The Defenders

Jamie Nabozny

“Bullying is just the beginning of lifelong injustice, so kids need to know they have to continue standing up against injustice―they will need to stand up both for themselves and for others.”

Jamie Nabozny was born and raised in Ashland, Wisconsin, a small town on the south shore of Lake Superior. Jamie knew he was gay at a young age and told his family, but he didn’t come out to friends and classmates. Nevertheless, his middle school classmates saw him as gay and began bullying him. They started by calling him names, progressed to tripping and shoving him, and then eventually to kicking and punching him. The relentless bullying continued through high school. He reported the abuse to teachers and administrators, but they didn’t do much to stop it. Eventually, the harassment got so bad that he ended up in the hospital, in need of abdominal surgery.

Jamie then moved to Minneapolis, where he discovered that many other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth were enduring similar abuse. He decided to fight back and, with the help of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, an LGBT legal organization, he filed a lawsuit against his school district and school officials. His suit, Nabozny v. Podlesny, led to a landmark legal decision that states that public school officials must protect all students from bullies, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for our society’s most vulnerable members, produced a documentary about Jamie’s experiences titled Bullied. Today, Jamie regularly speaks to school and community groups across the country to share his story and to campaign against bullying. He lives in Plymouth, Minnesota with his husband and four sons.

WHY DOES STOPPING BULLYING MATTER?

Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” The behavior is generally repeated over time and can cause serious, lasting problems for victims as well as bullies. Examples of bullying include making threats, attacking someone physically or verbally, social exclusion, and spreading rumors.

Victims of bullying are at increased risk for depression and anxiety, feelings of loneliness, changes in eating and sleep patterns, and loss of interest in activities―all of which can persist into adulthood. Kids who are bullied are also more likely to experience health complaints and decreased academic achievement. A very small number of bullied youths retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 out of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

LGBTQ youth and those perceived as LGBTQ are at increased risk of being bullied. The 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey showed that high school students who identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual reported having been bullied on school property (27.1 percent vs. 13.3 percent) and cyberbullied at significantly higher rates (27.1 percent vs. 13.3 percent) than their heterosexual peers. The study also revealed that more LGBTQ students reported not going to school at a higher rate than their heterosexual peers because of safety concerns (10 percent vs. 6.1 percent).

WANT TO JOIN THE FIGHT TO STOP BULLYING AND DEFEND THE RIGHTS OF LGBTQ YOUTH?

  • Stop Bullying: View information about bullying from the US government and discover how you can help prevent and address bullying in your community.
  • 10 Steps to Stop Bullying: Review the National Education Association’s guidance on 10 ways students, teachers, and parents can help stop and prevent bullying.
  • Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN): Learn how you can participate in Ally Week, No Name Calling Week, and other activities to support LGBTQ students.
  • PFLAG: Learn how you can support the efforts of the first and largest organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) people, their parents and families, and allies. 

 

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

Discovery Education has teamed up with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Humanity United and Fund II Foundation to bring Speak Truth to Power to the classroom. Speak Truth to Power, a global initiative dedicated to sharing the stories of human rights defenders around the world, provides compelling content for a set of flexible, standards-aligned digital resources, designed to educate, engage and inspire the next generation of human rights defenders.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mission Statement

Led by human rights activist and lawyer Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has advocated for a more just and peaceful world since 1968. We work alongside local activists to ensure lasting positive change in governments and corporations. Whether in the United States or abroad, our programs have pursued justice through strategic litigation on key human rights issues, educated millions of children in human rights advocacy and fostered a social good approach to business and investment.