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Welcome to the Tyler Clementi Foundation

  • Featured Post

    Betsy DeVos must commit to ending bullying for ALL children, or she shouldn’t run the U.S. Department of Education.

    TCF Statement about Betsy DeVos

    The following statement may be attributed to Jane Clementi, mother of Tyler Clementi and Co-Founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which works to end online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces and faith communities.

    “The nomination of Betsy DeVos to run the US Department of Education is very distressing. DeVos is ideologically driven and has dedicated much of her life to dismantling public education. Putting her in charge of the very institution she derides should worry all Americans. We need more protections for students – not less, and if DeVos hopes to shift America away from public schools and toward for-profit and charter schools, I worry that the hard won state and federal protections against bullying and civil rights violations will be shredded.

    TCF Statement about Betsy DeVosAlso, DeVos and her family have made massive financial contributions to right-wing organizations that oppose equality for minorities, especially LGBT people including ballot measures against LGBT equality.

    Our Foundation is calling on Betsy DeVos to commit on the record to strengthening anti-bullying protections and laws. And we are calling for the US Senate to get her on the record in regards to these issues. We cannot entrust the USDOE to someone who isn’t committed to the principles of safe, free, equal education for all young people. If DeVos does not commit to doing all she can to protect all youth from the harms of bullying, bias, harassment and humiliation we will oppose her confirmation.”

  • Featured Post

    Jane Clementi Offers to Work with Future First Lady Trump at Sold-Out Upstander Legacy Celebration

    Tyler Clementi Foundation co-founder Jane Clementi offered to work with future first lady Melania Trump at the 5th annual Upstander Legacy Celebration on November 14th at the Prince George Ballroom in New York City.

    Clementi welcomed Ms. Trump’s call for an end to online bullying of children and teenagers. She said she would be willing to meet with her to discuss how they could work together, but with a caveat.

    “I do believe that if she truly would like to move forward on this very worthy initiative” Clementi said “she must first look back and recognize the toxic display of bias, bullying and cruelty of so many marginalized groups by the Trump campaign.” Clementi said mean-spirited and cruel comments had the effect of normalizing bullying in American society. “It is only by acknowledging and apologizing for this past poor behavior in the cyberworld that our new first lady will be able to move forward and have a truly impactful future, creating a safe and respectful online experience for our youth.”

    ABC News Correspondent Gio Benitez expertly hosted a program that featured two musical performances. The Tony-nominated actress and singer Kate Baldwin performed the song “Bare.” And actress and singer Bridget Barkan performed her single “Danger Heart.”

    The Tyler Clementi Foundation honored three teenage filmmakers from the Mythic Bridge Youth Filmmaking Workshop in New York City. These filmmakers were winners of AT&T’s Cyberbullying Film Invitational at the All American High School Film Festival. The foundation also honored Workplace Options, which has partnered with the foundation to bring a workplace training module to companies nationwide.

    At the end of the program Executive Director Sean Kosofsky asked people to be financial upstanders and donate to support the foundation’s programs. There also was a silent auction that included a signed Prince Limited Edition Purple Guitar and a painting by Tyler Wallach. Thousands of dollars were raised to support the Foundation’s programs to end online and offline bullying.

    Thanks to singer and songwriter Marcus Goldhaber and his musicians for entertaining attendees while they enjoyed Kim Crawford Wines and SVEDKA Vodka cocktails. The event was made possible by the generous support of Champion Sponsors Barilla America, Inc. and Workplace Options, as well as the support of AT&T and the COIL Foundation.

    Learn more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation.

  • Featured Post

    Scattering Hearts, Spreading Hope

    Peyton's Heart Project

    In 2015, I had the idea for the Peyton Heart Project. I wanted to create a movement that focused on kindness and that would have the potential to spread around the world. I wanted it to be a project that would raise global awareness about suicide, bullying, and mental health issues.

    I named The Peyton Heart Project after Peyton James, a 13-year-old boy from Texas who, in October of 2014, died by suicide. Peyton had been relentlessly bullied by other students at school for a number of years. I had read about Peyton’s story and I wanted to help tell his story through my heart project.

    Quote from Jill KubinI reached out to his parents and requested their permission to name my project in honor of Peyton. They agreed and now Peyton’s father, David James, helps me run the Facebook page. David is also helping me set up The Peyton Heart Project as an official organization. We hope to become a 501(c)3 in the very near future.

    Many of us know what the negative effects of bullying are on those who are bullied and how difficult it can be to believe that life will ever get better. Far too often bullying leads to depression, self-harm, and sometimes even suicide. I myself was bullied throughout my childhood until the end of junior high because of a physical disability. It is because of those horrific experiences that I want to help others find hope in their darkest hour.

