Education group agrees to Oak Ridge boy's petition

Education group agrees to Oak Ridge boy's petition, withdraws award for state rep.

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"It says that I can be something, that everyone can be something," Marcel Neergaard said about the decision by StudentsFirst. "It says that I can be something, that everyone can be something," Marcel Neergaard said about the decision by StudentsFirst.
The Neergaard family enjoys playing a board game. The Neergaard family enjoys playing a board game.
State Rep. John Ragan (source: Tennessee General Assembly) State Rep. John Ragan (source: Tennessee General Assembly)

By MONA NAIR
6 News Reporter

OAK RIDGE (WATE) – An Oak Ridge boy and his family are celebrating after taking on a local lawmaker and winning what they call a victory for gay rights.

State Rep. John Ragan was named Reformer of the Year by the education reform group StudentsFirst.

Ragan is also co-sponsor of the Classroom Protection Act. Critics have called the bill a stronger version of the "Don't Say Gay" bill. 

Marcel Neergaard, 11, of Oak Ridge, started an online petition asking StudentsFirst to withdraw its award to Ragan.

On Wednesday, StudentsFirst gave Marcel his request.

"It made me feel like I went from a nobody to a person who had a national organization say we stand by you. All in five days," Marcel said about his accomplishment.

The young boy says he was bullied for being gay. In fact, the sixth-grader was home-schooled this year  because of what was happening in school.

Marcel says moves like the Classroom Protection Act would only make things worse for students who were going through what he did.

"It takes away from their freedom to talk to teachers, because teachers cannot mention the word gay. And they'd have to say something like that subject is inappropriate for your age," he said.

Marcel's petition was signed by more than 54,000 people.

In making its decision to withdraw the award, StudentsFirst founder and CEO Michelle Rhee issued a statement saying Ragan "does not represent the type of leadership we look for in our legislative champions. We have made that clear to Rep. Ragan and rescinded the recognition."

"It says that I can be something, that everyone can be something," Marcel said.

Rep. Ragan responded to StudentsFirst's decision, saying his "top priorities are the views and values of the people of Anderson County. I am accountable to them, not a single-issue lobbying group located thousands of miles away."

"Just because you're a little group does not mean you're nothing. Two and zero are not the same number," Marcel responded.

For Marcel, it's a major step in growing up and getting an important message out.

"That being gay isn't something bad," Marcel said.

While Marcel was home schooled this year, he plans to go back to school next year.

Feeling confident from their victory Wednesday night, the family went out to dinner to celebrate.

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