03.28.12

How Katy Butler, ‘Bully’ Documentary’s Teen Crusader, Was Bullied

Katy Butler was teased mercilessly when she came out as a lesbian in middle school. Now she’s pushing the petition to drop the film’s R rating and show it to kids who are hurting.

I grew up about 20 minutes outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in Plymouth. It’s a totally different world from Ann Arbor, which is a very liberal college town.

I went to a public school in Plymouth, which wasn’t the greatest.

Seventh and eighth grade were horrible. When I was 12, I came out as a lesbian to my best friend and she decided she was going to tell the whole school for me. That level of betrayal was something new and it was awful. We had been friends since second grade and trusted one another. We’re obviously not friends anymore.

There weren’t too many people who were very supportive of my being a lesbian. Homosexuality wasn’t something people talked about at my school and wasn’t an OK thing for most people there, so they bullied me for it.

I had over 200 kids in my grade and everyone found out and they all had the same attitude about it. I would overhear things in the hallway and people would say things directly to me—even in the classrooms. They would talk about how being gay was “gross” and it was “wrong” and every day people would say, “That’s so gay.” Kids ended up walking down the hallway, calling me names, pushing me against walls and into lockers, knocking my books over. Horrible things like that. Their favorite name to call me was definitely “fag”—that was used a lot. Also: “dyke.”

They ended up slamming my hand into my locker one day and breaking my finger.

Some of the people were school bully-types or kids I didn’t know, but others were people I was friends with. It was horrible. I felt like I was all by myself and I had no one to talk to about it. It was really scary. I would go home and worry about it every day. I have no idea how I lasted middle school. I hated going to school. I missed so much of it. I have no idea how I made it through… My sister and I were pretty close when I was in middle school, so I’d go to her sometimes to escape from it all.

Teachers just don’t know what’s going on because nobody bullies a kid when a teacher is standing there. They know better. I talked to teachers a few times but gave nothing specific, because then the kids bully you even more. Plus, my parents didn’t actually know I was a lesbian—or being bullied—until I was in high school, but when I did finally tell them, they were great.

When I left eighth grade, my parents looked at the high school and thought it was too huge—there would have been 5,000 kids there—and it wasn’t a good climate and I was miserable in middle school, so they thought we should try something else. So I switched schools, and now I go to a private high school in Ann Arbor. It’s wonderful. I really love my new school. They’re so understanding and behind me. It’s great.

Last year, I worked with Michigan anti-bullying legislators to try to push through a better anti-bullying bill, so I’ve been pretty up to speed on what things are going on. I got an email one day saying there was a movie about bullying coming out and I thought it had such a great message.

And then I saw that it was rated R.

I thought that was really counterproductive because it prevents most of the kids that need to see it from actually seeing it. So I went on Change.Org and started a petition to change the movie’s rating to PG-13.

When I first watched the movie, I cried. It’s such a real story. These are real kids and so many kids feel this way, and I’m one of them. We can all relate to this. I think that if bullies see this movie, they’ll see exactly what their actions are doing to these people, without just having a teacher or parent yell at them. If they see this movie they’ll receive this message in a better way.

Meanwhile, the petition on Change.Org really took off. I’m excited to be a part of it because it’s such a personal issue for me. I got to meet Ellen DeGeneres, which was awesome. I couldn’t have done what I did without her and she’s such a huge role model for me. As far as the future goes, I really want to be a political activist later in life. The issue of bullying interests me because it’s so personal, as well as gay rights. I want to work on those things and make people’s lives better.

As told to Marlow Stern.