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A Tennessee teen has been suspended for creating an anti-harassment video in the wake of a student’s death.
In the video, “Welcome to Lebanon High School,” Emily Gipson uses a free-verse spoken word poem to speak out against the school’s hostile climate. Particularly, she criticized the school’s administrators for taking on a lax policy on bullying and letting harassment go unpunished.
“Posters say ‘smile’ and ‘be happy,’ but how am I supposed to be happy in a world—no, in a community—where creativeness is put down, where the people who make fun of others never get punished because ‘there’s no proof,’ or ‘there’s nothing we can do about it,’ or, my favorite, ‘kids will be kids,'” Gipson spoke out in the video. “Sometimes I wonder just how many kids it takes dying to make a difference.”
Last fall, a 15-year old student from Lebanon High School died in an apparent suicide. The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating the student’s death, figuring out whether harassment played a role, according to the Tennessean. Gipson spoke out against students and administrators stigmatizing depression, pointing out that students are repeatedly making fun of suicide instead of taking the issue seriously.
“Pain, isolation, soreness, emptiness, unhappiness,” Gipson said in the video. “All of these words relate to the same one: Depression. Ill, unwell, weak, virus, these words are all reasons you see a doctor. Sicknesses. Depression is a disgusting disease that haunts your soul.”
But after Gipson posted her video on YouTube, the school proceeded to give her an in-school suspension for two days, claiming that she was “trying to incite violence” and that she recorded the video in a classroom without permission. Meanwhile, school principal Scott Walters complained that the video “hurt his feelings” as well as teachers’, according to the Regina Leader-Post.
“I can appreciate the perspective of the video,” Walter explained to the Leader-Post. “Of course, she’s 16, and her perspective is going to be different from mine.”
This doesn’t appear to have stopped Gipson, however. A second video, “Have I Made a Difference Yet?” was also uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 24. Both videos are still online, with nearly 800,000 views on the original recording and almost 20,000 on the second.
“If that’s what it takes to make a difference, that’s what I’m going to do,” Gipson said to WSMV. “Because a difference needs to be made.”
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.