An interview with “Bully” activist Katy Butler

 
 

When Katy Butler was in the seventh grade, a group of bullies called her names, told her no one liked her, and slammed her hand in a locker, breaking one of her fingers. So when she heard the documentary Bully had received an R rating from the MPAA, meaning that most kids wouldn’t be able to see it, she decided to do something about it. Her petition on Change.org has now topped that half-million mark and is still going strong. And Katy, a 17-year-old out lesbian, is still working every day to open up the conversation on bullying.

AfterEllen.com: You’ve had quite a month.
Katy Butler: Yes! [Laughs]

AE: You started the petition just over a month ago, and as of today, there are more than 488,000 signatures.
KB: It’s been absolutely incredible. It gives me so much hope to know that there are almost half a million people who want to change the climate of bullying in the United States.

AE: And this weekend you received a special GLAAD award.
KB: Yes, I did. This weekend I got a GLAAD award from Harvey Weinstein, which was absolutely incredible. It was so exciting. It was such an honor. He’s incredible.

AE: What’s he like?
KB: He’s actually really sweet! I had heard that he has an attitude, but I think he’s wonderful. He’s so great.

AE: Did you get to chat with Naya Rivera?
KB: Yeah, I did! It was pretty cool.

AE: And you’ve also gotten to go on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Obviously we at AfterEllen.com are fans. What was meeting her like?
KB: It was absolutely incredible. Ellen is one of my heroes. She has been for a while. It was really great to meet her, and she told me she was proud of me, which meant the world to me. She gave me a hug and she told me she was proud of me, and then after the show as we were walking out, she stopped me, which was amazing.

AE: One of the reasons you’re so passionate about this is that you were bullied in middle school. Were there consequences for your bullies at the time?
KB: Unfortunately, no. There was nothing.

AE: So my next question about how you would have liked the school to handle that differently is sort of moot.
KB: [Laughs] Well, I obviously wish the school had talked to these kids. I wish they had talked to the entire school about what was going on. The school I go to now is a private school as opposed to the public middle school that I went to before. Nothing like that has happened at my new school, but if something comes up about bullying, or if someone gets picked on, we sit down as a school, and we talk about it, and we educate each other about it instead of punishment.

AE: Have you had contact with your bullies since this whole thing started?
KB: I have, actually. I had contact with one girl who sent me a message, and said that what I was doing was really awesome, and she was totally sorry for everything that happened in middle school. And she really wants to help with what I’m doing and bring it back to her school.

AE: How did you feel about her getting in touch?
KB: I thought it was incredible. I don’t want these kids to be punished. I don’t want them to be accused of anything. I want them to think about what they’ve done and never do it again. And I think her reaching out to me like that is definitely change.

AE: Part of the reason your bullying incident happened was because you half came out and were half outed in seventh grade, is that correct?
KB: That is true. I told my very best friend, and she very kindly told the rest of the school for me.

AE: That’s horrible. Did the friendship survive after that?
KB: No, it didn’t. We’re not friends today and she still hasn’t talked to me.

AE: Wow. I think it’s OK to write that one off.
KB: Yeah.

AE: I’ve read an essay by a conservative woman who claimed she wasn’t anti-LGBT, but felt that there shouldn’t be LGBT alliances in middle-school and kids shouldn’t come out when they’re that young, because in her mind, it just opens them up to bullying. How would you respond to that?
KB: Well, for me personally, I just wanted to be myself. Everyone else gets to be themselves. Why wouldn’t I?

AE: You actually got to meet with officials from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). How did they treat you?
KB: They treated me like I was a little kid, and they patted me on the head, and said “Good job.”

AE: You’re kidding.
KB: They really didn’t want to hear what I had to say.

AE: That’s infuriating.
KB: Yeah. It really was.

AE: This is over the fact that there are six swear words in the movie – just two more than the official PG-13 limit of four. Did they give you any logic for that decision?
KB: They said they had to be consistent in their ratings system, which everyone knows they haven’t been in the past.

AE: If you’ve seen the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated
KB: Yes!

AE: It makes a pretty good case that films with LGBT content get tougher ratings. Do you think that’s part of what’s happening here?
KB: I do. I mean, that’s what’s going on in our society, so of course it’s reflected in the MPAA.

AE: So you’ve seen Bully a couple of times now?
KB: Yes, multiple times.

AE: Is it hard to watch?
KB: It’s horrible to watch. It’s heartbreaking. Every time I watch this movie, I just cry.

AE: How do you think it will help if more kids and teenagers are able to see it?
KB: Well, I think when the kids who are being bullied get to see this movie, they’ll realize that they’re not alone. In the movie, it says there are over 13 million kids who are bullied every year. And it shows Kelby, who talks about standing up for each other and standing up for ourselves. And I think when kids do that, it will definitely give them hope. And I think when the bullies see it, it might change their minds. They’ll be able to see the direct repercussions of their actions without being yelled at by a teacher and without being punished, and I think they’ll receive that message in a completely different way. And hopefully they’ll think about what they’ve been doing.

AE: Do you think bullies will recognize themselves in the movie when they see it?
KB: I think they do. I think they definitely will. And I think that by having this be a movie, they won’t be punished, and they won’t feel like they have to defend themselves and stick up for themselves, so they can just think about it privately.

AE: That’s a good point. They can process it on their own without feeling like they’re being attacked.
KB: Right.

AE: You’re a junior in high school with a full schedule. How becoming a national figure fitting in with your school life?
KB: My school has been incredible. They’re so supportive. My teachers have e-mailed me my work. I’ve Skyped and called into classes, I’ve texted my teachers. They’re super supportive. They’re like “Go, Katy. Go do it. We know this is so important, so do everything you can, and we’ll do anything we can to help you.” They’re wonderful.

AE: So what’s next for you?
KB: I’m working on the national anti-bullying law. I’ll be back in D.C. in a couple of weeks. So more school-missing. And I will be working to make sure every school takes their kids to go see this movie.

AE: If I want to bug my representatives about the national anti-bullying law to make sure they pass a good one, what should I focus on?
KB: We want to let them know that there are a lot of people who want a national anti-bullying law, and know that it will make a difference. And we want to make sure that this law has enumerations including sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

AE: I read a great quote from you in another interview: “Standing up to bullying is something that a lot of people could do.” You were a little sad and surprised that there weren’t more people stepping forward. What advice do you have for kids on how to take that first step?
KB: Well, first of all, I think that kids should just be themselves and be comfortable being who they are. Stand up to these kids. Stand up for yourself. Standing up for who you are is standing up. I think when one person does it, a lot of other people do it. So we just need that one person. I would love to ask for kids to be that one person.

AE: Other than showing the film, if you could get schools to do one thing to help stop bullying, what would that be?
KB: Educate kids. Educate kids on bullying and on why kids bully. Talk about the different social identities that kids have that they’re bullied on. I think the main think would be education.

AE: Are you thinking about college?
KB: I am. I want to go into political activism.

AE: You have a good head start.
KB: [Laughs] Yes!

AE: Do you have role models in that regard?
KB: Absolutely. Ellen DeGeneres, obviously, is a huge role model. She’s been a role model for me for a long time. My family goes to Disney World every year, and she’s in the beginning of the Universe of Energy ride, and she talks about energy. And that has been so inspiring for me since I was four years old, and I loved her, and actually, about two years ago is when I found out she’s gay. I had no idea! She’s been a role model for me since before I even knew anything. It was great to find out that she was a lesbian and she supported this. I have loved her since I could walk.

Bully is in theaters today, March 30, without a rating from the MPAA.

 
 

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