the help of GLAAD, went viral and found support with more than 500,000 people, including pro athletes, movie stars and members of Congress.

Butler has started other petitions on Change.org, including one to promote LGBT Spirit Day and another to curb bullying in Michigan schools. On Change.org, she says people keep telling LGBT youth that it gets better, but “it can’t get better if you don’t make it better. I’m doing my part to help, please do yours.”

Butler’s “Bully” petition was among the first that Deb Pace of Eau Claire signed. “It was so easy to make a stand,” she says. 

Since then, Pace has delved deeper into the Web and connected with progressive petition campaigns at CredoAction, ThePetitionSite and SignOn.org, an affiliate of MoveOn.org, which gets its name from an early Internet petition calling on Congress to move on from its obsession with Bill Clinton and his definition of sexual relations.

“I work the third shift,” Pace says. “That makes it hard to get involved. But I can do my part to fight the right at any hour from my iPhone. Pretty cool.”

The petition is a tool as old as the written word. In the United States, the First Amendment contains a clause guaranteeing the right of the people to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

We, the people, sign official petitions for candidates to qualify for office, petitions for redress in courts and, in some states, petitions for referendums and ballot initiatives.

Historically, Americans also have taken up petitions to free the colonies from British tyranny, to end slavery, to secure the vote for women and to advance the civil rights movement. 

The Obama administration recognized this tradition when it created We The People, the online forum where citizens can start a petition or sign a petition – or 175 of them. The site is modeled on the popular e-petition system in the United Kingdom. 

The most recent We The People petitions ask the administration to commit resources to ensure an AIDS-free generation, stop the court-ordered euthanasia of a service dog named Dutch, classify the Los Angeles Police Department as a domestic terrorist organization, ratify a treaty on women’s rights and stop a proposed mine in northern Wisconsin. That last petition, as of Feb. 15, needed more than 97,000 signatures by March 8 to draw a White House response.

“It would be nice for the president to weigh in on the issue,” says petition signer Jimmy Benn of La Crosse. “But even without (that), people all over the country are getting information about this serious environmental issue.”

In the first month of We The People, 755,000 people used the platform to create or sign more than 12,400 petitions that gathered more than 1.2 million signatures. There was a new user about every 15 minutes and a signature added every 23 minutes.

While the White House petition site is popular – so much so that the administration recently increased from 25,000 to 100,000 the number of signatures required to generate a response from the administration – it doesn’t rival Change.org. A year ago, Change.org had about 7 million users. Today the world’s largest petition platform has more than 25 million members and petitioners from every country. About 140 million signatures have been attached to Change.org petitions since 2010, when the site had a million users. 

On an “about” page, Change.org explains its role: “Gathering people behind a cause used to be difficult, requiring lots of time, money, and a complex infrastructure. But technology has made us more connected than ever.

“It’s now possible for anyone to start a campaign and immediately mobilize hundreds of others locally or hundreds of thousands around the world, making governments and companies more responsive and accountable.

“We want to accelerate this dramatic shift – by making it easier to make a difference and by inspiring everyone to discover what’s possible when they stand up and speak out.”

Critics complain that Change.org sells ads and accepts money from large entities to promote their petitions. But the site has strict rules about who can engage: Change.org prohibits bullying, harassment, or intimidation; is against the promotion of hate groups, or persons/entities directly associated with them; and against advocating discrimination. As a result, there’s more progressive click-tivism than conservative action on the site.

And there’s no denying the influence of the free, people-powered, digital Change.org petitions. They’ve helped to bring about an ongoing prosecution in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida, raised awareness of “pink slime” burgers in public schools, shut down government-supported “ex-gay” clinics in Ecuador and eliminated an Amateur International Boxing Association rule requiring women boxers to wear skirts in the Olympics.

“If you want to get an idea of what’s brewing in America’s melting pot, get on Change.org,” says petition-enthusiast Peter Warren of Green Bay, who says he signs a petition a day, sometimes more.

Warren says he reads some of the petitions to the end. And many, he adds, he seriously hopes bring about change.

