This Gay 12-Year-Old Reveals Challenges For LGBT Youth In America

“I am often picked on because of who I am,” 12-year-old Marcel Neergaard writes in a new op-ed published on The Huffington Post“Sometimes being openly gay is like having a sign above my head that flashes ‘Different’ in neon colors.”

The article paints a heartbreaking portrait of what life is like for too many gay youths in America.

Neergaard made national headlines last summer when he helped squash Tennessee’s homophobic  “Don’t Say Gay” bill. But now, nearly a year later, he claims the law is still being used to trample his free speech and to create a negative learning environment at school.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill was authored by Tennessee Rep. John Ragan. Had it passed, it would have forbidden teachers from talking about being gay in classrooms, and required principals and guidance counselors to call parents if a student mentioned anything about being gay to them. Last summer, Neergaard wrote a petition against the bill that received over 50,000 signatures.

At the time, Neegaard was being home-schooled. Excessive bullying had forced him out of public school. Last fall, he returned to public school for seventh grade. But the bullying persists.

“In chorus we are going on a field trip to King’s Island, which they do every year with seventh and eighth graders,” Neegaard writes. “The other boys in chorus refuse to sleep in the same room as me for fear of being ‘turned gay.’”

He continues: “The teacher pulled me aside and explained how the boys didn’t want to be in the same room with me because I’m gay … Then she told me the principal had called my parents to talk about this. It was upsetting. I was mad because if the same thing had happened to a student who was not ‘out’ at home, the principal would have outed them to their parents. That’s just not safe.”

“When it came time to sign up for rooms, all the boys except me were together,” he writes. “The principal pulled me aside to explain that I would have my own room on the trip. He didn’t say why, but I knew… they don’t like me.”

Neegaard also writes about the things other students say to him on a daily basis, including: “Who did you turn gay for?” “When did you turn gay?” “How do you know that you’re gay if you haven’t been on a gay date?” “Do you want to be a girl?” and “You’re gay because you act gay.”

“The protection of the classroom doesn’t seem to extend to me,” he confesses. “One day I was talking with my friends about Zachary Quinto being gay. An otherwise supportive teacher stopped me and told me ‘talking about being gay in the classroom is illegal in Tennessee.’”

The teacher, of course, was wrong. She was referring to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the very bill Neegaard had worked tirelessly the summer before to kill.

“I have found teachers are quite confused because of Ragan’s bill (the Don’t Say Gay Bill),” Neegaard writes. “They’re too busy teaching to know if it passed, so they just try to be safe. Meanwhile, I am not allowed to talk about myself with my friends.”

Yet despite his daily woes, Neegaard remains determined to create a more hopeful future for others.

“I know I am not alone in my struggles,” he writes. “I also know that it’s not okay to be called out for being different.”

“I’m not the only gay youth in Tennessee,” he continues. “I’m not the only gay kid in Oak Ridge. I’m not even the only gay student in my school, I’m just someone who is standing up. I know I have written about bullying many times, but this is still happening to kids like me everywhere and I refuse to let it continue.”

He concludes the op-ed with a challenge to the rest of us:

“We also need people to encourage our representatives, who are supposed to represent us, to pass bills like the Dignity for All Students Act and federal legislation such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I want to make sure other kids do not have to go through what I have.”

“This week I will be in Nashville for Advancing Equality on the Hill Day talking to my senator and (hopefully) representative about making schools safer for kids like me,” he writes. “What will you do?”

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  • TVC 15

    What a great, and courageous kid. I love when he said, “this is still happening to kids like me everywhere and I refuse to let it continue.” If only more adults had the balls to say and do as he’s doing. I wish him only the best.

  • Cam

    What an amazingly brave kid. Good for him.

  • Gordon

    That kid have nore balls than most men, straight or otherwise, have hanging. That takes oldfashioned resolve to hang tight like that. Hats off to him! Bravo!

  • nyc0123

    Are there scholarship programs available to fund these kids future educations? Brave kids, need support too.

