A Conversation About Bullying at the Home of Kevin Carroll

Fundraiser for Tyler Clementi Foundation

You are invited for an intimate discussion at the home of Kevin Carroll
140 Charles Street, Apt 7C
New York City

Join Jane Clementi, Founder of the
Tyler Clementi Foundation
and James Clementi, Tyler’s brother,
in a conversation with
Board Member Kevin Carroll
about bullying today,
and how you can help
prevent bullying in schools,
workplaces and faith communities.

Reserve your spot today
with a minimum tax-deductible donation
of $150 in support of our work to end
bullying, harassment, and humiliation.

Together, we can end online and offline bullying.

Below please find a helpful breakdown of the ways in which your support will help us protect today’s youth:

  • Your $150 minimum gift will help bring our simple, easy-to-use bullying prevention program #Day1 to 3 classrooms.
  • With a gift of $250, you can help us bring #Day1 to 2 college campuses or 3 workplaces.
  • A $500 gift lets us share our powerful anti-bullying Workplace Training to a business in need.
  • $1,000 can help offset the costs of bringing Jane or James Clementi to a local school to give their acclaimed Upstander Speaker Series so that more schools can discover and learn from Tyler’s story.
  • For $2,500, TCF can commission a national poll/survey to learn about bullying attitudes and best practices, to help shape our work and that of those in our field.
  • And finally, with a gift of $5,000, you can help TCF access software that will allow us to more effectively engage the media.

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Meet Upstander Danny Reyes

Portrait of Danny Reyes
You grew up Cuban in Miami. Can you share a little about what that experience was like and how you felt your community responded to diverse identities?

As you can imagine, Miami is very Hispanic. And not just Hispanic, there are a whole lot of Cubans over there. So as a Cuban-American I’ve had the unique opportunity to experience being a minority and a majority, in that I was brought up a Cuban among mostly Cubans, and then living in Richmond for about a decade, I’ve experienced being a brown person among mostly whites. If I can sum up the difference, I would say that to be Cuban in Miami is to be a person and to be Cuban in Richmond is to be a Cuban. And while it’s never been explicitly expressed, in one scenario I’m standard issue, and in the other, I’m off-brand. This is not to say, however, that there was less racism back home. In fact, racism in Miami looked a lot like racism in Richmond. You still got a feeling that whiter is better, just that the white standard was a few shades darker in South Florida, and the cultural standard, more Hispanic. As for how my community responded to queer identities, I would say they were passively homophobic, but deadly nonetheless. It wasn’t the kind of homophobia where you’d get shot for saying you’re gay, but it was the kind where you’d get teased and learn to hate yourself to the point where you might just shoot yourself for being gay.

My father is a Baptist minister and my whole family is pretty devout. To give you an idea, my grandmother was the kind of person who would try to proselytize a waitress when we were out to dinner. They weren’t exactly fire-and-brimstone Baptists, but they were still deeply religious. Anti-homosexual sentiments weren’t emphasized at home and gayness was seldom mentioned in my dad’s sermons. But despite an absence of overt hatred, it was still very clear to me early on that it wasn’t ok for me to be gay. And that led to a lot of uncertainty, shame, and self-hate.

How do you define bullying?

I would say it’s anytime someone in a position of power, uses that power against someone of lesser or no power—whether that’s social status, physical strength, class, or financial position.

Your song “Schoolyard Warrior” tackles being bullied head on. Can you share more about your experience with bullies in school?

In school I got teased for being effeminate. This was mostly in elementary and middle school. Kids would call me gay. Sometimes they’d use other words, but essentially that was the charge. They’d call me gay, I would deny it, and it would cause me a whole lot of grief. I even got into a couple of fights over it.

I was so defensive about it, too. I protected my straight identity so much, that I even put up a firewall within myself. I remember school trips would terrify me because I was afraid that I might accidentally reveal the truth by saying something in my sleep. It was such a deeply ingrained homophobia, that well after coming out, I couldn’t even utter the phrase “I am gay”.

