Tag Archives: bully

Gay Brigham Young students release ‘It Gets Better’ video

Students from a strict Mormon college that prohibits “homosexual behavior” have launched a Web video aimed at reassuring other gay and lesbian youth struggling with their faith and sexual orientation.

The video recently posted to YouTube by 22 Brigham Young University students is the first of its kind with ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which forbids gay sex and marriage. By posting the video, the students could face excommunication from the church and expulsion at BYU, where gay students are prohibited from touching or kissing.

The campaign is part of columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project, which seeks to give voices and hope to bullied gay and lesbian teenagers. In the video, several BYU students confess that they considered suicide because they didn’t think they could be Mormon and gay.

“In our religion, there is a lot of misunderstanding and ugliness about homosexuality,” said Kendall Wilcox, a former BYU faculty member who produced the video and serves as an adviser to the school’s unofficial gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender support group. “We wanted to send this message that God loves you just as you are.”

The video has sent tremors through the Mormon community and represents the latest effort to reconcile the church’s conservative values with a growing acceptance toward gay relationships. The video estimates there are more than 1,800 LGBT students at BYU. It also notes that the school is consistently ranked as one of the most unfriendly campuses for those students in the nation.

A mere five years ago, BYU students weren’t allowed to discuss their sexual orientation without risking expulsion under the school’s strict honor code. A clarification in 2007 stressed that “one’s stated sexual orientation is not an Honor Code issue.”

In 2010, BYU lifted a ban on advocacy of homosexuality. That same year, students formed Understanding Same-Gender Attraction. The support group drew eight people to its first meeting. This semester more than 80 students have attended the weekly meetings on campus.

Gay students must still adhere to much stricter standards than their heterosexual classmates under the updated honor code. While premarital sex is off limits to all BYU students, straight couples are allowed to kiss and cuddle openly on campus. Gay students cannot.

The student support group is more conservative than many LGBT groups. Some members have embraced lifelong celibacy as a way to stay in the LDS church without violating its rules. One student leader is gay, but married to a woman.

Some students used the video to come out to their parents. One student recalled how she “died a little in the inside” every time she kissed a former boyfriend. “I thought eventually maybe it would be better if I died,” another student tells the camera.

BYU provides counseling to students grappling with depression, anxiety and other issues, spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said.

“Students who uphold the honor code are welcome as school members of the campus community,” she said.

Adam White, a sophomore featured in the video, said he struggled with his sexual orientation during his first year at BYU.

“It was a very dark time for me because I was just feeling so confused,” he said. “I mean, I was living in an all-male dorm, and just being in such close contact. Everything I had suppressed was coming at me.”

White took a year off of school to examine his feelings. When he returned last year, he came out on Facebook as gay.

White said he constantly thinks about transferring to a less conservative school, but hopes he can accomplish more for students like him by sharing his story.

“The ‘It Gets Better’ message is we can be open, this is not something we have to fix or change about ourselves,” White said. “This is something we can celebrate.”

The video initially drew nasty comments from some anti-Mormon and anti-gay groups. On campus, however, the reaction has largely been positive, Wilcox and White said.

Some gay activists are celebrating the video as the latest sign that the church is becoming more open to their community.

In the 1990s, LDS leaders openly fought same-sex marriage legislation nationwide and, in 2006, joined other religious denominations in asking Congress for a marriage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Gay church members were often sent to rehabilitative therapy to “get fixed.”

But gay activists said they have made strides in recent years. A conference for LGBT Mormons was held in Salt Lake City last year and is scheduled to reconvene later this month in Washington, D.C. At the meeting, gay leaders plan to unveil an “It Gets Better” video featuring Mormon adults.

Joshua Behn, a gay activist and former BYU student who recently left the church, said he had doubts about the student video when he first heard of it.

“I was afraid it was going to be, ‘oh, you can deny your sexuality,”” he said. “But watching, they don’t make judgments about that. They are saying, ‘there are other people out there. You are not alone.””

Randall Thacker, 39, said he “was completely closeted, completely ashamed” about his attraction to men when he graduated from BYU in 1997. A church leader sent him to therapy to change his sexual orientation.

“To see the video gives me so much incredible hope for the future,” said Thacker, a gay activist in Washington, D.C. “It seems like a miracle.”

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‘Bully’ gets PG-13 rating from MPAA

“Bully” is getting a PG-13 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America before the documentary expands to a wider market on April 13.