  • redcarpet

    Out at 12? Wow, it’s hard to imagine and I’m under 30. God Speed kid. God speed.

  • Polaro

    The future looks brighter. Here’s one example why.

  • Kieran

    This is outrageous. If Marcel was a black student and the white students didn’t want to share a room with a black kid, would the shool go along with that bullshit too?

    How about the school making it clear that any students that have a problem with Marcel for being openly gay can stay in the classroom or at home for the field trip? If that means that Marcel goes on the field trip alone, so be it. Its disgusting that the school went along with this emotionally traumatizing segregation. His parents should consider suing the school district for inflicting emotional scars on their son.

  • corey

    I knew I was gay before 12 and I never thought it was wrong. Even being brought up Catholic, though not as wacko is some Christian sects/denominations, I was never taught it was wrong. People started called me fag and making fun of my feminine gestures, even calling me “Munroe” from that TV sitcom with that femmy guy who played Munroe. I know this happened decades ago, but I sure wish I had more guts. Besides that, he must have a very supportive family, and that’s all someone needs to help keep you in the mindset that you are worth it and society won’t whittle away your self esteem. When I came out in high school, people didnt believe me at first, which shocked me because so many years people were calling me “fag” and other things. Even in 12th grade some people didnt believe me. I think it has something to do with people not realizing you don’t choose to be gay, just like if your heterosexual, there isn’t a moment when you say to yourself; “I think I want sexual feelings for Joe”.., it happens slowly, no one even notices how or when they started being attracted to someone, not on a sense like a moment on time. You can say I realized I was gay at 10, and the counter to that would be a straight person realize they were attracted to the opposite sex. Gays don’t put much thought into making some big decision. That’s what I think Heteros don’t understand, we go through the same ” motions” or stages. Heteros think about it far more than gays. Hope that made sense.

  • Silke

    Hi Marcel, you are a brave and remarkable young man and all I can say is: I wish you so much happines for your future.Stay as you are. You`ll make your way!

  • scotshot

    A very brave young man.

  • Daniel-Reader

    Americans still have First Amendment rights. There is no gay exception to First Amendment rights. Do a civil suit against any politician or government official who violates your constitutional rights.

  • jmmartin

    Probably the most telling question the boy was asked was, “When did you turn gay?” since it indicates the perennial refusal of many Americans to believe that person is, as Lady Gaga so nicely put it, “born this way.” This stumbling block is what led to all of the “reparative therapy” crap lgbtq people have endured over the years, just as it became a cornerstone of evangelical and other fundamentalist religious positions, including the Catholicism of Rick Santorum and conservatives within the Roman faith who spent and spend millions on defeating same sex marriage and adoption. (Apparently, the dogmatic view is that “God would not create something he finds abominable.”) The importance of this boy’s coming out at such an early age is thus its being counter to an enduring stereotype and its flaunting of the conventional wisdom that we can change our essential nature. With others who have commented here, I applaud his bravery and hope he does not have to suffer, as many have, from simply being himself.

  • Maximiliano5458

    I truly appreciate his bravery in fighting for what is right. Even here in Canada where from Municipal, Provincial to Federal Legislation we have the legal protection, we still face discrimination, questioning and separation for being what is called “Different”. Keep fighting and you’ll be a hero for many generations to come.

  • scott609

    What a remarkable young man. I’m glad he has some friends to hang out with in school, I know it can get very lonely.

    The part in all this (bullying in schools) that I don’t really understand is the faculty and admin staff at these schools. I understand kids are young and often stupid, but why would these teachers let this bullying continue? You know they witness it, why are the bullies never punished.

    I know TN has a concealed weapons law, maybe some day they will let all the gay kids carry.

  • drivendervish

    Such a heartwarming story it really made my day! Clearly his parents are amazingly cool to allow their son to come out to the world. Even accepting parents would most likely counsel him to wait for a few years. I don’t know for sure but it’s likely that he is coming out even before he’s had sex which is incredible. At age 12 I had feelings but it took 10 more years until I was sure enough to tell my parents. If I told my parents I was gay at age 12 they would have put me in a mental hospital until I was 18. I agree with Kieran that his school should not have caved in to the parents of the boys who said they wouldn’t sleep in the same room. I say parents because I am pretty sure it was their parents who told them what to say so they could learn that they would get validation from their parents for being scared and hateful of somebody different. I hope Queerty is able to give us occasional updates as this boy grows up to rule the world!

