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Posted on Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Katy Butler's crusade against bullying should inspire us all to take action

By Tony Dearing

Thumbnail image for Katy_Butler_MRM.jpg

Katy Butler, a junior at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, collected more than half a million signatures in an on-line petition to have the rating of the documentary "Bully" changed from R to PG-13.

Melanie Maxwell I

To hear Katy Butler tell her personal story is heart breaking, which makes it all the more amazing that she now considers her ordeal a blessing.

In middle school in Plymouth, Butler was bullied mercilessly by classmates after she made the mistake of confiding to a friend that she is gay.

As a high school student at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, she has found not only acceptance but - quite unexpectedly - fame. Her crusade on behalf of the documentary “Bully’’ landed her on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show’’ and earned the support of such celebrities as Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep.

Ultimately, she achieved her goal of having the rating of the movie changed from R to PG-13 so that more young people would see it.


Alex Libby, a 12-year-old in Sioux City, Iowa, is among the kids featured in the movie Bully. Attacked just for being different, Libby is subjected to daily beatings from classmates on his school bus.

Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Co.

In an interview last week with, Butler said she’s now seen the movie seven times, and has cried through it every time. “It’s 100 times more painful to watch now,’’ she says, because she’s actually met some of the young people who are shown being bullied, including Kelby Johnson, a transgendered teen from Oklahoma whose experiences painfully reminded her of her own.

“When I saw Kelby’s story in the movie and his mom talking, I was crying because it was so personal,” Butler said. “It hit home.”

To understand the nightmare that Butler lived through in middle school, one only need read her recent account of it in The Daily Beast. We can only admire the personal strength that not only carried her through those years, but led her to become an advocate on the state level, and eventually on the national level.

Readers of were first introduced to Butler last fall when she became politically active after the state Senate passed an anti-bullying bill that included an exemption for those who claimed their behavior was based on religious or moral convictions. The exemption, which opponents called a “blueprint for bullies,’’ was later removed.

This year, Butler found a new cause to champion, one that thrust her onto the national stage. Determined to make sure as many young people as possible had a chance to see the “Bully’’ documentary, she launched an online petition demanding that the move’s rating be lowered to PG-13. The Motion Picture Association of America had given the film an R rating because of the language in it.

She had hoped that her petition on would attract 50,000 signatures. Within a month, it had more than 500,000. Not only did the efforts of her and others ultimately result in a PG-13 rating, they also generated considerable national attention around both the documentary and the issue of bullying.

Butler told that’s why she’s now considers the bullying she experienced to be a blessing. “I’m glad that it happened to me, and I can take it and do something good with it,” she said.

Locally, the documentary opens at the State Theater on Friday. This movie offers an opportunity to create greater awareness and community discussion around one of the most important issues facing children today.

We hope both young people and adults will take the opportunity to see “Bully’’ and talk seriously about it. Young people need to understand how devastating it is to be the victim of bullying, and create peer pressure against it. And adults need to become more attuned to the issue and more willing to intervene on behalf of a child being bullied.

In her online petition, Katy Butler describes the movie as one that can not only change lives, but perhaps even save lives. She has done her part to try to spare others from the hellish torment that she went through, and we commend her for that. As a community, we owe it to her and all students to take this issue every bit as seriously.

The trailer for 'Bully'


Unusual Suspect

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

All of today's problems are due to the fact that fewer kids are playing baseball.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 10:09 p.m.

The issue here is not so much bullying as coping skills and a hot line to "the teacher" or "mom" is not going to help. This is a victim movie teaching kids that OTHERS are always in control - first as aggressors, then to come in and fix it and others still to make a new rule or program to soften his life. Where is this boy in all that? This line of thought is just one more nanny state DEAD END. This boy needed to hit the gym and BULK UP! Go take some martial arts classes, get a sense of humor and has some fun with it. Even if he did all that and had more OPTIONS physically, the solution would not be complete. What happens when he is no longer picked on and it's on to the next crisis someone needs to fix? How is he going to deal with a blown exam in college or a bad day at the office later? Bad days are not going to go away - they just change. He needs to understand that he is not powerless and the biggest change he can make is in himself and how he deals with adversity.

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 6:08 p.m.

On a daily basis, we subject our children to conditions that would earn an adult a long prison sentence. Try not to see students like Katy as labels often subject to extreme bullying. See them as individuals who have to face the worst of what everyone has to face. Political correctness demands that we excuse the bully because "everyone" has the right to a basic education. Instead, we should demand accountability from each individual and from each individual's parents. Criminal behavior against our most vulnerable citizens must result in removal of the criminal from the general population. We moan about how the American public school system lags behind so many in the world, despite having the lion's share of the world's best universities. Well, here's your answer: it's because we coddle the bully rather than demand responsibility. The entire system is dumbed down because we think of children as incapable of responsible behavior.