    Peyton Heart Project hand-made heartMany people have been impacted by suicide and by mental health issues either through their friends or through their family members. Many people have been able to identify with what the Peyton Heart Project is doing and that is what is making this project resonate with people in over 50 countries around the world. In fact, several people have messaged us and told us that they happened to find a heart on a day when they were contemplating suicide. They said that they saw the heart as a sign that they needed to live another day and they thanked us for giving them hope. Hearing that kind of story from those who have found our hearts inspires me to continue trying to reach people with our hearts.

    The Peyton Heart Project has hundreds of volunteers around the world making crocheted, knitted, and other kinds of hand-made hearts. We attach tags with inspiring quotes from our website to each heart and the hearts are then left in public places for people to find. The hope is that the hearts cause people to stop for a moment and reflect on a life lost to suicide, on bullying, and on the fact that everyone’s life matters. We also hope to leave people with a feeling that there is good out there in the world.

    by-Julia-Kubin_1-600x720I hope the Peyton Heart Project inspires others to join us in our mission of kindness because the world could always benefit from a little more love.

    If you would like to help us spread hearts in your community, please go to our website at www.thepeytonheartproject.org and learn how you can become involved. You can also follow the project on Facebook and Twitter.

    The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

  • Featured Post

    3 Tips for Talking About the Election to Family This Holiday Season

    Talk to Family Over Holidays

    This holiday, give the gift of bullying prevention. Make a gift to TCF today of $5, and help us create a country free from humiliation and harassment for our youth and for our future.

    This holiday season, do you expect to discuss politics with family?

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    Many believe you should never talk politics or religion with friends or family. For people passionate about change…that is mighty hard. This holiday season, it is inevitable that the 2016 election will come up with millions of families. How can you survive this experience? Here are three tips:

    Disengage: Breathe in. Breathe Out. You know your situation and your family better than anyone. Do you really believe that engaging that relative pro-actively or reactively is going to change anyone’s mind or not ended up in tempers rising? Consider resisting the temptation to engage or stepping away when it is brought up. Family is family and holidays should be enjoyable.

    Feel Empowered: For those who don’t want to “agree to disagree” and want to feel more empowered, consider telling your personal story and not letting it escalate. Is there a way to explain calmly that elections have consequences for actual people—people like you, people who are minorities? Tell the story of an LGBT, immigrant, Muslim or disabled person you know and maybe just maybe you will feel more empowered that you planted a seed of empathy.

    Find Common ground: Think about values instead of positions or candidates. We all share similar values even if our actions demonstrate contradictions. Nearly all people support fairness, liberty, public health, a clean environment, caring for the less fortunate, etc. Center conversations around values. If you take up all the moral high ground, you leave little room for people to stand with you.

    This holiday, give the gift of bullying prevention.Make a gift to TCF today of $5, and help us create a country free from humiliation and harassment for our youth and for our future.

    Donate Now

  • Featured Post

    Christian Mothers of LGBTQ Youth Should Know: “You Are Not Alone”


    The world seemed to shift this week and left some of us shaken. If you are the mom of an LGBTQ kid, we want you to know that you are not alone. You do not need to go through this alone. There is a secret Facebook group that exists for moms like you.

    Here is a bit of information about the group:

    Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group created as an extension of the Serendipitydodah blog. The group is secret so that only members can find it or see what is posted in the group. The group was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 1,400 members. The space was specifically created for open minded Christian moms who have LGBTQ kids and want to develop and maintain healthy, loving, authentic relationships with their LGBTQ kids. In addition to providing a space for members to share info and support one another, a special guest is added each month for a few days. The guests include authors, pastors, LGBTQ people, bloggers and public speakers.

    For more information, email Liz Dyer at lizdyer55@gmail.com.

  • Featured Post

    O’Neal’s Story: “I always knew I was different.”

    O'Neal Wyche School Photo

    I always knew I was different. I was always told so. My name is O’Neal Leon Wyche, Jr., and I’m a Champion Against Bullying. ​​

    I grew up in a small town in South Georgia where everyone knew each other and their secrets. I was fortunate to have a loving mother and supportive stepfather, a safe home and food to eat. I had clean clothes on my back everyday, but they weren’t the right clothes. On picture day in the 2nd grade, my mother outfitted me in a dress shirt, trousers and a tie.

    As I walked into the school, the majority of the other kids were dressed in regular casual clothing —T-shirts, jeans, sneakers. This wasn’t the first picture day that I’d worn dressier clothing to school, but it was the first time I’d notice the unusual stares from kids in the hallways. As soon as I stepped into my class, a few of my classmates, particularly three boys, burst out laughing. They’d made fun of me before, and today was no different.