  • Richard

    7th and 8th grade are the worst for this kind of stuff. I almost couldn’t bear those years and the horribleness of my classmates. It’s a cliché, but it does totally get better. Keep your chin up.

  • Merv

    Marcel, you are one in a million, but don’t let it go to your head. Stay humble.

  • mezzacanadese

    It is outrageous that something like this is allowed to happen. Marcel is certainly a lot more courageous than the so-called leaders of this school. My heart breaks for him. I don’t believe in people suing for just any reason, but I think that in this case, perhaps only a lawsuit brought by his parents will bring a resolution. As for his fellow students, they should be ashamed of themselves.

  • balehead

    He’s a total bad-ass!!…I say this once again…He should be on ELLEN’S SHOW…..

  • Nikkidane

    What a great kid. He has such positive self esteem. His parents should be applauded for giving this child such a strong positive sense of self. Most kids at his age are too afraid to speak honestly for fear of what others will think. I can not tell you how much I admire this child. I was certainly not that brave….ever.

  • Dakotahgeo

    I am amazed and my heart is warmed by this gutsy young man! He will do marvelous things in his life, whereas his Neanderthal toadies will be scrubbing floors for sustenance. Marcel will indeed have a fulfilling life with many victories!

  • guygoodguy

    Congradulations of what you do. I am a victim of à homophobic family and they destroyed my all life. If I can do something to help you, let me know. I am living in Canada, I have 50 years old and I have no more friends, no more family, no more job, no boyfriend no money. Imagine, my family pretended to like me and in my back they were destroying my life. I never realized that was my family who did à such thing, I had a blind trust in them. I am serious, If I can do something to help you, I will be very happy. I can share my horror story to support you, I will do anything to support you. You can write me at [email protected] and my name is Guy. Don’t give up, we need more people like you.

  • Bopper1

    …this kid is amazing and is the product of all who came before…he’s the living embodiment of a new generation having the faith and courage to be themselves…he and all those like him, demand our absolute support and encouragement…when I was his age, I wanted to kill myself…times, thankfully, are changing…

  • Maude

    Doesn’t anyone else see the other wrong here?

    He’s only twelve years old!

    Does gay pedophilia come to mind?

    Is he having sex? If so, with whom?

    If he must go public, where are the responsible adults?

    Leaving him out there on his own, to defend himself against not only kids, but misinformed or uninformed adults is the greater crime.

    Everything about this story smacks of unlawful use of an unprotected minor.

  • speedoboi23

    What an amazing, intelligent & well spoken young man!
    The world needs a lot more individuals like yourself. I just hope & pray that some of the right wing politicians in both our countries (USA & Australia) read this and it brings a tear to their eye as it has too mine!!! Well done Mate.

  • EGO

    Kudos to Marcel Neergaard. I knew I was attracted to men when I was in the crib in the early ’40s in Idaho. We need to remind these homophobes/religious fanatics that our rights are “inalienable” including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, etc. What these institutions are doing is an alienable action which is against the constitution making it unlawful. Let us support Marcel and others in this discriminatory act. A big fine that costs these institutions a lot of money for these alienable actions is one way to stop some of them.

  • LadyL

    @Maude: What in the hell are you talking about?
    Why should “gay pedophilia” come to anyone’s mind reading this story? Are you implying that the only way a gay 12 year could know his feelings is if he has had sex with an adult?? Are you supporting the clueless assumptions of those in Marcel’s school who think that way?
    Either way that is an incredibly misinformed and destructive argument. It feeds the ignorant view that one truly can be “turned” gay, not to mention the suspicion that gay men are essentially pedophiles trolling for “converts.”
    You also seem to be saying that Marcel’s parents are irresponsible for letting him go public with his story and accuse them of abandoning him to his tormentors. But why do you assume this? This boy could not write with such clarity and honesty had he not been empowered by supportive, loving adults who have encouraged him to stand up for himself and others. The most powerful voice in this story is Marcel’s–that’s why he’s doing the talking. Suggesting that his parents should share the blame for the bullying he’s experienced is ridiculous.