The documentary, which opened in late March in limited release, will be showing in 55 markets with the PG-13 rating after three minor edits.

In limited engagements, the film was shown unrated.

The PG-13 rating change follows a massive petition drive led on Change.org by Michigan teen Katy Butler, who had been bullied and wanted to guarantee that a younger audience could see the film, including, eventually, students in classrooms.

More than 500,000 people, including 35 members of Congress and celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Meryl Streep, endorsed the petition.

“On behalf of the more than half a million supporters who joined me on Change.org in petitioning the MPAA, I want to express how grateful I am not only to the MPAA for lowering the rating without cutting a vital scene but to all of the people who used their voices to put a national spotlight on this movie and its mission,” said Butler.

The MPAA had given “Bully” an R for the use of expletives, with the filmmakers explaining that bullying doesn’t involve pretty language.

Butler said, “The brief usage of language in this film reflects what so many kids hear each day in school when they’re being bullied. No one removes it from the halls and playgrounds of schools.”

Change.org CEO Ben Rattray said Katy Butler, who recently received an award for her work from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, “has inspired so many people, and a ratings change, with her powerful campaign.”

To see Ellen DeGeneres talk about the petition and the film, click the link.

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‘Bully’ focuses on intolerable cruelty

The documentary “Bully” is essential to see, whether you’re a parent or a kid, whether you’ve been on the giving or receiving end of such increasingly pervasive cruelty.

But it’s also frustrating to watch, because while the stories included here are undeniably moving by nature, they’re not exactly told in the most artful way, rendering “Bully” far less emotionally impactful than it might have been.

Director Lee Hirsch’s film grows repetitive and seems longer than its relatively brief running time. Tonally, it bounces with no rhyme or reason between a handful of students across the country who’ve suffered from bullying; technically, it feels a bit messy, with needless zooms and images that fade in and out of focus. Perhaps that was an intentional aesthetic choice. Either way, it’s distracting and headache-inducing.

Still, if “Bully” does nothing more than provide the impetus for a dialogue, it achieves its purpose.

Hirsch spent a year with about a half-dozen families with children who’ve been bullied at school – teased, abused, humiliated and ostracized – behavior which adults too often sweep aside with the cliche that kids will be kids.

Among them are David and Tina Long of Murray County, Georgia, whose 17-year-old son, Tyler, hanged himself. Tina bravely shows the closet where the family found him, in his bedroom since turned into an office, and the death has turned the Longs’ quiet suburban life into a crusade for awareness.

Among the movie’s other stories is 12-year-old Alex, a scrawny kid from Sioux City, Iowa. His parents acknowledge he’s a bit weird but as his mom points out, he’d be the most devoted friend to anyone who would accept him. Hirsch’s camera captures Alex’s grueling daily school bus ride as big, mean kids use him as their punching bag. Alex has no idea how to stand up for himself and no adults seem capable of doing it for him (the assistant principal of his middle school comes off as especially clueless and inept).

These moments are also the ones that earned “Bully” a ridiculous R-rating for language from the Motion Picture Association of America; The Weinstein Co. is now releasing the film unrated.

In conservative Tuttle, Oklahoma, 16-year-old Kelby has been shunned since she came out as a lesbian, as have her parents. She finds a small circle of friends who accept her as she is, including a girlfriend, and people who inspire her to get out of bed every morning, but she feels discouraged when she can’t open up more minds and hearts. Her parents’ evolution on the subject is inspiring to see.

These are just some of the stories Hirsch shares in “Bully.” Any one of them might have served as its own complete film. This is especially true of a tale that comes toward the end: that of Kirk and Laura Smalley, whose 11-year-old son, Ty, took his own life because of bullying. These are admittedly simple, small-town folks: avid hunters and St. Louis Cardinals fans with longtime family roots in the area who are forced to reexamine everything that defines them in a teary haze. Kirk’s honesty and purity of emotion are haunting, and our time with this family is tantalizingly brief.

As the mother of a 2-year-old boy, I’m glad “Bully” exists. As a film critic, I wish it were more accomplished.

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Victory for ‘Bully’ rating-change campaign

The Weinstein Company has announced that “Bully,” the award-winning documentary about the epidemic of school bullying in the United States, will open in theaters on March 30 as “unrated” after nearly 500,000 people signed a Change.org petition demanding that the Motion Picture Association of America remove the “R” rating given to the film.