    ​“Nice tie, O’Neal,” James said, barely able to contain his laughter. “You’re so corny!”
    His words punched me in the gut, and I was terrified. That terror and feeling unsafe through teasing, taunting followed me for the next nine years of my life—though this was only the prelude for things to come. James would mock me and say mean things in class and at recess. In retrospect, I understand it now, but when you’re seven years old you don’t really understand why someone is being so mean to you.

    O'Neal Wyche TileAs a child of Jehovah’s Witnesses growing up in the South, I didn’t know that having more feminine mannerisms and my religious beliefs would be the reason why I was bullied. But as I grew up, I was reminded of these differences constantly. As we went through each grade, James, John and Derrick bullying increased and got more intense. His aggression toward me led other students to tease me too, at his daring.

    One particular day in Physical Education, he convinced a girl who would often get sent to the principal’s office for causing havoc in class to pick on me. She cornered me in the back of the gym and kept pushing me saying,

    “What you gonna do? I dare you to push me back.”

    While this was happening James and his friends were laughing in the background. None of the other students did anything, and I was afraid that if I did push her back we would both get in trouble—something I always feared as a kid. She then proceeded to grab my neck and choked me up against the wall. All the while, she was laughing and saying, “Do something.” Eventually the coach saw what was happening and broke up the huddle, but I knew that I lost. And this would only make the way I was treated worse now that a girl had humiliated me.

    The environment at school became so bad that I would consistently return home crying, and I woke up in the morning not wanting to face another day of name-calling, hurt feelings or a possible ambush by other kids. I decided to share the details of what was happening at school with my mother. She told me that she understood, that these things happened all the time. She encouraged me to be strong and not let their words get to me—as hard as it was to internalize. My mother always told me that I was a very intuitive kid, which was a blessing and a curse. And while I knew her advice came from a good place, I could predict the results of her counsel. And as much as I tried to swallow my pain, when James and the other students would bully me, I couldn’t contain my shame.

    My grandmother was a paraprofessional at my elementary school, so I began confiding in her. This was one of the smartest things I did—to a point. My grandmother spoke with my teacher and principal, and collectively they all began noticing each interaction I had with other students. And while this minimized the bullying in the class, it continued outside of the classroom.

    ​When I was in the 4th grade, the teasing from the same group of boys became verbal. I would hear outbursts in class:

    “Why are your clothes so tight?”
    “You act like a girl.”​
    “Look at the way you hold your hand and walk.”
    “You’re a sissy.”
    “I saw you knocking on doors with those Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

    O'Neal Wyche School PhotoI was a very timid and soft-spoken little boy: the kid that sat in the front of the class with his homework completed. I never wanted to get in trouble, so I never said anything back to the bullies. My sister Rosalyn, however, was the complete opposite. She has always been a strong outspoken person that didn’t care what anyone had to say about her. We’re 11 months apart in age, and we always went to the same school together. I always knew she was just down the hall in class, and I would see her at lunch or at recess. I began telling Rosalyn about the boys that were teasing me. “No, O’Neal,” she said to me after I told her what they’d been saying to me. “Nobody is going to treat you like that.” And she fearlessly approached them the next day after school.

    While waiting to be picked up by our grandmother next to the big oak tree in front of the school, one of the boys came over teasing and pushing me around. Immediately, my sister grabbed him by the neck and pushed him up against the tree.

    She tackled him to the ground as she screamed out, “Don’t bother my brother again!”

    At that moment one of the teachers on outside duty saw what was happening and ran over to us to break up the fight. My grandmother also arrived and yelled out of the car window, “Rosalyn! Get off that boy and get in the car!” Although I was happy about what she did, it only made things worse. Her teacher scorned her the next day, and was sent home with a citation. Worse, I had allowed Rosalyn to fight my battles and had become more of a coward in the bullies’ eyes. The teasing continued to escalate.

    As years went by, the bullying continued until it became my normal. As a freshman in high school, I realized that regardless of what my mother, grandmother or sister did, I was alone and I had to handle it by myself.

    The first thing I had to do was question why these things were happening. I wanted to understand what the boys bullying me did. Through their eyes I started to analyze the way I walked, spoke and dressed. I realized the way I walked was lighter than the football players headed into the locker room. The way I talked was softer than the other boys who raised their hands in class. The way I dressed was more precise, too, like I was trying to express something. I saw what they did, suddenly, and it frightened me. This was the time when I was supposed to be a man, chase after girls, assert my strengths and rise up like the other boys. But the path, for me, was not as clear.