“I just signed a petition to deport the Texans who signed a petition to secede because of Barack Obama’s re-election,” he says. “I’d really like to see that happen, man.”

Warren also signed that “Bully” petition and has joined many other campaigns. Most recently he added his name to the Change.org petition that overloaded the city of Madison’s email system. The petition called for the Madison Police Department to remove Officer Stephen Heimsness from patrol while the Justice Department investigates the fatal shooting of 30-year-old Paul Heenan.

“Only some of my friends will demonstrate at the Capitol,” Warren says, “but just about all of them are using Facebook and have signed a petition for this or that. It’s a good way to express yourself.”

Video project to reassure gay teens follows teacher’s condemnation

Some gay rights groups are trying to bolster the confidence of gay teens after an Indiana teacher said she believes gays have no purpose in life.

Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays state coordinator Annette Gross said over the weekend the “You Have a Purpose” Facebook page will collect videos submitted to encourage gay youth. She compared the project to syndicated columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project aimed at deterring bullied gays from suicide.

The project comes after several residents in Sullivan, Ind., including some high schoolers, proposed holding a non-school sanctioned “traditional” prom that would ban gay students. Diana Medley, a group member who is a special education teacher in another school district, made comments in support of the plan, saying she believes being gay is a choice people make and that gays have no purpose in life.

Organizers of the “You Have a Purpose” campaign said that while the project is in response to Medley’s remarks, they don’t want the effort to get bogged down in the Internet storm of criticism aimed at her.

“This is about the kids. This isn’t about her,” Gross said. “We just want to focus on the positive, letting them (gay teens) know that they do have a purpose and there are people out there that care about them.”

The Facebook page will not accept videos aimed at Medley or the prom dispute, Gross said. The page, which went online late last week, was set up by the Interfaith Coalition on Non-Discrimination, Indiana PFLAG, Indiana Equality Action and FairTalk.

“Some people wanted us to march down to the school board and make an issue there, and we just didn’t think it was the right thing to do,” said Marie Siroky, president of ICON, who conceived the page.

Siroky, a minister in the United Church of Christ, is a lesbian who traveled to Iowa four years ago to marry her partner of 18 years. The UCC allows gay couples to marry in the church, and gay marriage is legal in Iowa.

Siroky said the online video campaign is so that “a kid sitting alone in his room wondering if he is going to come out to his parents, he can go on YouTube or the site and see that there are people out there who care about him.”

Medley’s comments have been widely circulated on social networking sites and in news coverage of the story and have led to online campaigns trying to get her fired. A petition on Change.org calling for her dismissal had generated more than 18,000 signatures from as far away as the United Kingdom as of Feb. 16, and a Facebook page supporting a prom that includes all students had more than 27,000 likes.

Activist asks Romney, Obama to wear purple for LGBT youth Spirit Day

The activist who led the national campaign to change the rating for a film about bullying is now focusing on getting Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to wear purple for Spirit Day, an annual observance celebrating LGBT youth and equality.

Spirit Day is Oct. 19.

To show spirit, institutions such as Times Square and the New York Stock Exchange will turn their lights purple. Celebrities, athletes, activists and ordinary citizens will wear purple. And businesses and organizations will color websites and social media pages purple for the campaign coordinated by GLAAD.

On Oct. 10, activist Katy Butler asked Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to wear purple for Spirit Day. Butler is GLAAD’s Spirit Day ambassador. She’s also the activist who rallied major support to change the rating for “Bully” so that young people actually could see a documentary featuring young people and aimed at teaching young people lessons about tolerance and harassment.

Butler made the call to Obama and Romney in a Change.org petition – the same tool she used for the “Bully” drive.

The growing list of Spirit Day participants includes:

George Takei, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, star of ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars” Shay Mitchell, daytime talk show host Wendy Williams, Nickelodeon’s Avan Jogia, the Los Angeles Unified School District, AMC Entertainment, AT&T, atelier-lb, Caesars Foundation, Carat, Citi, Delta Air Lines, Draftfcb, Digitas, Facebook, WNBA, NBA, MLS, Hewlett-Packard Company, Johnnye’s East Texas Soul, LBNY, Leo Burnett Business, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Marquee Las Vegas, MediaVest, Omnicom Group, Publicis Kaplan Thaler, Publicis Groupe, Saatchi & Saatchi, Southern California Edison, Toyota Financial Services, Warner Bros., Yahoo! and Zenith Optimedia.

