It’s been four years since 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi lost his life to suicide. Tyler was gay and had his privacy and dignity stripped away from him when his roommate used a webcam to spy on him kissing another man.
Tyler was a victim of cyberbullying and the fateful events that followed for Tyler confirmed the negative impact and the serious consequences that bullying and cyberbullying can have on others.
Tyler’s older brother, James Clementi of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, discusses with The Seattle Lesbian what his family has done since Tyler’s passing to make positive changes in our community and the exciting initiatives they have going on currently.
My conversation with James Clementi:
What was the goal when your family first established the Tyler Clementi Foundation?
JC: It was four years ago from last week that we lost Tyler. His death and the causes behind it had generated national attention. We were obviously very overwhelmed from the media at the time. My family and I initially shied away from the media and the attention that we were receiving. We needed a year or so to grieve and be away from it all. Over time, though, what we realized was that Tyler’s story was still garnering a lot of attention. We understood that Tyler’s story was one of many, a part of a bigger problem. The LGBT community, especially LGBT youth, have been at risk of bullying and suicide. There are a lot of social pressures at that age, more so than ever for young people growing up. Cyberbullying has multiplied the problems of teens these days. It happens at home now, children can’t escape it and they are constantly under the microscope. Tyler’s story was the first opportunity to really have a moment and discuss this problem in an honest way.
We were being contacted by students and parents with letters, emails and phone calls in support of Tyler. There are many other young people out there just like Tyler who are vulnerable of being bullied. My family and I realized that we didn’t do something; Tyler’s life would have been lost in vain. We realized we wanted to help these kids and their families before a crisis hits and before they get to the point Tyler hit. That’s been our goal.
When did your family decide to start the foundation?
JC: In 2011, we started the Tyler Clementi Foundation. We wanted to create an outlet for awareness, and outreach in hopes that we can initiate important conversations and make change. Our current foundation with creation of an executive director and a board didn’t occur until 2012.
On your site, it talks about being an upstander…what does it mean to turn bystanders into upstanders?
JC: Well, when Tyler’s privacy was invaded by his roommate, it wasn’t just him, it was seven or eight other people involved. The others were laughing about it and humiliating him. Everybody in the dorm was laughing at him or ignored him. That’s the problem with a society of complacency. Most kids aren’t bullies, but a lot are bystanders. We are trying to create awareness and empower people to do more than just be a bystander to a bullying event. Upstanders have the ability to switch the power away from the bully. This could mitigate the impact bullying has on others and it can change the environment.
How many upstanders have taken the pledge on your site?
JC: We have 2,400 upstanding pledges from our site; however that number overall is much higher. We go to schools and talk to thousands of young people. This message is the most important way to respond to the problem and empower people to be involved. Empowering people can take away power from the bullies and potentially save people’s lives.
The “Be Demi’s BFF for a Day” contest with Demi Lovato is a really fun idea. How did you become connected with her on your foundation? How does the contest work?
JC: We have been really lucky and touched by Demi’s involvement. She’s so compassionate and giving. She’s been personally touched by bullying issues, so when we asked if she would like to be involved in our project, she was so happy to be involved.
The minimum buy in price is $10 to enter the contest. There are several other buy-in options that are available and each option provides with it a corresponding Demi Lovato merchandise reward that you’ll receive for participating.
The contest is running for 14 more days. You’ll receive additional entries to win when you share the contest information with your friends on Facebook or Twitter and get them involved as well.
The announced winner will be flown to one of Demi’s next big shows, will be put up in a 4 star hotel and will receive full bestie access at one of her shows. Bestie access means you will be doing everything that Demi does with her BFFs. You’ll take a few selfies with Demi to tweet out to the world. You’ll get a brand new look that you’ll get to sport at Demi’s concert.
All proceeds for the contest go to the Tyler Clementi Foundation.
How do people sign up?
JC: You can go to our site, www.tylerclementi.org, and you will see the picture advertising the contest on our homepage. Or you can go directly to the contest site at http://www.omaze.com/experiences/be-demis-bff-for-a-day. Follow up the steps on the site, select your donation option and then “share the love” with others on social media to increase your chances of winning!
What other future initiatives does the foundation have planned?
JC: We are continuing to try to change hearts and minds. We have speaking engagements in Chicago, Florida and various other places in the future. We have an eight-piece musical performance that made its world premiere this past March in San Francisco. “Tyler’s Suite” was composed by famed Stephen Schwartz among many notable others including John Bucchino, Ann Hampton Callaway, Craig Carnelia, John Corigliano, Nolan Gasser, Jake Heggie, Lance Horne, and Pamela Stewart. It was composed in conjunction with the Tyler Clementi Foundation and was performed by the San Francisco’s Gay Men’s Chorus.
“Tyler’s Suite” will be performed in other cities over the course of 2015 in New York, Chicago, San Diego, Dallas, Seattle, and San Francisco. So, please be on the lookout for that!
We also just recently hired a new executive director and have instituted new programs that are focusing on the transition kids have to face going from high school to college.
For more information, please visit www.tylerclementi.org and http://www.omaze.com/experiences/be-demis-bff-for-a-day.