    Even at home I was afraid to communicate this fear. Surely my mother, a religious, God-fearing woman would have taken my worries as reason to fear what kind of man I was. Maybe she’d even question my sexuality. The act of telling my family would have transformed the long-standing bullying into a conversation my family was not ready to have. So, just as my mother had told me, I kept it all inside: a secret from everyone including my sister. I was not only confused and hurt, but afraid of what would happen.

    Things began to turn around, however, once I realized I was not alone.

    During that year, one weekend in 1999, I watched a film called Cruel Intentions, which involved two vicious, wealthy siblings at an elite Manhattan prep school making a horrible wager to seduce a fellow student without falling in love. The brother, Sebastian, was a stylish, young guy that had everything and could have any girl he wanted, except for Annette, the object of the bet. Of course, he ultimately falls in love with her and changes his way—but it’s too late. And while some might write “Cruel Intentions” off as just another 90’s teen movie, Sebastian inspired me in two incredible ways: by finally identifying the root of his participation in bullying, and seeing someone change to embrace what they feel in their heart. His bullying came from insecurity just as strong as my own. And when he embraced connection with another person over how he was perceived by others, he showed his true capacity for love. He was an authentic human being with his emotions and also the way in which he expressed himself, which ultimately changed the way I thought about myself. I realized that if it came from a place of truth and expression, I could be whoever I wanted, wear what I wanted and do what makes me happy. And I saw the kids who bullied me as being just as insecure as I was and able to change.

    With this new resolve, I immediately began the transformation process in stepping into my true authenticity.

    I stopped dressing to fit in and started wearing clothing that I felt comfortable to me. Surprisingly, they happened to be dressier clothing—the clothing that had precipitated the bullying. The first day of junior year, I walked up to the high school in my new threads and a new attitude. I was confident waiting with all the other students for the bell to ring. I knew that I would get uncomfortable stares and teasing. I was a bit nervous, but I refused to falter. For the first time in my life, I truly embraced my uniqueness, not letting my worries get in the way of my liberation.​

    It was the first time I felt alive and my true self.

    This realization also shifted my focus to my future—which included experimenting with new clothing and personal style, creating art, being the only guy that actually enjoyed sitting in Home Economics. I even started a school dance crew that went on to win 1st place in a local talent show. I chose to change what was happening to me by embracing myself and putting my desires before anything else. I ignored the bullying and it eventually became silent noise.

    O'Neal Wyche PortraitAs I learned more about individuals who are bullied and why students bully other students, I learned that those young boys were facing a terrible home life and were bullied by their parents and older siblings. Yearning for life’s necessities such as a safe, clean home. All things I was blessed with. I understand now and hope nothing but the best for them. This experience has truly helped mold me into the man I am today.

    Special thanks to Shane Lukas, Stephen Jordan and Noah Ballard for the push and help with bringing this story into fruition.

    The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

  • Featured Post

    Meet Upstander Kirk Smalley

    Portrait of Kirk Smalley

    How do you define bullying?
    Bullying is repeated, unwanted aggressive behavior. I think that bullying is also in the eyes of the victim. If you feel that someone is being a bully to you, even if they claim to be ‘only kidding,’ then that could be considered bullying. It’s time we take the power away from the bully and put it into the hands of the victims.

    What do you think is the scariest thing about being bullied?
    I would say the scariest thing about being bullied is feeling absolutely helpless, that there is no where to turn for help—no way to get away from it.

    What resources do you think a person should have available to respond to bullying?
    I feel that having a support group of like-minded individuals that have experienced bullying and can relate to others’ experiences is very important. Individuals like this need a space without fear of ridicule or judgement.

    Kirk Smalley TileHow do you think the community can help if someone is being bullied?
    Stand up for them! In most cases, if a bystander gets involved or speaks out, bullying will stop within seconds!

    What does respect mean to you?
    Respect to me is letting you be you and me be me and not judging someone by stereotypes or differences.

    If you could do one thing to stop all bullying, what would you do?
    I am doing it! I travel extensively whenever I am invited to speak to schools and communities, raising awareness to the very real and devastating effects of bullying.

    If you could say one thing to anyone who is the victim of bullying, what would it be?
    Stay strong. We love you and are fighting for you! This WILL pass. It WILL get better.

    What role do you think the internet plays in bullying?
    I think the internet has increased the ease that people can bully each other. Now, we don’t have to face someone to ruin their life. We can do it while hidden behind a monitor or cellphone screen without fear of immediate repercussions.

    How are you an Upstander?
    I work very hard to support victims of bullying and give them the resources and tools to find out that they are someone important and that they DO belong. We have chapters of Stand For the Silent started now in 39 states and 18 countries to help do this and give the victims a place to belong and find support.