Other landmarks to turn purple on Spirit Day include the LAX Pylon Lights and the JFK traffic tower.

Participating groups include the BULLY Project; Campus Pride; CenterLink; Equality Texas; Fair Wisconsin; FriendFactor; Forum for Equality; the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network; GSA Network; Human Rights Campaign; the League of United Latin American Citizens; the National Bullying Prevention Center by PACER; the National Council of La Raza; the National Hispanic Media Coalition; Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; Reaching Out MBA; Straight But Not Narrow; The Trevor Project; and Youth Empowered to Act.

For more, go to glaad.org/spiritday.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee hosts “Bully” filmmaker

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Oct. 11 hosts “An Evening with Lee Hirsch,” who made the acclaimed documentary “Bully.”

The program takes place 7-9 p.m. in the Union Wisconsin Room, 2200 E. Kenwood Blvd., Milwaukee.

Hirsh will tell the story of “Bully” and the controversy over the rating for the film last spring. He’ll share clips from the film and take “the audience behind the scenes,” said a news release.

The lecture is the centerpiece of National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month at UW-M, which includes a series of events designed to raise awareness, provide education about and explore solutions for bullying.

The series culminates in an interactive workshop with musician-activist Traciana Graves on Oct. 30.

For more, go to sociocultural.uwm.edu, friend UWM Sociocultural as on Facebook or follow on @UWMSociocul on Twitter.

N.J. districts sued for ignoring bullying

Federal lawsuits were filed against two New Jersey school districts that allegedly failed to stop bullying that led to medical and mental health problems for students.

The Courthouse News Service reports that in Newark, N.J., plaintiffs D.O. and D.O. allege that their child C.O. arrived home from Pine Lake Elementary School with bruises, crying and depressed because classmates were calling him “gay.”

“On a daily basis during this time C.O. was called ‘gay,’ ‘fag’ and ‘girl’ by his classmates,” the complaint states. “C.O. was also completely ostracized and shunned by his classmates and was forced to spend all time at school alone due to his classmates’ perception that C.O. was gay.”

The suit alleges that a school volunteer, the mother of a child identified as the bullies’ “ringleader,” also harassed the boy.

The parents say they met with the school principal and also telephoned with concerns, but that she only advised the parents to move their son to another school.

Another administrator, the director of elementary schools for the district, heard the parents’ complaints and allegedly suggested the student be enrolled in sports outside the district and cultivate a new circle of friends.

After the boy was assaulted on a school bus, the parents say they tried to get action from the superintendent’s office, but “nothing changed and their son continued to be bullied.” So “D.O. and D.O. were forced to remove C.O. from the district.”

In the second complaint, parents living in Trenton, N.J., alleged that their son suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and was hospitalized after a breakdown because he was “systematically bullied” at Branchburg Central Middle School.


The complaint alleges that the boy “was choked almost to the point of unconsciousness” on a school bus and endured other harassment on the bus and when the parents complained, the school principal “verbally attacked the family, challenged their credibility, filed false truancy charges against (the boy) and reported the family to the Department of Youth and Family Services.”

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Oakland A’s: It Gets Better

The Oakland A’s this week became the latest professional sports team to create a video for the It Gets Better campaign to encourage LGBT youth.

The Major League Baseball team’s Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco Giants, were the first MLB team to create a video, doing so last spring.

The A’s video features pitcher Brandon McCarthy, who earlier this season described as homophobic the “kiss cam” tradition of showing two grimacing men to get laughter from the crowd.

The video also features pitcher Dallas Braden, second baseman Jemile Weeks and stadium in-game host Kara Tsuboi.

“Everyone should feel comfortable being themselves,” Weeks told the San Francisco Chronicle. “So I wanted to tell kids to be confident and to know they have support.”

