Jamie Nabozny travels the country educating students and administrators about bullying. On Wednesday, he visited Canton to share his insights.
As the students of McKinley High School sat in Umstattd Hall on Tuesday afternoon watching the documentary, “Bullied,” Jamie Nabozny stayed in the hallway.
Not just because he had seen the film many times, or that the story of how he was both physically and verbally assaulted daily at school for being gay was too painful.
“Every time I’d watch it, I’d feel different,” said the school safety consultant and anti-bullying activist. “One time I got such a sense of sadness that I couldn’t go on stage and be myself. I decided to go out in the hall so I could be in the moment.”
When the film ended with Nabozny winning a landmark federal lawsuit against his middle school and high school administrators for their failure to protect him in school, he stepped on stage to roaring McKinley students and thunderous applause — and, more importantly to him, acceptance.
Nabozny travels the country educating students and administrators about bullying.
He was invited to Canton by Coming Together Stark County after the group’s executive director and Canton City Schools Board of Education member Nadine McIlwain saw his movie earlier this year.
Nabozny shares his personal story through the movie — an agonizing childhood where he was bullied physically to the point of being hospitalized for five days. “Boys will be boys,” school administrators often would respond. Some would insinuate that Nabozny brought the bullying on himself by “acting gay.”
At every school where Nabozny speaks, he asks students questions about their own experiences.
BULLYING IS UNIVERSAL
“How many of you have heard someone say, ‘That’s so gay,’ ” he asked the McKinley students. Nearly every hand in the auditorium went up.
He explained that using the word gay to describe something as stupid or unlikable, is insulting to him, even if the intent is not to insult gay people.
Later he asked, “How many believe that everyone who walks into this school feels safe and welcome?”
Only a few hands shot up.
“The answer is the same at every school,” Nabozny told The Repository following his presentation, noting he speaks to students in rural districts, wealthy suburban ones, and inner-city schools. “It doesn’t matter where you are.”
Nabozny, who presented his program to the Canton district’s middle schools earlier Tuesday, and to Timken High School students Wednesday, encourages students to speak up when someone is being bullied.
“You can do something,” he told the McKinley students. “The loudest voice should not be the bully. If one of you stands up, another one will stand up.”
Following his talk, Nabozny invited students to ask questions. One expressed interest in organizing a club for gay and lesbian students. Another admitted to being bullied and asked for his advice.
Page 2 of 2 - “Talk to someone,” he said. “You know you are not alone.”
Nabozny was later swarmed by students who wanted to thank him and hug him. One, he said, told him, “I think you may have saved my life today.”
“That’s why I do this,” he said, earnestly.
School board member Eric Resnick, who introduced Nabozny as one of his heroes, said he was not surprised by the students’ openness to Nabozny or their willingness to talk about their sexuality.
“These kids live in a world where they see gay and bisexual people living their lives,” he said.
As an openly gay man, Resnick said he experienced bullying in middle school, but grew to feel accepted as a high school student at Timken.
Nabozny said the way to combat bullying is by involving parents and by finding out why a child is acting out in this way.
“We need to get bystanders to become upstanders,” he said, adding that his mother and father were his rocks during the bad times.
“My family let me know on a daily basis that it wasn’t about me. It was about the bullies,” Nabozny said.