“I am happy ‘Bully’ will maintain its authenticity and will be an accurate portrayal of what thousands of kids experience every day,” said Katy Butler, a bullied high school student from Michigan who launched the petition drive.

Butler, who had her finger broken by bullies in middle school, urged the MPAA to remove the “R” rating from “Bully” so that middle school and high school students would have a chance to see a movie that could potentially save their lives.

“The MPAA might not recognize the reality that thousands of bullied kids face each day in school, but nearly 500,000 people around the country, from celebrities to politicians to bullied kids themselves, stepped up to speak out about bullying by signing my petition,” said Butler. “The brief use of vulgar language in this film reflects what so many kids hear each day in school when they’re being bullied. The MPAA said they wouldn’t drop the ‘R’ rating unless this language was removed, but nothing can remove it from the halls and playgrounds of schools where bullied students hear it each day, except education and exposure.”

Lee Hirsch, director of “Bully,” said that the “unrated” designation for the film will allow the film to portray the real trauma and torment that bullied students experience each day in school.

“The small amount of language in the film that’s responsible for the ‘R’ rating is there because it’s real. It’s what the children who are victims of bullying face on most days,” Hirsch said in a statement put out by The Weinstein Company announcing the “unrated” designation.

“All of our supporters see that, and we’re grateful for the support we’ve received across the board. I know the kids will come, so it’s up to the theaters to let them in.”

Gerry Lopez, the CEO of AMC Theaters, one of the largest movie theater chains in the world, signed Katy Butler’s Change.org petition.

He said previously in a statement that he will make sure “Bully” plays at AMC Theaters even with an “unrated” rating.

“AMC will show this movie, and we invite our guests to engage in the dialogue its relevant message will inevitably provoke,” Lopez said.

He is just one of several high profile individuals who signed Butler’s petition. Ellen DeGeneres signed the petition, inviting Butler to appear on her show, and Anderson Cooper, Kelly Ripa, Justin Bieber, Johnny Depp, Meryl Streep, Michael Jordan, Demi Lovato, Randy Jackson, and Drew Brees all encouraged their fans to show support to “Bully,” objecting to the “R” rating it received.

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Kentucky House committee rejects bullying legislation

A bill to protect students from bullying by their classmates has died in the Kentucky House Education Committee because some lawmakers worried it would give “special rights” to gay students.

The proposal by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, a Louisville Democrat, failed to get the 15 votes it needed. The party-line vote was 13 in favor, 10 against and three abstentions.

Most of the Republicans who voted against the bill said a 2008 law sponsored by Rep. Mike Cherry, D-Princeton, is a national model and sufficient. But Marzian, who mentioned that Cherry was a sponsor of her bill, said hers was stronger because it identifies classes of students to be protected.

The bill mentioned abuse that is motivated “by a student’s actual or perceived race; color; religion; national origin; ancestry or ethnicity; sexual orientation; physical, mental, emotional, or learning disability; gender; gender identity and expression; or other distinguishing personal characteristic.”

Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he feared that any statute that did not protect a Christian student’s First Amendment rights to disagree with a gay student about whether homosexuality is acceptable could subject the Christian student to punishment for harassment.

Logan said Marzian’s bill would not do that.

Waide said the issue was about equal protection, but that “you can’t achieve equality by making some persons more equal than others.”

The 2008 legislation was a move in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough, said Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo, D-Lexington.

“Some children need more protection than others,” she said, adding that legislators must be “living in outer space” if they deny that.

Palumbo, who said she is a parent of a suicide victim, said the existing law is not a model and that she was embarrassed by her colleagues. She said that some gay and lesbian people are Christians.

“They do not choose their sexual orientation,” she said.

The vote followed lengthy testimony by parents and other survivors of students who had committed suicide as a result of harassment and abuse by classmates.

Darryl Denham of Covington, whose son, Sam, killed himself Oct. 14, said he has since heard of other students in Sam’s school who have been harassed, and that a survey found that 75 percent of the students in that school think bullying is a serious problem.

“The test of a moral society is what it does for our children,” he said.

Zoe Chin, a friend of Sam’s, said after the vote that she thought the legislators should have considered how they would feel if their own children were victims of abuse “instead of being politicians.” She called those who opposed the bill “homophobic.”

Travis Campbell of Hopkinsville said his daughter Miranda, who was “bisexual and unashamed of it,” took her life Feb. 4 after being constantly harassed. Campbell said that one-third of homosexual, bisexual or transgender students attempt suicide.

Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Burlington, said her husband is a school resource counselor.

“I know about harassment. I hear about it at night,” she said, but “adding more verbiage” to statutory law would not strengthen it. School administrators already have the authority they need, she said.

Marzian said she had a similar bill last year that passed out of committee by a vote of 21-1, but was not voted on in the House. She said this year it didn’t get as much support because it’s an election year. But she said that she has no opposition in her district, and that she will be bringing the bill before the legislature again.

‘Don’t say gay’ bill stalls in Tennessee

The Tennessee House sponsor of a proposal to ban the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students delayed the measure this week to allow lawmakers to consider a more comprehensive bill.

The legislation, known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was up in the House Education Committee. It seeks to limit all sexually related instruction to “natural human reproduction science” in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald acknowledged there are problems with the measure and once again delayed it so lawmakers can review another proposal that would place restrictions on “family life education” curricula taught in schools.

Rep. Jim Gotto is the sponsor of that legislation. The Hermitage Republican said in an interview that he didn’t intend for the bill to be an alternative to Hensley’s, but rather to address Tennessee’s high ranking for teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Gotto said the proposal would allow the teaching of safe sex, but the curriculum would have to be “abstinence-centered,” emphasizing that abstinence is withholding from “any kind of sexual contact.”

“We have been teaching sex education now for several years, and apparently the way we’re teaching it now is not working,” he said. “This is an attempt to try to tweak the law so that going forward it will work. This is much more comprehensive.”

Under the proposal, a family life education curriculum also would “encourage students to communicate with a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult about sex or other risk behaviors.”

A parent or guardian can file a complaint with the director of schools if there’s speculation that “a teacher, instructor, or representative of an organization has not complied with the requirements of this bill,” according to the legislation.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has not commented about the family life proposal, but he has publically stated he doesn’t think the “Don’t Say Gay” proposal is needed.

“I think the Board of Education is more than willing to send out reminders to teachers about … what the boundaries are there,” Haslam told reporters this week. “So, I’m not sure it’s a helpful conversation, or that it’s even a needed conversation.”

Opponents of the measure say the measure would prevent teachers and others from speaking out against the bullying of gay teens.

Eric Patton went to the Capitol complex in Nashville on March 13 to oppose the proposal. The 21-year-old believes there are more important issues for lawmakers to focus on, such as job creation.

“Job bills before bullying bills, because Tennessee needs jobs more than they need more bullies,” Patton said.

Earlier that day, the Senate State and Local Government Committee delayed action on a proposal that seeks to repeal a Tennessee law passed last year that prohibits local governments from creating anti-discrimination regulations that are stricter than those of the state. The law nullified a Nashville ordinance barring companies that discriminate against gays and lesbians from doing business with the city.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean sent a letter to the chairman of the committee in support of the legislation to repeal the law.

“A number of cities throughout our country have passed local ordinances similar to Nashville’s,” Dean wrote. “Such ordinances represent the decisions of locally elected government bodies, and I believe they deserve the respect of the state Legislature. Now is not the time to abandon our belief in local government.”

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Tooned into bullying: Cartoon Network shows new documentary

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is going to a D.C. middle school today to join the Cartoon Network for the national premiere of a documentary about bullying.

CN’s “Stop Bullying: Speak Up” is one of several films being released this spring seeking to combat what health and education officials have described as an epidemic of bullying in the nation’s schools.

Sebelius will watch the film – featuring NBA all-star Chris Webber, BMX champ Matt Wilhelm and NASCAR drivers Trevor Bayne, Jeff Burton and Joey Logano – at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Washington, D.C.

Afterward, government officials, educators and Cartoon Network representatives will talk with students about “Speak Up” and bullying.

Cartoon Network will broadcast the documentary for the first time on March 18.

“Our ongoing research and direct conversations with kids told us plainly that bullying was a major issue most kids believed they could do something about it if given the right tools for dealing with it,” said Stuart Snyder, president and chief operating officer for Cartoon Network. “This inspired us to create the ‘Stop Bullying: Speak Up’ campaign nearly two years ago and we hope that ‘Speak Up’ is a program that families will watch together.”

Meanwhile, a campaign continues to persuade the Motion Picture Association of America to change the “R” rating for “Bully,” another documentary, to “PG-13.”

The filmmakers initiated the protest, but have largely been aided by a teenager girl from Michigan who is circulating a Change.org petition that, as of early March 14, had about 300,000 signatures.

