Last year, three Louisiana students were bullied until they took their own lives in three separate parts of the state. Out of this tragedy an even more tragic Tesa Middlebrook Anti-Bullying Act was born.
Tesa Middlebrook was a talented artist, who had just received a full scholarship to Arizona State University. An active participant with the Arts Center in New Roads, Tesa had told directors there she was being harassed by other students because she wouldn’t “talk ghetto”. The Pointe Coupee Central High senior had lost her mother to cancer earlier in the school year, and while her grandmother had complained to the school about the alleged bullying, none of the school officials noticed that Tesa was not in classes that fateful Friday afternoon. She had hanged herself from the football bleachers during lunchtime. Her body was discovered after school was dismissed for the day.
Before Tesa, there was Hannah Pauley of Lake Charles. Her father, Len, says the night of October 25, 2011, will haunt him forever.
“I went out to eat with a friend of mine, and I got home about 9:30 to 9:45 that evening,” Pauley says. “I had gone into my room, and I noticed my drawer—where I kept my pistol—was open. And I walked upstairs. She was in her room, laying on the floor, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
Pauley says his 16-year-old daughter had been raped by her stepbrother, and was being taunted—in person and on Facebook—about the assault. He says boys and girls were daily accusing her of having invited the attack.
Hannah Pauley shot herself after being taunted
Danielle Cox of Bossier City ended her life May 20, 2011. The 15-year-old student at Parkway High School was diabetic, and being regularly ridiculed about her weight. She reached out to one friend, who posted a message asking Danielle’s other friends to text her messages of encouragement. One boy sent her over 150 messages —encouraging her to kill herself. He is awaiting trial for alleged cyber-bullying and assisting with Danielle’s suicide.
Danielle Cox committed suicide after being bullied
What these three children have in common is that the Louisiana Family Forum capitalized on their deaths to rewrite the states anti-bullying laws. Some well-meaning legislators proposed some legislation to improve the outreach for children experiencing bullying in schools. A Tesa Middlebrook Anti-Bullying Act was introduced and a number of child welfare groups backed the measure as originally written. However one group proved more influential that the rest. The Louisiana Family Forum led by the Reverend Gene Mills. Gene has made it his personal mission to persecute gay children. Year after year after year after year he has worked to whittle away at protections for the LBGT community. Even as I type this, their front page proudly displays a crusade to persecute any who even discuss this segment of our society in an academic setting.
State Senator Rick Ward, (D-Port Allen), is the author of the “Tesa Middlebrook Anti-Bullying Act. He says it was named for his former constituent because her story disturbed him greatly.
“I thought something needed to be done to address the problem, and make sure there was a process in place if somebody was facing bullying issues,” he says
Th original bill that was offered by Rep. Smith and Sen. Dorsey-Colomb (originally filed as HB 407 and SB 619), the bill that included the enumerated list of personal characteristics that are often the motivating factors for bullying, was never named after Tesa Middlebrook.
So what happened with this latest Gene Mills intervention? Gene saw these deaths as an opportunity to rewrite the anti-bullying statutes. He and his “legal shill Michelle Ghetti” provided some new legislation for Senator Ward to submit as Act 861 which included Tesa’s name (without consulting her family.) and removed protections for the LBGT community as well as students enrolled in charter schools. Rather than spend resources on trying to reach children in desperate need of help and intervention, Mills took this tragedy as a sign from “his god” that the time to strike back against gay children – was now.
I don’t know if Ward intended to sully Tesa’s memory by introducing a bill that permits bullying gay children to death, and all children in charter schools like the one Tesa was enrolled in, but he should have done more research. He should have talked to her family and asked them about their wishes. As a legislator, he should have done more than rubberstamp a twisted person’s evil agenda.
The Louisiana Department of Education was collecting reason codes for students being bullied. One of the those reason codes was for sexual orientation. Other reasons were as follows:
ELEMENT NAME: Hate/Bias-Related Motivation Code
BATCH RECORD LAYOUT(S) and POSITION(S): Student Perpetrator and Instance, 74; Non-Student Perpetrator and Instance, 74
Last Revised: 10/01/2011
Implementation Date: 08/01/2011
DEFINITION: This is the code indicating what group was begin targeted if Event was motivated by hate or prejudice against a specific group of individuals.
01 – Appearance (Hippies, Goths, Skaters, Punks, Cheerleaders, Athletes, etc.)
02 – Gender
03 – Religion
04 – Disability
05 – Race or Ethnicity
06 – Sexual Orientation
07 – Home Circumstances
08 – Medical Condition
09 – Poverty
99 – Other
Thanks to good ‘Ole Gene the Louisiana Department of Education will be removing all these reason codes. Believe it or not, many children are bullied for sexual orientation reasons that are not actually gay. The new language of the law permits bullies to claim “freedom of speech” as a valid defense of their bullying. If a bully makes this claim, the law is essentially eviscerated. It does not outline under what circumstance a student can make this claim or what types of harassment are allowable. Since the law states it is not the will of the legislature to “infringe on the right of any school employee or student to exercise their right of free speech,” it would appear any student could simply make a free speech assertion and the school would be barred from disciplining a student for any harassing behavior. All this law will do is force traditional public schools to undergo all sorts of training and paperwork that will be useless in the face of a freedom of speech assertion.
From Act 861
2) Nothing in this Section is intended to infringe upon the right of a school employee or student to exercise their right of free speech.
It’s difficult to see how a judge, hearing an appeal of any anti-bullying action, couldn’t interpret this to mean that if a student decides to shout anti-gay hate speech at a student in the hallway, and carrying signs stating they were going to burn in hell for all eternity, that this wouldn’t be considered “free speech.” We allow anti-gay activists to shout hate speech outside military funerals in the name of free speech.
But the real icing on the cake is the last little change Mills had put in to the bill. The Tesa Middlebrook Anti-Bullying Act specifically excludes charter schools. Charter schools do not have to follow any part of this new law, wheras they did before, but LDOE just didn’t enforce their participation. Tesa Middlebrook committed suicide on the campus of her newly opened charter school in Pointe Coupee parish – a school that was opened up over many strenuous objections of most of the members in that community.
I hear Tesa’s parents are suing the charter and the state. If I was them, I would sue too, but I would add the Louisiana Family Forum and Gene Mills to the suit.
While it’s never ok to bully students because they are gay, it’s not just gay students that get bullied for that reason. I was a victim of bullying for much of my elementary and middle school years as well as when I initially went to college to live in the dorms. Like Tesa, I was a transplant from another state, so I was bullied for talking funny, being quiet, trying hard in school, and because I was shy around girls – I was bullied for being “gay” as well. But mostly, I was bullied because I was an easy target and there was no one around who could help me. There were many days when I thought seriously about killing myself, or killing my tormenters, which made me feel sick and evil and want to die for feeling that way. I even tried taking my life a few times. Looking back from the perspective of a few decades separation, from perspective of adulthood, those feelings seem almost silly now, but it was all very serious and very hopeless seeming at the time. Unfortunately these children will never have the privledge I have, of retrospection.
Bullies never grow out of bullying on their own, they simply grow up – into creatures like Gene Mills and Mitt Romney that make it a life mission to mischaracterize their bullying ways as helpful to society. Even in death, they these children can’t escape abuse of their names and stories for political gain.
To despicable people like this I have nothing to say.
To Danielle, Tesa and Hannah I say this.
I will fight for you.