Tiana McGee had seen enough comments on social media like “You’re so gay” and “Ew, people like you disgust me.” She decided to speak up about it.
“Many LGBT people are often bullied into depression, or in worse cases, end up committing suicide. ... This can change. It doesn’t have to be this way,” McGee, a seventh-grader at Wintergreen Interdistrict Magnet School, said to an auditorium of students, parents and judges.
McGee beat out seven finalists at OneWorld’s Middle School Oratory Competition Final. The event was held at the Worthington Hooker School on Tuesday night. She took home first place and a $150 check.
Click the video above to watch her oration.
Since 2008, OneWorld, a local not-for-profit educational organization, has hosted an oratory competition for area middle schools to discuss and debate community issues. N’Zinga Shani, executive director of OneWorld since 2004, hosted the event.
This year’s prompt asked students to identify the difficulties surrounding social media and current events, and explain how they could improve these problems.
McGee won over the judges with her speech in support of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community. She emphasized how the human impact of offensive comments on social media.
“When people post pictures on social media that aren’t considered gender-appropriate, they are often bullied for it, whether part of the LGBT community or not,” McGee said.
“Young children on social media are exposed to this and, at times, end up believing that it’s right. However, we can put a stop to it by encouraging them to watch stuff like The Fosters or Good Luck Charlie or Degrassi, stuff that put a positive outlook on the LGBT community,” she continued.
McGee indicated how easy it could be to make positive changes on social media. “If someone is making fun of someone on social media, you can just politely call them out on it, or post a positive comment,” she said.
Eighth-grader Avishan Montazer, also of Wintergreen, was awarded second place and $125 Tuesday evening for her speech urging teens to watch what they post on the web.
“I have to make sure what I say and do online is helping me be a positive influence,” Montazer said. “When you’re a teenager, you don’t really stop to think before you post a picture online, or say something about someone. To you, it might not seem like a big deal. But if you’re parents saw what you tweet on Twitter or the pictures you post on Instagram, would they approve of them?”
Montazer also spoke out against cyberbullying, and suggested alternatives. “There are ways you can be positive online. Instead of commenting hurtful messages, you can raise awareness for cyberbullying ...” she said. “If cyberbullying is frowned upon by more adolescents, we can find a more meaningful use for the Internet.”
The night also included performances by seventh-grader Chayann Houser singing “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus, fifth0graders Anina Strafford and Naviya Daniels dancing to “Whip by Hair” by Willow Smith, and the Worthington Hooker band, among others.
The other oratory finalists were Melissa Cisija and Hannah Providence (Worthington Hooker School), Damani Ben-Salhuddin (Worthington Hooker School) and Morgan Gibbs and Pranav Kandarpa (ESUMS).
Ben-Salhuddin was awarded third place and took home a $100 check, while the remaining contestants each received $50 checks for participation.
Shani said DVDs of the competition will be made available. The competition is also planned to air on Comcast Channel 26 in the fall.