Some of the more prominent supporters of the rating change include celebrities Meryl Streep, Justin Bieber, Johnny Depp, Ellen DeGeneres, Demi Lovato, New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees and 26 members of Congress.

The concern with the rating is that the teenage audience for whom the film was intended can’t see the movie.

Streep is co-hosting a New York screening of the film with attorney David Boies, who has led the effort to overturn California’s Proposition 8.

Watch Ellen DeGeneres talk about “Bully.”

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Campaign waged to change ‘R’ rating for anti-bullying movie

When Katy Butler was 12 years old, four boys came up behind her, called her names, shoved her into a wall, slammed a locker on her hand and broke her finger.

“I held back tears while I watched them run away laughing,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do so I stood there, alone and afraid.”

Katy is now in high school in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she had hoped that she and classmates might see a screening of a documentary due out later this month called “Bully.”

The film’s distributor, the Weinstein Company, wants to show the movie in middle and high schools across America.

But the Motion Picture Association of America gave an “R” rating to “Bully,” meaning no one under the age of 17 should see the movie without an accompanying parent or adult guardian.

The MPAA says of an “R” rating: “Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.”

The rating for “Bully” raises questions about whether educators will be allowed to show students the film, which explores an epidemic of harassment and violence among young in the United States. The “R” apparently stems from course language – there are at least six statements of “fuck.”

The filmmakers are urging the MPAA to change the rating to PG-13, but they already have lost one appeal.

Weighing in on the issue in late February, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a longtime civil rights advocate, urged the MPAA to reconsider: “‘Bully’ is a movie that depicts the nightmare that some kids face every day in schools across America. This harsh reality must not be edited especially considering how bullying has become a horrible form of violence. It drives individuals to suicide and even retaliation. Children are afraid to go to school and therefore their educational productivity decreases. It creates violent reactions in our children and they must be allowed to see the movie as it was intended to help raise awareness, increase empathy and change minds.”

Butler, for her part, has launched a Change.org campaign and has found tens of thousands of supporters.

“I can’t believe the MPAA is blocking millions of teenagers from seeing a movie that could change – and, in some cases, save – their lives,” she said. “According to the film’s Website, over 13 million kids will be bullied this year alone. Think of how many of these kids could benefit from seeing this film, especially if it is shown in schools?”

That 13 million statistic came from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Safe and Drug-Free Schools, which says bullying is the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the United States. Filmed during the 2009-10 school year, “Bully” explores how the violence transcends geographic, racial, ethnic and economic borders.

Settlement proposed in federal bullying complaint

The U.S. Justice and Education departments and six student plaintiffs announced a tentative settlement with Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District in a complaint of sex-based harassment.

A proposed consent decree was filed March 5 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The agreement would resolve complaints of sex-based harassment of middle and high school students in the school district. Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 each prohibits sex-based harassment, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes and sexual harassment.

In November 2010, Justice received a complaint alleging that students in the school district were being harassed by other students because they didn’t dress or act in ways that conform to gender stereotypes.

Justice and Education officials conducted an investigation into sex-based harassment and heard from students who reported that an unsafe and unwelcoming school climate inhibited their ability to learn.

A news release from the U.S. government said the departments and the district “worked collaboratively to draft a consent decree addressing and resolving the allegations in the complaints.”

If approved by the court, the consent decree will ensure that the school district:

• Retains an expert consultant in the area of sex-based harassment to review the district’s policies and procedures concerning harassment.

• Develops and implements a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment at the middle and high schools.

• Enhances and improves its training of faculty, staff and students on sex-based harassment.

• Hires or appoints a Title IX coordinator to ensure proper implementation of the district’s sex-based harassment policies and procedures and district compliance with Title IX.

• Retains an expert consultant in the area of mental health to address the needs of students who are victims of harassment.

• Provides for other opportunities for student involvement and input into the district’s ongoing anti-harassment efforts.

• Improves its system for maintaining records of investigations and responding to allegations of harassment.

• Conducts ongoing monitoring and evaluations of its anti-harassment efforts.

• Submits annual compliance reports to the departments.

The consent decree will remain in place for five years.

“Harassment by or against students in schools is unacceptable, and not a ‘rite of passage’ to be endured by anyone,” said Thomas Perez of Justice.

U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said, “Nearly 40,000 students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District will benefit from this consent decree. Schools must be safe places for all students. Bullying of any kind cannot be tolerated. To that end, the Anoka-Hennepin School District took great strides today.”