The Cubs, Dodgers, Mariners, Orioles, Phillies, Rays and Red Sox also have created It Gets Better videos.

The Milwaukee Brewers have not created a video, and a Change.org petition to encourage the team to join the It Gets Better campaign, which began following a series of gay-related youth suicides in the fall of 2010, has expired.

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Mormon parents make ‘It Gets Better’ video

Mormon parents defend their gay children in a new video that confronts the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ disapproval of same-sex relationships.

The video was released over the weekend, during a national conference for gay Mormons in Washington, D.C., as part of the ongoing “It Gets Better” project, which seeks to give hope to bullied lesbian and gay teenagers.

In the video, parents recall how they struggled with their faith when their children first came out as gay. One teary mother says she learned her 19-year-old son was gay after he tried to kill himself. A father describes his initial discomfort with gay men. The message is that God wants them to love their children despite their sexual orientation.

“When he came out, I wasn’t quite ready to accept that situation,” said Charles Carver, a father from Utah, said in the video about his son.

“My job is to love. My job is to accept,” he said later.

Another father, Stephen Cohen, said, “There was once upon a time that I told a co-worker of mine that if a gay ever came on to me I would punch him. Now, you know what I would probably do? I would hug him.”

The parents say their children don’t deserve to feel ashamed.

“Nobody in their right mind would choose this, nobody that is (Latter-day Saints) would choose to be ostracized by their whole entire family,” says Andrea Carver, another mother who appears in the video with her husband. “I just pray that whoever is watching this that you will learn to love yourself and appreciate who you are as a person.”

The video follows a similar project released by gay students at Brigham Young University last month. In that video, Mormon students say they believe God loves them as they are.

Kendall Wilcox, a gay former BYU employee, produced both videos. Wilcox said he wanted to highlight the growing disparity between the church’s official ban on homosexual activity and its members’ support for friends and relatives who are gay.

“It’s sort of an invitation to Mormons everywhere to come out and say, we can’t be quiet about this anymore. We have to show support,” Wilcox said.

Gay rights activist Dan Savage, who writes a syndicated sex advice column, created the “It Gets Better” project in 2010 after a string of youth suicides.

Gay Mormon youths can face a particularly difficult road after coming out. Mormons who have same-sex physical relationships can be banned from the church, and some Mormon leaders have urged gay members to consider sexual orientation conversion. At BYU, a Mormon institution, straight couples can hug and kiss, while gay couples cannot.

Wilcox hopes the video will teach Mormon parents how to respond to their children’s same-sex orientation. It will be released during the “Circling the Wagon” conference, the first of its kind outside Utah. A similar conference was held in Salt Lake City last year.

“All of these parents are saying nothing anti-Mormon,” Wilcox said. “It’s just, you know: In the end, when I was working through all of this, the message I got from God is that you love your child unconditionally.”

Watch the video at http://youtu.be/I948dOw41I8.

Obama calls for passage of safe-schools bills

President Barack Obama, on the 17th annual Day of Silence, called for passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

A White House statement said, “The president and his administration have taken many steps to address the issue of bullying. He is proud to support the Student Non-Discrimination Act, introduced by Senator Franken and Congressman Polis, and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, introduced by Senator Casey and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez. These bills will help ensure that all students are safe and healthy and can learn in environments free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

The Day of Silence, supervised by GLSEN, and held each April to protest harassment and discrimination of LGBT students, took place in schools throughout the United States on April 20.

GLSEN executive director Eliza Byard and GLSEN national board member Sirdeaner Walker responded to the White House announcement.

“Today’s announcement is a vital show of support to students everywhere of all identities, backgrounds and beliefs who face bullying and harassment in school,” said Byard. “By speaking out on GLSEN’s Day of Silence in support of these two critical bills, the president has given greater hope to students who often feel that they have nowhere to turn. It is deeply moving to know that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who face the multiple threats of harassment, violence and discrimination have the President as an ally in their efforts to win all of the protections that they deserve.”

