Out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who chairs the Education Committee, is calling for Michael Long, who heads the state’s Conservative Party, to step down as board chair of Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Brooklyn after a 13-year-old student there, Daniel Fitzpatrick, hanged himself on August 11.
The suicide came, the Daily News reported, after the youth was relentlessly bullied about his “weight, grades, and innocent heart.” The boy’s suicide note said the school did nothing to stop the bullying despite his pleading with school authorities. “I gave up,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “The teachers, they didn’t do anything.”
“Michael Long has been negligent in his duty to protect Daniel from bullying and, in fact, holds some responsibility for his death because of his long standing, staunch opposition to anti-bullying education,” Dromm said in a written release. “Mr. Long should not serve on any school board because of the hatred and malice he has shown toward many groups of people in our society but especially against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.”
Dromm cited Long’s opposition to the state anti-bullying bill, the Dignity for All Students Act, that passed in 2010 over Conservative Party objections to including LGBT protections. An opponent as well of the Harvey Milk High School for LGBT youth, Long, in 2003, wrote, “What next? Maybe we should have schools for chubby kids who get picked on.”
Dromm called on Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of the Diocese of Brooklyn to remove Long from his post at the school. Calls to the school were referred to the diocese. Calls to the diocese’s press office were sent to a mailbox that was full and not taking messages.
Long, in an extensive interview with Gay City News, said that Dromm “doesn’t know what happened here — all the work and care the teachers and principal gave to little Danny. We were aware Danny was a troubled kid. I’m not blaming him. We took him back. Thought we could help him. He was a good boy, but he really had lots of issues. Guidance counselors made recommendations that he get professional help and the family wouldn’t follow them. I’m not blaming them. Principal spoke to me. I’m not saying some kids didn’t make a face at him or there weren’t incidents. He was searching for someone to like him. He would latch on to someone and then they might push him away. He was failing badly and the principal called me in and said, ‘I’m going to call his father in and recommend he go to another school.’ The father agreed. He wasn’t coming back. Even his note he says he was happy he was leaving.”
Long said the school “has a whole anti-bullying program. We brought in the precinct. The teacher’s handbook includes it.”
As for his opposition to the state’s anti-bullying law, Long said, “I have opposed legislation that I believe sets up separate categories of people. We don’t need special legislation for skinny people or fat people. Bullying happens in every school. These teachers and this principal reacted to every incident with Danny or every other kid. The principal does intervene. She is caring. She knows every kid by first name.”
The boy’s father posted an anguished 18-minute video on Facebook (at goo.gl/OTCEVj) mourning his son’s death and demanding that bullying end, including against gay kids.
Long, who tangled with this reporter over the city gay rights bill which Long as a councilmember opposed in the 1980s, said, “We have our differences. But no anti-gay stuff is going on in the school. If it was, it would be corrected. We won’t tolerate it.”
Howie Katz, who headed up the push for the state’s hate crimes law, said in an email message, “Mr. Long has consistently been the driving force against any piece of pro-LGBT legislation that we tried to pass in NY State. Fortunately, once the first bill (Hate Crimes) passed, his influence in blocking other bills became less and less effective. But he never stopped trying. Despite his comments about Councilmember Dromm, it is clear that no educational institution deserves to have this bigot on their board, especially as a chair.”
Asked about how the school community is feeling in the wake of the boy’s suicide, Long said, “We’re getting a lot of hate mail and threatening phone calls — including to any teacher they can identify. Every teacher has been intimidated. We’re organizing meetings with parents and teachers and hopefully pupils. Have social workers coming in.” He charged it was “unconscionable” for the Daily News to publish the boy’s suicide note identifying other students in it. “The sad part is there is a dead young man here who really needed help,” he said.
Dromm reacted to Long by saying, “They should have protected Danny. What did they do with the boys who were bullying him — the boys who were the problem? Nowhere have I seen what they did to punish the bullies. He seems to be re-victimizing Danny. Who is going to be held accountable for this failure?”
Dromm said in his release that he himself was bullied in his Catholic school growing up.