Responding to an online petition drive launched by an 11-year-old Oak Ridge boy, StudentsFirst has rescinded its designation of state Rep. John Ragan as a ‘reformer of the year” because he sponsored the so-called “the don’t say gay bill.”
“Regardless of when Representative Ragan was named a “Reformer of the Year” by our organization, his introduction of ill-conceived and harmful legislation including HB 1332 — which would have cultivated a culture of bullying — 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 Ragan and rescinded the recognition,” wrote Michelle Rhee, founder and president of StudentsFirst in a post on the education reform organization’s website.
“Simply put, we must hold our “Reformers of the Year” to a higher standard. So let me be very clear — policies that are intended to single out any student based on their sexual orientation and treat them differently are wrong,” Rhee said.
The rescission of Ragan’s recognition by the group Wednesday came five days after Marcel Neergaard, 11, and his parents started a petition at MoveOn.org urging StudentsFirst to do so. On Thursday afternoon, it had collected 55,034 supporters.
In an article posted by Huffington Post, the youth said he was bullied in school because he is gay and turned to homeschooling this year as a result. Ragan’s proposal, he said, would lead to more bullying of school children such as himself.
The original bill labeled “don’t say gay” was introduced three years ago by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. This year’s version was sponsored by Ragan, R-Oak Ridge in the House. No version has passed.
“It is the “don’t say gay” bill, just more homophobic,” wrote Neergaard. “While he crafted this horrifying bill, he received an award… I am against a man receiving an award for trying to destroy all safe places for LGBT students.”
Ragan was not available for comment Thursday, but issued a prepared statement from his office saying he had drafted an amendment rewriting the bill to make it “drastically different than he portrayal of of the legislation by the media and StudentsFirst.” The amendment was never adopted and never published on the Legislative website. The text of the rewritten amendment is HERE.
“I am a staunch advocate of promoting a safe and healthy learning environment for our children and will always fight to protect our kids from bullying and discrimination in our schools,” Ragan said in the statement.
“Needless to say, I do not need a plaque or trophy from an out-of-state special interest group to rest easy at night knowing I have done everything in my power to support parental rights and defend the children and families of our state. ”
In addition to being designated “reformer of the year” by StudentsFirst, the organization’s political action committee contributed $6,500 to his 2012 reelection campaign.
The statement refers to StudentsFirst as “a national lobying organization based out of Sacramento, Calif.” and says “my 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,” Ragan said.