    Do you think someone who bullies other can change?
    I have no doubt in my mind that bullies can change. I receive hundreds of messages from kids that have heard us speak saying, “I never knew that what I was doing could cause what happened to your son. I am sorry, I will quit and I want to help you make it stop.”

    Kirk Smalley is an anti-bullying advocate that is passionate about stopping bullying and youth suicide. He and his wife have experienced the devastation that bullying can and does cause and have dedicated their lives to making sure that no other family lives our nightmare. Follow Kirk Smalley and Stand For the Silent on Facebook and Twitter.

    The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

  • Featured Post

    Politics: America’s Bully Pulpit

    Politics Article from Chris Reza

    “We shall sodomize your sons” read California Representative William Dannemeyer to the US Congress on July 27, 1987. “We will stab you in your cowardly hearts and defile your dead, puny bodies … We shall conquer the world …” Dannemeyer was reading from the hidden agenda he discovered in a gay periodical. The article by Michael Swift was entitled “Gay Revolutionary.” What Dannemeyer failed to communicate in his attempt to expose the vileness of homosexuality, however, was that Swift’s article was actually an absurdist satirical piece, not a serious manifesto. But Dannemeyer’s damage was now done. 

    Such political vitriol has dangerous effects. Coining the oft used phrase “gay agenda” that was used to spread fallacies about the LGBT community for decades to come, Dannemeyer’s speech provided many Americans the justification they sought to fight back the (non-existent) “gay revolutionaries” attacking the country. There’s no wonder the LGBT community faces substantially higher rates of bullyingsuicide, and in 2014 became the target of more hate crimes than any other minority group in America.

    Tile for Chris RezaCreating narratives is no doubt an important tool in American politics. Some narratives are founded in reality while others are fictionalized. As an artist and writer, one of my most cherished pursuits is truth. It may seem ironic that a writer like me utilizes fiction to pursue truth, but the difference between my narrative and Dannemeyer’s is that my fiction is used to help share the beauty of reality.

    I am developing a musical I’ve written called Question 1. At its core, the show explores the tragic effects of bullying, particularly the brutal cycle of the oppressed all too often becoming the oppressor. The audience follows the devolution of Freddy, a bullied child turned self-loathing adolescent turned closeted politician. When he finds himself amidst Maine’s 2009 same-sex marriage debate, his acrimoniousness towards the LGBT community capitalizes on the us-vs-them tactic we see all too often in today’s politics. Never did I imagine the absurdist satire I began writing in my musical two years ago would somehow manifest itself into today’s actual headlines. 

    Perhaps there’s irony in Teddy Roosevelt’s coining of the phrase “bully pulpit” which was originally based on the obsolete definition of “bully,” meaning “good, first-rate, or wonderful.” Despite today’s discordantly disparate definition of the word “bully,” Roosevelt’s phrase ironically captures the drastically different, yet accurate style in which political positions of authority (or nominees to such positions) use their power to spread their message today. In fact, a new poll commissioned by the Tyler Clementi Foundation found that:

    More than 50% of voters believe campaign tone is affecting kids.53% of the more than 1400 registered voters questioned said “yes” when asked if they “believe the polarizing language being used in this presidential election is spilling over to young people and creating more meanness.”

    A political cynic might dwell on the dismal devolution of the bully pulpit’s etymological connotation, but the truth is that if a meaning has changed once, it can change again. It is up to upstanders, whether they be individuals or organizations like TCF, to say that the days of bullying must come to an end. It is up to us to challenge ourselves and humanity to rise above contempt in all its forms–to strive for the most beautiful thoughts and selves possible. If you want to write a musical about it, then go for it! If spontaneously bursting into song isn’t your thing, no worries! Go volunteer, offer support, respectfully meet hateful speech with beautiful wisdom, and if you’ve not already done so, buy your ticket to the TCF Upstander Legacy Celebration right now! 

    And on November 8th, spread messages of respect, not contempt. With your help, we can share the narrative of truth, beauty, and kindness eliminating hate. With your help, perhaps we can return the meaning of America’s bully pulpit back to Roosevelt’s “wonderful pulpit.”

    Portrait of Chris RezaChris Reza is a writer, Broadway musician (Fun Home), and a proud supporter of the Tyler Clement Foundation. For more information, visit his site, learn about Question 1, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

    Photographs of Chris Reza by Kevin Chavez

    The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

  • Featured Post

    Susane Colasanti’s Story: Embracing Your Outstanding, Outsider Self

    Susane's Story

    When I was a teen, I would have been mortified to admit I was being bullied. My junior high and high school years were the worst time of my life. As a poor kid at the rich kids’ school in a small town, I was targeted for not having the same experiences as everyone else: for not wearing the right jeans, for living in an apartment instead of a huge house, for being a science nerd, for sucking at gym…really, just for being different. I was embarrassed by all the ways I didn’t fit in.

