STANDING UP TO BULLIES — Jamie Nabozny, pictured, above, spoke to S-GI students about combatting bullying, in schools.
SPRINGVILLE — Jamie Nabozny, anti-bullying advocate, spoke, in the Springville-Griffith Institute auditorium, in two sessions, to the freshmen and sophomores in one session and to the entire Springville Middle School, during the second session.
Nabozny grew up in Ashland, Wis., a small town on the shore of Lake Superior. He told the students that, as a middle school and high school student, he was bullied both physically and mentally, on a daily basis, due to his sexuality. His fellow students called him names like “fag” and “queer,” teasing him about how he acted and presented himself. One morning, in seventh grade, Nabozny and his brother were pushed into bathroom stalls and beaten. While this was not the first time the boy had been bullied, he said the violent attack left him rattled. He immediately ran to the office, to report what had happened to his principal, and said he was “shocked” by what the administrator told him.
“Jamie, if you’re going to be openly gay, these kinds of things are going to happen to you,” the speaker said he recalled being told.
Nabozny’s parents demanded a meeting, with the middle school principal. Present at the meeting were the principal, Nabozny’s mom, dad, brother, two of the bullies and one of their mothers. After Nabozny and his family explained what had happened, the principal gave a similar response, to what he had told the boy, earlier.
“Boys will be boys and, if your son is going to be openly gay, he has to expect this kind of stuff.”
Nabozny said that, even after a number of meetings with school administrators, nothing changed. The physical violence escalated to a point at which he was beaten so badly, during his junior year of high school, that he had to go the hospital. His spleen had been ruptured and he had a tear in his stomach, requiring emergency abdominal surgery to repair internal bruising and bleeding.
“I knew, at that point, I could never go back to school.” the speaker said. “If I did, they were going to kill me. I made the decision to run away again. I ended up in Minneapolis, and, after about a week, I called my parents and said to them, ‘This is the deal. I’m not safe there anymore; you know that. Either you let me move here, let me find a place where I can be safe, where I can go back to school, or you don’t see me until I turn 18.”
The speaker said he had attempted suicide on two occasions and ran away from home twice, because of the consistent harassment and abuse. At that point, he found the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council, where he met a lawyer who said that what the school and what the administration did was illegal. After mulling over the idea, Nabozny decided to go through with a lawsuit. The case circulated around the country, garnering national media attention. The jury sided with Nabozny and he received a $900,000 settlement. As an adult, he works full-time, speaking to kids at schools, around the country, on the bullying issue.
“I speak at schools now because I know that students can and will make a difference, if they are told they have to and have the responsibility to do so,” Nabozny explained. “I want to show them how; have them stand up and make a difference, in their school. That why I do what I do.
“I totally believe that students have more power, in their schools, than anyone else,” Nabozny continued. “They have the power to change things dramatically, if they choose to. The reason for that is everything I’ve seen across the country. The schools that have initiatives on bullying, that are student-led and student-initiated, go much farther than anything the administration can put on students, as far as bullying.”
Nabozny shared stories of his trips to other schools and different ways that those schools have dealt with bullying. He noted that, while awareness for bullying has increased, there still are kids committing suicide, as a result. He finished his presentation with a message.
“Making the school environment a better place is a decision that students make, every day. The decision is to stand up for what’s right, to work for what’s right, in your school. Whether that is individually or in groups, I think everyone has a responsibility to do both,” he said. “Be involved in your community but also individually stand up and do what’s right, when you’re called upon.”