FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – Jamie Nabozny suffered abuse at the hands of bullies for years.
Taunted because he is gay, Nabozny was beaten, urinated on and suffered one indignity after another while a public school student in Ashland, Wisconsin.
He sought help from his principals and school leaders but he said they failed to protect him.
Nabozny fought back against his school leaders — in court — and won a $900,000 jury verdict.
His story is the subject of a new documentary called “Bullied: A Student, A School and A Case that Made History.” The Southern Poverty Law Center produced the video as part of its’ Teaching Tolerance series. The Broward Sheriff’s Office contributed money to make the film. It had its premiere on Wednesday night at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale, in front of an audience from BSO and the Pride Center at Equality Park.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office plans to show the film in schools, to youth groups and to any organization that feels it would be beneficial, in hopes of stemming the tide of bullying in schools.
“We’re going to get it out to as many people in as many places as we can,” Sheriff Al Lamberti said.
The movie made an impact on 16-year-old Emily Abel, a junior at Northeast High School. She told CBS4’s Carey Codd that she can identify with Nabozny because she, too, is bullied at school. She is transsexual.
“If he can get through all of that then I think whatever the world is going to throw at me can’t possibly be that bad and I can make it through,” Abel said.
Lecia Brooks, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the goal of the film is shine a light on bullying and make sure young lives are protected.
“We want to remind schools and teachers and administrators that they have a duty to protect,” Brooks said. “Students based on any characteristic need to be safe.”
Brooks also said that bullying has changed with technology making it even more difficult to stop. She said students are bullied through text messaging and social media.
“The bullying and harassment is expanded beyond just the bullying and the victim,” Brooks said. “Now the whole school is involved. The whole neighborhood’s involved.”
Sheriff Lamberti has made preventing hate crimes a hallmark of his office after Broward County led the state in that category several years in a row.
Lamberti said if a student is bullied they should step forward and tell someone, rather than suffering in silence and possibly contemplating ending their life.
“No child should ever face that kind of pressure where the only way out is to take their own life,” Lamberti said. “I’m sorry that’s not acceptable.”
Enbar Cohen understands what Nabozny endured. When she was in high school in Miami and struggling with her sexuality, a fellow student pasted flyers with her personal information written on them around school. The flyers outed Cohen as gay and said she would perform sexual acts.
“It was a targeted act and it really affected me because I was still struggling with myself and my sexuality and accepting who I am,” Cohen said. “Someone outed me and that’s my process and my process alone.”
Cohen survived and came out after the episode. Helping young people who are in similar situations has become her mission. She teaches teachers to recognize the signs of bullying and to assist students in need.
Cohen believes schools can do more and parents can, too.
“It’s the parent’s responsibility to teach their child acceptance — that everyone is ok,” Cohen said. “It definitely begins at home –teaching tolerance. Kids are not born with hate. Hate is taught. Hate is observed.”
From Jamie Nabozny’s story on the big screen to Enbar Cohen’s story from the school hallways of South Florida, authorities and experts say the bullying problem needs to be solved to save students from being attacked verbally or physically.