  • LadyL

    I join others here in expressing pride at the courage of Marcel. I am so humbled by him; when I was twice his age I didn’t have half his strength of character. (Still trying to fit in, still trying to pray it away, still afraid of the rejection of family and friends…and blah, blah, blah.)
    I want to say though, that while I am angered by the behavior of his classmates, I can’t help feeling for them too. Their ignorance and stupidity is, after all, an expression of the ignorance and stupidity of the adults surrounding them.
    And as Marcel rightly points out, he’s not the only gay youth in his school. I’m concerned especially for the closeted gay kids who feel they have no choice but to join others in throwing Marcel under the bus or suffer the same cruelties and indignities. What silent anguish are they enduring?
    And finally it should be said that there must also be some lgbt adults in that school, somewhere among the teachers and administrators. How sad and shameful that they can’t bring themselves to stand up for kids like Marcel, since doing so would mean standing up to other adults.

  • Dakotahgeo

    @Maude: WHAT? Please sober up before posting comments on a serious subject! Have you seen the family dwelling that he and his parents live in? The family is well above providing a great home for him. We are talking about jack-asinine conservative jackalopes whose only call seems to be to criticize! Please pull over to the side of the road and let Progressive civilization on through!

  • Paulie

    Wow! Such courage in a 12 year old. When I was that age, I was so confused, depressed, and naive about everything, it was awful. And here’s Marvel standing up for himself, and other LFBTQ kids in his school, and everywhere…
    Thank You, Marcel href=”#comment-812317″>LadyL:

  • jockjack5

    @ Maude

    You stated:

    “Is he having sex? If so, with whom?”

    Were you drunk when you wrote this? It could not be further off-topic than the general thrust of this entire article.

    Not that it is any of your business (or mine), but he is a fetching young lad and looks quite fit. I suspect he is or would be quite popular with some of his gay Boy Scout friends in Tennessee.

    Both he and his parents seem very well grounded and I admire the courage of both.

    Good luck Marcel…. you go gurrll!!

    ps. I despise the name Maude; always have, always will.

  • Maude


    What you despise or do not despise is irrelevant.

  • Maude

    To the best of my ability, I will try to address all the relevant remarks stated here these last few days with respect for all of you who have had to endure the insults and worse that Marvel has experienced, as have I.

    My words are born from an early life that Marvel may or may not have had to experience.

    Most of our brothers and sisters believe that “They were born gay”, and I accept their word. However I can not swear to that for myself as I was molested by a male adult, before I even knew what sex was.

    The so-called, abuse continued until his death when I was sixteen.

    At first I didn’t object because (as I have learned in therapy), I was “starved for male affection” because I never met my father who was killed in Korea.

    In all candor, I must admit that as far back as I can remember, when I learned what it was that we were doing, and could put a name to it, I enjoyed it.

    Until I entered my teen years, sex gave me comfort without pleasure….and when I gave him pleasure, he gave me love. Fair exchange. I thought.

    In Jr.high school, I was promiscuous with both sexes…. with a decided preference for males, and in High School I defined myself as 100% gay.

    My point is, if I had not been molested continuously as a child, would I have been straight?
    Would I have gone on to marry and raise a family?…
    …and so many other “Would I haves?”

    And finally, Did my molester and protector, save me from a criminal life, by giving me the ‘comfort’ I needed to lead a ‘normal’ rather than perhaps a prison existence?, as has been suggested by some of the ‘experts’.

    Or was his lust, and later, my own, a hindrance to my want for a family of my own? I will never know.

    I hope Marvel is, who he is, and who he will become, because of his good character, not because of undue influence while he is still a child.

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