    I am not embarrassed anymore. Because I have turned the negative experiences of my past into something positive.

    After I left for college, I realized that the kids who were different in high school would become the grownups who change the world. You have to stand out—be outstanding—if you want to make a difference. I couldn’t believe I’d wasted so much time wishing I had fit in with a bunch of people I would never have to see again for the rest of my life. Out in the real world, I was surrounded by hundreds of accepting people who rocked their unique qualities. And I was finally one of them.

    What made me keep holding on through my horrible teen years was the hope that one day I would be living my dream life. All of the bullying I endured has manifested in strength, insight, and my purpose in life: To reach out to teens and help them feel less alone. By writing teen novels like Keep Holding On, I can hopefully connect with teens who are feeling desperate. I know what it’s like to feel like you’ll never be happy again, that giving up would be a relief. On your worst days when you can’t even stand to be in your own skin, please know that you can create the life you want to be living. You can find your place to belong. You can be the person you want to be.

    You are the change you’ve been waiting for.

    tcf-post2163-susanecolasantiHelping others is an excellent way to make this world a better place while increasing the positive energy in your life. You can take a stand against bullying by being an Upstander with the Tyler Clementi Foundation. As an Upstander, you pledge to support anyone who is the target of abusive words or actions.

    Speak out, stay strong, and never give up.

    The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

  • Featured Post

    Expert Tips: Youth who Identify as Transgender and/or Gender Diverse and their Educators, and Parents

    Image about Transgender Inclusion by Jo Morrison, Chicago, IL

    Tips For Teens

    Identify Supports and Allies
    Knowing that there are others who accept you for who you are can help you feel better about yourself during times when bullies try to make you think otherwise. It is important that your support system include staff and adults in whatever location you happen to be, in addition to friends and peers. If you are in the process of transitioning to another gender, it might be important to identify these supports beforehand and come up with a safety plan in advance, just in case you find yourself being victimized by others later on. It never hurts to be prepared!

    Safety First!
    First and foremost, you might find yourself in an unsafe situation. Removing yourself from those situations is the most important thing you can do. While it is frustrating that there are so many people who are uncomfortable with people whose gender expression is different from what society expects, the fact is that many of these individuals turn their discomfort into discrimination. It isn’t your fault for being who you are. However, how you deal with these situations really matters. Make sure you have a safe escape plan or a way to avoid potentially dangerous situations.

    Try to Understand “The How”
    For some of us who have been taunted endlessly for most of our lives just for being different, it can sometimes be difficult to know the difference between intolerant bullying versus innocent discomfort/unfamiliarity in others. This can be especially true for those of us who are transitioning genders. This is why it is important to understand “The How.” This refers to figuring out how people are communicating with you in order to determine how to stay safe and how to react best.

    With pronouns and name use for example, it might take some people time to use the correct pronoun or name simply because they are used to calling you something different- especially adults. Others might be able to adapt very quickly- or even immediately (friends and positive supports). Others might want to be helpful but they might be forgetful about which pronoun and/or name feels right to you even if you already told them once or twice. However, there might be others who are rigid, downright mean about it, and refuse to change.

    In all of these situations, looking at “The How” means doing your best to understand how they might be using the wrong gender pronoun or name. Ask yourself: Is that person purposefully making an error to create a power imbalance between you and them? Are they being forgetful? Are they simply not familiar with the idea that it’s possible to transition genders? Are they just not used to change after knowing you for so long as someone different than how you feel inside?

    Then look at the way in which they use the wrong gender pronoun or name. The intentional bully might be (1) laughing when they say it, (2) overemphasizing the pronoun or name in the sentence when they do not have to, (3) using a derogatory word in addition to the pronoun or name, and/or (4) purposely showing off in front of others to get them to laugh as well. In these situations, it is important for you to: (1) Prioritize your safety by getting out of any situation that might be unsafe, (2) Utilize your support network and alert the proper staff (see above tips), and (3) Not react in the way that the bully would want you to. If it is safe to stand up to that person, then be confident and do not show them that their intentional acts are truly bothering you (even though they probably are). Showing a bully that you are bothered might reinforce them to do the same thing (or even worse!) the next time. A good rule of thumb is to remain safe and not react in the way the bully would expect or want you to react!

    For someone who keeps forgetting to use your preferred pronoun or name, but does not appear to be doing so in any purposeful way, it might be okay to simply remind them which name and pronoun is correct and nonchalantly move on to another subject. One can say, “I noticed you used this pronoun and/or name, but I actually prefer to go by X instead. Now how about that science test!”

