Interview with Jamie Nabozny: From Bullied Teen to Full Time Activist

Jamie Nabozny agreed to this interview shortly after testifying to the bullying task force established in Minnesota by Governor Mark Dayton in an executive order . Jamie Nabozny won a Landmark Lawsuit in Federal court which rocked the public education system with the message that no child should be bullied. This does include people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgendered. The Governor’s Bullying Prevention Task Force aims to have individuals and panels speak in “listening sessions” about the issue of bullying. Through listening, they seek to gather information on effective measures to stop bullying. But, the question I find more curious, is how did Jamie Nabozny go from bullied teen, to a full time activist rockstar?

Q: What were the main points covered in your testimony to the task force on bullying?

A: I spoke about the need to involve students in the process of dealing with bullying.  I explained that students know who’s being bullied, who’s doing it, where, when, how and usually why.  Most adults have very limited information. I told them if students are not part of the solutions they come up with they won’t succeed.  I also talked about the need to teach empathy in grade schools and felt it should be mandated.  I asked they not advise criminalizing the behavior of bullying and to avoid zero tolerance approaches. That about covers it.



Q: When did you start realizing that speaking up/testifying and advocating was something you could do full time? Was the transition from being a bullied teen to activist abrupt or gradual? And what was that change like? Any defining moments?

 A: Well I spent several years speaking out after my case.  I then stopped abruptly because I no longer wanted to be that kid from Wisconsin that got beat up.  That’s how I saw myself.  Making the film “Bullied” helped me to see things very differently and I could no longer continue working my corporate job when so little had change and I knew I had more to add to the conversation. So I left Wells Fargo in the Summer of 2010 and started working full time as a Safe School Advocate.

Q: In school, during the time you were being bullied, did it occur to you that you would consider being involved in activism? Most people don’t expect a documentary to be made about them nor a landmark case to be brought through the courts, but, did you ever consider being an outgoing and outspoken educator to any extent?

 A:Never.  I was quiet and shy and really only thought about surviving.  I thought very little about my future, I just knew it wouldn’t be in Ashland.

Q: When speaking to students and educators on bullying, or preparing for your next educational tour, do you get at all anxious or fearful?

 A: I don’t get anxious or fearful.  I am constantly going over what I do and making sure I’m as effective as possible.  I also have learned that students and educators are different depending on the area of country and if I’m in a rural, suburban, or inner city.  I do spend most of my time in small towns and rural areas. 

Q: (For me, as someone who also grew up and attended high school in a rural area, imagining overcoming the fears and anxieties attached to going to school in a toxic environment, and the fears and anxieties in public speaking while approaching powerful policy makers, is terrifying. The gut fear would be one in the same. Has that feeling subsided with experience?)

A: Yeah.  I am much more confident and less anxious now.

Q: As you are  working to educate and advocate, who motivates you and what drives your activism? How did the transformation from bullied to activist really take shape in the context of your work?

A: What drives me is my contact with youth on Facebook and my website.  Hearing that my film or presentation made a difference for them, helped them come out, or changed their school to be more accepting.  I feel so inspired and ready to take on my next challenge. 

 Q: Bullying in schools is a very precise topic to address amongst all the tribulations Queer identified folks face. What advice do you have for other aspiring activists who want to make a powerful impact? Should the topic be personal, and how much can the little things like just calling people out and educating friends, family, peers help?

 A: I think the most important thing is to be yourself, connect with the audience, and don’t be afraid to ask people to change their behavior and thinking.

Q: Do you think you will continue your career of changing lives for the better? Or are there some “other fish to fry” so to speak?

 A: I don’t know how long I will be blessed enough to keep doing this but I have no plans to stop.  The students need me and as long as I’m making a difference, I will keep doing what I’m doing. 

Q: Has anyone from your school back in Wisconsin apologized for either bullying you or for being an innocent bystander who never spoke up? If so, what did they have to say?

 A: Most of the apologies I’ve received have been from the bystanders.  They say they wish they had stood up or at least reached out to be friends with me.  I’ve also heard from the step-son of a former bully who told me that he is still a bully.  He now bullies his mother, his siblings and himself.  

Q: I see on your website you will be getting married in September 2012! (Congrats by the way!  Is marriage something you had long hoped for, something you saw in your future when you were still coping with the traumas attached to being bullied? What did you think of marriage then? And now in terms of the Minnesota amendment proposed?)

A: I never thought about getting married either legally or otherwise. It really wasn’t on the radar when I was growing up.  I knew I wanted to have a family some day but that even seemed out of reach.  I’m so grateful we are having the debate in Minnesota and I’m very optimistic that my fellow Minnesotans will vote No.  I hope eventually I will be able to legally marry here.  I won’t leave or get married anywhere else though.  This is my home and I will stay and fight for the right to marry the person I love.

 To sum up: any information that helps to form the story from bullied to activist is appreciated. That story is very modest in your biography on your website and that transition is a huge part of who you are and what inspires me the most. The documentary Bullied seemed to sort of skim that transformation.

 A: I believe I have a responsibility to continue the work I’m doing.  I know what young people feel like when they are targeted for who they are. They feel so  isolated and alone.  Knowing that,  I can’t sit back and say it’s up to someone else to help them.  I am that someone else.  Many gay people don’t get involved because they want to forget about their painful memories of their own childhood.  I am so much stronger and more whole because of the work I do.  The little kid inside of me who felt worthless and afraid gets a bit stronger every time I speak out and help others.  It’s truly both a calling and a blessing to do the work that I do.  

 Thanks for taking the time to answer Jamie,

It’s both a pleasure and honor to have the opportunity to hear from you.

Q: One last question. What’s next on your agenda of accomplishments?

 A: I’m working to get corporate sponsorship right now so I bring my message full time to middle and high schools all over this country who need to hear it.

For more on Jamie Nabozny visit his website.

Jacob Woods blogs at Good as Gay and his Facebook Page can be found here.


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