Last week, I wrote a piece for A2Politico about the so-called “anti”-bullying bill passed by the Michigan Senate a couple of weeks ago that is not only not anti-bullying but, in fact, is generally known as “The License to Bully Bill”. In my article, I mentioned two Ann Arbor teenagers who stepped up to respond in a powerful way.
Two Ann Arbor-area students, Katy Butler and Carson Borbely, created a petition on the online petition website Change.org. Their petition is currently the most popular on the site and has picked up well over 500 signatures just in the hour or so that it has taken me to write this piece.
When I wrote that piece, the petition had around 47,000 signatures. Today, the signature tally is over 53,000 and is in the top three most popular petition this week.
Change.org is an open-platform website where anyone can create a petition. As the number of signatures on the petition rises, so does its visibility. Petitions that get enough attention are given extra help by Change.org staff. You can read more about the Change.org model HERE.
The petition created by Katy and Carson quickly rose to that level. Katy, a 16-year-old junior at Greenhills High School is a lesbian, and Carson, a 13-year-old 8th grader is a transgendered male. Both have personally experienced the emotional and physical pain of bullying firsthand. They are part of an online community called “Riot Youth” where teens from the LGBTQQA community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning youth and their allies) can come together and be empowered through skill building, community organizing, networking, support and socializing. Here is the language from their petition:
I’m standing with students across the state of Michigan in urging the Michigan House of Representatives and Michigan State Senate to stop the “License to Bully” Bill and pass real anti-bullying legislation that will protect students. One that doesn’t have special exceptions, but does list the reasons students are bullied most often, and does add reporting requirements.
It’s tough being a student when bullies are allowed to physically and verbally hurt you at school. Unfortunately, because of this new bill passed by the Michigan State Senate, it’s only going to get worse.
On November 2, minutes before voting to pass a new bullying bill, the Michigan State Senate added special language that provides a blueprint for bullies. According to this language, as long as the bullying is done because of “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” then it’s ok.
Michigan students deserve better.
Please pass a real anti-bullying bill. A bill that actually protects students.
Every time somebody signs their petition, an email is sent to Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and “License to Bully” Bill Sponsor Senator Rick Jones. So far, as I mentioned, each of these men has received over 53,000 emails, thanks to the efforts of these two students.
The outcry over the Senate bill was given a tremendous boost by Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer whose eloquent admonition of her Republican colleagues on the Senate floor resulted in two YouTube videos that went viral nationally. Suddenly, Michigan was thrust into the national conversation, highlighting, once again, how Republican legislators in our state have overstepped profoundly.
Katy and Carson’s contribution to this debate has been lost in the national media attention. Two young people, just 13 & 16, have given this issue even more attention than it would have gotten otherwise. More importantly, they have gotten over 53,000 people across the country to do something, to take action against Michigan Senate Republicans. They have gone public with their own stories which you can read at the petition site.
Last week just prior to their two-week fall break, the House of Representatives stepped up to save the Senate from their own stupidity in passing a bill that has put them in the national spotlight. The House version, though imperfect, does not contain language that allows religious and moral excuses for bullying. However, it also does not contain two items seen as essential in the anti-bullying community: enumeration of types of bullying covered by the law and a mechanism for reporting bullying. I spoke with Change.org Organizing Manager Mark Anthony Dingbaum who is working with Katy and Carson on this petition drive and asked him how the House bill changes the focus of the petition. He told me that there is still time for the bill to be improved since the Senate won’t vote on the House version until they return from their two-week break. There are things they are still trying to communicate to Michigan legislators and Michiganders in general.
- The “license to bully” bill will only make things worse for students, not better. By providing special exemptions for bullying done for “religious or moral convictions,” the state Senate has already approved a dangerous bill that basically shows bullies how to get away with hurting students. We can’t let them do it again.
- We want the Michigan Legislature to pass a good anti-bullying bill. One that doesn’t have special exemptions, but does list the reasons students are bullied most often, and does add reporting requirements. A bill that actually protects students.
- It’s important to have student voices in this debate because we’re the ones who will be most directly impacted by this bill. This campaign — of 50,000 and growing — is providing bullied youth across the state of Michigan an opportunity to speak out and get involved in the legislative process. People keep telling us youth “It Gets Better.” Well we’re working to make it better.
I am in awe of this effort by these two teens. The two of them are having a tremendous impact nationally and statewide. Those who work with them describe them as “incredible”, “amazing”, and “inspiring”. They are future leaders and their accomplishment should be lauded.
Unfortunately, Katy and Carson’s story is not being told, even in their own state. So far, even their hometown paper hasn’t written about what they have done and are doing. If you’d like to help them out, please do three things:
First, sign their petition. More signatures is better.
Second, tell your friends and colleagues. The more people that find out about this, the better. Share their petition via email. Put it on your Facebook page. Tweet it. You get the picture.
Finally, encourage local media to cover Katy and Carson’s story. The fact that no Michigan newspapers have written about this is, frankly, unacceptable. I pay attention to Michigan progressive issues far more than most people and I found out about this from a LGBT leader from another state. That needs to change.
UPDATE: I got an email a short time ago from a Deputy Legal Counsel for the Michigan State Senate that had this to say about Carson and Katy:
I covered this bill in the Senate (SB 137, in case anyone wants to look it up on the Michigan Legislature website) and these two came to testify in the Senate Judiciary Committee. They were both poised and articulate, so I second the commendation.
So, media folks out there, these two outstanding teens seem like they’d be great for interviews. How about it???
UPDATE 2: AnnArbor.com has now picked up the story (“Ann Arbor students attract 50,000-plus to online anti-bullying petition”) after someone [ahem] posted it on their Facebook wall and emailed them about it.