“Today is a day that I have hoped for since I began my work as an anti-bullying advocate after losing my son Carl,” said Walker. “I believe that President Obama’s explicit endorsement of the Safe Schools Improvement Act will make a tremendous difference in moving this issue forward. Having met with the president three times, I knew his support for SSIA and the Student Non-Discrimination Act was genuine. But stating that publicly on GLSEN’s Day of Silence pushes it to a whole new level. While nothing can bring Carl back, I know that these bills can make a real difference to end the bullying and harassment that is faced by too many other sons and daughters today.”

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‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill advances in Tennessee

A proposal that would ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students is once again advancing in the House even though opponents insist it’s unnecessary.

The measure, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed the House Education Committee 8-7 on April 17.

In a confusing sequence of events, the proposal initially failed on a voice vote, but a roll call vote was requested and the measure advanced.

The legislation limits all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade. The proposal had been put aside for a measure that would require “family life education” curricula taught in schools to be abstinence-centered.

But the “Don’t Say Gay” bill sponsor Rep. Joey Hensley said he didn’t believe the other proposal emphasized eliminating “alternative lifestyle discussion.”

The Hohenwald Republican said a survey of his district showed “well over 95 percent … don’t want homosexuality discussed in those grade levels.”

“So that’s what pushed me over the line to go ahead with the bill,” Hensley said.

He said his bill was amended to allow students to ask teachers or guidance counselors questions about alternative lifestyles, but “teachers can’t teach that as an acceptable lifestyle.”

Hensley said the amendment should pacify those concerned the proposal would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.

Nevertheless, others say the overall legislation is not necessary because state education officials have said alternative lifestyle discussions are already banned from the curricula.

“I agree that these are issues that do not need to be put in front elementary children,” said Democratic Rep. John Deberry of Memphis. “However, officials say this is already state policy. And because it’s policy already, there was just no point in mudding the water.”

Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters agreed.

“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “The current curriculum is very adequate in this area. I think it’s being used more for political purposes than it is for educational reasons.”

The companion bill passed the Senate 19-10 last year.

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‘Bully’ packs a powerful wallop

MPAA ratings battle aside, Lee Hirsch’s emotionally raw and gut-wrenching documentary “Bully” must be seen. While some percentage of the audience will be members of the LGBT community, many of whom experienced bullying in one form or another, the important thing is to make sure that the rest of the world sees it, too.

The film opens with the story of a bullying victim, the late Tyler Long, who was driven to the brink and took his own life at the age of 17. Tyler, a loner who was victimized for being unathletic, among other things, was taunted by his Murray County, Ga., peers to hang himself. He did just that. Tyler’s father, a religious man, holds onto the belief that he will see Tyler in heaven.

In Sioux City, Iowa, 12-year-old Alex, who has trouble making friends, feels best – meaning safest – at home with his family, including his younger siblings. At school and on the school bus, Alex, who was a preemie, is teased relentlessly. His full lips have earned him the moniker “Fish Face.” That’s only one of the cruel and frightening things said to him by his classmates.

The most articulate of the bullied students interviewed, lesbian Kelby tries to make her way in Oklahoma’s Bible Belt. Unwelcome at church and in the homes of friends, Kelby nevertheless has a close-knit social circle of those who love and care about her. Verbally abused by teachers and ostracized into quitting the basketball team, Kelby became a cutter and attempted suicide three times.

In Mississippi, 14-year-old Ja’Maya awaits sentencing after pulling a gun on a school bus in 2009 in order to silence her abusers.

In Perkins, Okla., Laura and Kirk, the parents of 11-year-old Ty, are burying their son following his suicide.

At times, “Bully” presents a portrait of hopelessness. The school administrators and board members in the doc appear overwhelmed and powerless. The debate at town hall meetings is heated and feels unresolved. One thing everyone agrees on is that changes must be made to protect children.

But it’s the voices of the parents, including those of Tyler, Alex, Kelby, Ja’May and Ty, that ring out as loudly as those of the bullied and may have the most impact. The message is that it’s the parents of the bullied who have the most power in this situation.