    For those who use the incorrect name and pronoun, but then remember and quickly correct themselves, decide whether or not you want to thank them for remembering which pronoun and name you want them to use- especially if it is early on in your transition. Even though cisgender people don’t have to do this, it might help people feel good about being supportive of your transition and then the next time they will be less likely to mess up! One can say, “I appreciate that you remembered to use my preferred pronoun and/or name- thank you, it feels good to have a support system!”

    For those who repeatedly use the incorrect name and pronoun but do not do so in an intentionally mean way, it might be okay for you to emphasize the importance when others use your preferred name and pronoun. Try not to be accusatory, but it’s okay to gently and politely state, “I notice you’re using my old pronouns and name, but it is really important to me that my friends and supports use my preferred pronoun and name instead. Now how about that science test!”

    “The How” can work for other situations besides pronouns as well, including for situations for gender diverse individuals who are not transitioning to another gender. Understanding “The How” is important because it helps you figure out the best way to safely react to others so you do not over-or-underreact to people who are intentionally trying to be mean and make themselves more powerful over you.

    Tips For Educators

    Not intervening is NOT neutral
    Youth who are transgender or gender diverse are more likely to be victimized than their peers. Adult role models play a really important role in maintaining a safe learning environment for all of these youth. Should you see other students victimize another student on the basis of their gender identity or gender expression, it is important for you to intervene proactively and be specific about why you are intervening. Explicitly stating “We respect all individuals- and how they present their gender- in this classroom and anything other than that is unacceptable” to the bullies is important. You may have just saved a life because you are letting the bullied student know that they can live authentically in that educational environment and that you will not stand for discrimination.

    Do Not Make Assumptions about Names and Pronouns
    Recognize that not all students feel comfortable being addressed as the name that is legally assigned to them. If a transgender or gender diverse student privately approaches you and asks you to use a different name or pronoun, respect their wish. It is okay to ask them an open-ended question about how to best be supportive. It is also okay to ask them if there are certain environments or situations where they might not feel comfortable being referred to as their preferred name or pronoun (e.g. they might not be out of the closet in front of certain people). Without implying that they automatically have mental health problems, it might be useful to empathically determine if they have a support system and/or identified adult allies to assist them in making healthy decisions and come up with a safety plan. Neither overemphasizing nor underemphasizing the struggles that you think they may encounter is important. A good rule of thumb: convey empathic acceptance and support and neither overemphasize nor underemphasize the potential negative issues that could come about for a student who is transitioning.

    Be a role model to other teachers
    Believe it or not there will be other staff members in the school who are either ignorant or rejecting of individuals who are transgender or gender diverse. These teachers may make passive remarks that convey they are uncomfortable or they may even make overt statements that are discriminatory against individuals who are gender diverse. Be proactive and take a stance with them! Even if these statements are made behind closed doors (e.g. not in the presence of the actual student), it is very likely that these teachers wouldn’t know the appropriate way to intervene should anything happen between the students themselves in that teacher’s classroom. Those teachers may also not fully appreciate the negative ramifications of misgendering a student who is transitioning to another gender. Seek out administrators and push to have staff trainings on creating safe learning environments for these students.

    Lead an LGBTQ group for students
    Many schools might not have a safe space for students to interact with others just like them. Having an inclusive extra-curricular club can be a lifesaver for many students who might otherwise feel very alone. Should your school not have a club of this sort, consider establishing one. Inclusive language is important. For example, Gay-Straight-Alliance (GSA) inadvertently might exclude individuals who are transgender or gender diverse. Therefore, consider all-inclusive names and address issues that are relevant for sexual and gender minorities.

    Tips For Parents

    Recognize that transgender and gender diverse individuals are more likely to be bullied and react appropriately
    It is important to be checking in with your child or adolescent to make sure that they are not bottling up certain emotions. Many youth are afraid to tell their parents about their bullying experiences because they fear their parents will not handle the situation in an appropriate way. Some fear their parents will over react while others may feel their parents will under react.

    The overreacting parents are those (who are well intentioned) that will independently act to try and prevent their kids from being bullied in the future (or to try and punish the bullies who have already harmed their child or teenager). In some situations, this might be embarrassing for the youth while in others it might inadvertently put them into a more harmful situation because the authorities or administrators do not act in the way the parent wants.

    The underreacting parents are those who do very little to show concern when their child or adolescent brings an issue to them. The parent might be concerned but doesn’t know what to do about it. Alternatively, some parents try to engage in an unhelpful conversation with their child or adolescent to try and identify ways in which the child or adolescent acted that caused them to be bullied. This could come off as blaming and dismissive. When youth perceive their parents as dismissive or blaming, they may not share events that happen to them in the future.