Ron Granger

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

The only bullies I ever had trouble with in school worked as teachers. But that was nothing compared to the bullying that is part of the corporate world. I have not seen the movie. How does it teach kids to respond to bullying from unassailable sources, like your boss or VP?

Robert Granville

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:39 p.m.

The only effective anti-bullying method starts at home. Build your kids up from the inside and they won't be so caught up by what happens on the outside.

G. Orwell

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3 p.m.

I commend those that want to reduce bullying. However, we should NEVER allow this as an excuse to limit freedom of speech. As some politicians are attempting to do. At the same time we are trying to reduce bullying, we should also teach children how to handle being bullied. Being bullied helps builds one's character. It is a part of the learning process. As Katy Butler can attest to.

Unusual Suspect

Tue, Apr 17, 2012 : 5:25 p.m.

"However, we should NEVER allow this as an excuse to limit freedom of speech." Absolutely correct. The bogus concept of "hate speech" is the way they are trying to do this. They are on the way to making it illegal to disagree with anybody, and pushing the illegitimate concept that you have a right to go out in public and to be free from all offense.

Laura Jones

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 7:08 p.m.

Bullying is not a free speech issue - its about physical assault that is accepted because both parties are children. People can say what they like as opinions, but you do not have the right to libel someone or slander them and certainly not to assault them.


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 2:31 p.m.

We absolutely should demand correct behavior from our students this would include no bullying. On the other hand it it wrong to teach the bullied student to only seek resolution from outside him or her self. We should teach the bullied student methods to combat the bullying with at least the same level of energy that we try to stop bullying. Otherwise we risk a population of people growing up with a perpetual sense of victimhood. No one should be bullied but overcoming that bullying can actually forge a stronger person

Dog Guy

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

Who has not been bullied? Who has not been a bully? The vehemence of "grassroots" support for Bully suggests an organized intent to overthrow human nature with the force of law. I do not need to see this movie or the uniforms of its supporters to recognize it as agitprop.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 10:19 p.m.

I had an amazing childhood and was never bullied. In fact, I easily pushed aside bullies and laughed as I did it. This is about personal responsibly, authentic self esteem that comes through accomplishment (not some kook handing out toughies), toughening up and personal power. Having a great parents - especially a great father helps as well - even better if he was well educated and has served in the armed forces. Also helps to have a religious foundation that puts suffering and personal sacrifice in perspective. I agree with those who have written that political correctness has warped children severely and crippled their ability to solve their own problems. I may go as far is to write that the PC world is the realm of the week and ineffective. ....go tell the teacher!

Laura Jones

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 7:06 p.m.

Have you been bullied to the point of believing you were better off dead? Yeah, didn't think so. And for the record, this is not about little bullying incidents, this is about serious and vicious behavior that no adult would have to accept or tolerate because police could be called and law suits filed to stop it. And I have never been a bully like this - kind of sad if you have and thinks its in any way normal.


Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 3:05 p.m.

The problem is that kids don't know how to treat a bully.Parents teach their kids to be way too passive.I was bullied every year in school until high school.But when the bullies found out I wouldn't take their abuse it stopped.I won some and lost some but it did stop.My kid was being bullied in school till the point he was scared to go to school.I told him how to handle bully and he wouldn't be in any trouble at home.He followed my advice and the bullying stopped

Ron Granger

Sun, Apr 15, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

If the movie was so important, why didn't the producers just release it on the internet? Oh right - it would have cut their profits. Job 1 was profits, not some civic duty.


Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

You nailed them Ron! There's no better way to make a ton of cash than by making an obscure, independent film about bullying. It's a route to phenomenal wealth taken by many.

Urban Sombrero

Mon, Apr 16, 2012 : 12:50 a.m.

Are you a South Park fan, too? They made a point of this in their most recent episode. I have to agree, though. If you want to disseminate something to the widest audience possible, put it online. It's free and easy for anyone to access. The fact that they released it in theaters, after battling the MPAA for the rating, just proves they're more concerned with the bottom line (aka, profit) than they are with the actual message they're promoting. What do you expect, though? It was produced by the Weinsteins. The same people who put out films like "Our Idiot Brother" and "Clerks II". They're not interested in social change, they're interested in monetary "change".