    The correct way for parents to address bullying with their youth is to: (1) Empathically connect with their child and raise the issue of bullying in general (e.g. “I know many kids are bullied if they are different.”) (2) Ask them if they are being bullied. (e.g. “Has this been an issue that has affected you?”); (3) Let them know that you are there for them to talk about it, no matter how small or big the event was (e.g. “I want you to know that I’m here for you no matter what.”); (4) Ask them if they have a safety plan in place and identify specific instances where the child might be in harms way to determine how to get them out of those dangerous situations.; (5) Ask them if they have a support network. (6) Ask the child in an open-ended way how you can best help them.

    If you feel that your child or adolescent isn’t responding to bullying in an appropriate way, or if you feel that they are minimizing or exaggerating the situations, then consider reacting in a different way than what the child believes would be helpful. They may feel that school staff would be indifferent, yet you might have reason to believe that the school staff would be very proactive in coming up with a safety plan. In these situations- as long as it will not lead your child to act in an unsafe way- it is usually best to be as transparent as possible with your child or adolescent when you disagree with them.

    Seek Help if you are Struggling with How to Best Support Your Child or Adolescent
    For parents of gender diverse and transgender youth, it is not uncommon to experience a sense of worry, loss, sadness, and/or anger. Know that these feelings are okay. It is how you manage these feelings that makes all the difference in the world.

    For those whose children/adolescents want to transition genders, it can be daunting to consider the fact that this is even possible. Facing your own loved ones and friends can be a challenge. Reacting to your child or adolescent can be a challenge. Many parents have good intentions but are simply not prepared to support their youth in times of bullying or adversity. At birth, parents are not provided with a handbook entitled “How to manage when your infant comes out as transgender or gender diverse in 10 or 15 years.”

    Often, sources of conflict between transgender youth and their parents are over the use of preferred names and pronouns. Youth often wish their parents will start using their preferred name and pronoun almost instantaneously from the point that they disclose their identity to their parent. Know that your reaction to this disclosure and request is very important. So many of these youth experience bullying in their school lives, so when they perceive their parents as unable to cope with the same news, they may feel there is no way out. Remember: using their preferred name and pronoun is a way to help them get to know their true authentic self. Doing so is also not necessarily permanent. So if you think of yourself as someone who is assisting your child or adolescent in exploring their authentic self- even if it differs from the original path that you expected when they were born- you are way ahead of the game and you are doing the right thing.

    If you are struggling with how to best support your child or adolescent, seeking professional help for yourself can be just as important as seeking help for them. Know that mental health providers are not here to assume predetermined outcomes, but rather we are here to support our clients and meet them where they are at in the process. Seeking counseling does not make you a failure as a parent- rather it can make you successful in managing issues that parents are often not prepared to deal with. Expanding your network by attending a PFLAG group or meeting other parents of youth who are transgender and gender diverse can be very helpful as well. Hearing their stories of trials, tribulations, successes, and failures may help you figure out what will work best for your own family.

    Feature illustration by Jo Morrison, Chicago, IL

    About the Expert

    Scott LeibowitzScott Leibowitz, MD is the Medical Director of Behavioral Health Services for the THRIVE Program- the gender and sex development program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, OH. Prior to that, he was the Head Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist in the Gender & Sex Development at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

    Dr. Leibowitz completed his child and adolescent psychiatry training at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2010 where he first started working with gender diverse youth by developing a consultative, psychosocial assessment and treatment clinic in coordination with the hospital’s Gender Management Service- the first formal medical clinic for transgender youth in the United States. He is currently the co-chairman of the Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Issues Committee for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, a member of the Global Education Initiative for the World Professional Association of Transgender Health, and is on the global competency taskforce for that committee. He is regarded internationally in this field and has participated in trainings and lectures in Europe, Thailand, and most recently in Japan. Dr. Leibowitz participated in the development of gender, sex, and sexuality competencies for undergraduate medical education as part of the Association of American Medical College’s Advisory Committee on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Sex Development. In 2015, he testified in favor of the Illinois HB 217 Bill that banned Conversion therapy for minors, which ultimately was passed and signed into law. He subsequently served as an expert contributor in developing a report on consensus statements on conversion therapies as part of a joint initiative between SAMHSA and the American Psychological Association.

    He is also available on Twitter or Facebook.

    The views or experiences expressed are solely those of the contributor or interview subject and do not represent the views of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, its staff or board. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material, please contact the Tyler Clementi Foundation, and we appreciate your support and commitment to end bullying starting on #Day1.

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