I know we’re talking about bullies here, and I believe we need to educate kids to be kind and considerate.

I say all of this because I now realize that I gave the bullies the power to harass me. All along, the attack was only that I was gay. They called me a “Sissy”, “Faggot”, a pajaro—and they were all right! I was and still am all of those things. And it’s only by embracing that about myself, by saying proudly, “I am gay!”, that I can take their power away. Had I been brought up in a home, in a church, and in a world that said queer identities are valid and moral, I would’ve been proud to be who I was, and there would be no weapon for bullies to use against me.

Danny Reyes TileDo you still find yourself encountering bullies as an LGBT Latino adult living in Virginia?

Not really, but I recognize that’s not the case for all LGBTQ people or other minorities in Richmond. I happen to live in an area that’s relatively inclusive, so standards of colorism and homonormativity have expanded far enough to bring people like me into the mainstream liberal fold. But I know that’s not the case for all queer people or POC, especially for trans women of color.

What do you find the most effective way to approach a bullying situation?

I guess it really depends on the risk of violence. As I mentioned earlier, I think the best way to deal with bullies is to disarm them. To counter their attacks with self-love and pride. But sometimes the hostility can be life-threatening, and that approach isn’t a realistic option. In those cases, I have no advice but to survive anyway you can until homophobia, classism, racism, sexism, colorism, xenophobia, transphobia, and all other systems of oppression can be effectively dismantled.

Do you think bullies can change? If so, how?

Yes, bullies can change, but it takes a lot of unwiring. It takes convincing them that using their power against the powerless is immoral, because it is unfair and it is unkind. But we’re primed to be bullies. We see bullying behavior as a virtue. We see our politicians and preachers do it, and we admire it. We need to teach bullies to be ashamed of their bullying behavior.

Your released the moving tribute “50 Hearts” as a response to the Orlando Pulse tragedy. You are also the intersection of so many of those same identities. Can you explain how this song came about for you an what you want to achieve in sharing it?

I wrote “50 Hearts” with my band, My Darling Fury, the day of the tragedy. As a gay Latin guy from Florida, it hit really close to home. I guess what struck me the most was the horror of it, how even our safe spaces aren’t safe. And it was a tragic reminder of how toxic homophobia is and how it’s still alive and kicking. I wanted to address that, the tragedy of it. But I also wanted it to be a call to action to the queer community and to our allies, to be bolder, louder, and prouder when we can. To challenge and dismantle homophobia.

What do you think people should be doing to create safe space for people of different cultural, sexual or religious identities? What can we change the culture to do better?

Speaking up and challenging harmful rhetoric—in person and online—and recognizing that being passive in situations where there are oppressed and oppressors is to be complicit with the oppressors. Keyboard warriors get a lot of flack, but all of us act according to what we believe. And what we believe is shaped by the rhetoric that surrounds us. It’s important that we take an active stance to add to the rhetoric that gives power to the powerless.

Music has been a valuable outlet for you to share your stories. What do you think would encourage others to come forward in whatever medium they choose to share their experiences overcoming bullies or other hostilities?

Visibility is a big one. There’s a lot to criticize about Caitlyn Jenner about and there’s a lot you could say about the new Ghost Busters movie, but seeing people of diverse identities telling their own stories and being successful, is the most empowering and encouraging way to motivate others to do the same.

If you could say one thing to anyone who is the victim of bullying, what would it be?

Challenge it if you can. Disarm them with your pride and self-love if you can. If you can’t, survive and challenge them later. Look for support anywhere you can find it—whether there are teachers or friends or family you can speak to. Find outlets for you to deal with your struggle, whether that’s art or sports or whatever.


Danny Reyes is a queer, Cuban-American singer, from Miami who lives in Richmond, VA. With My Darling Fury, he writes songs about life, love, and adversity, while embracing his gayness and Latin identity. Follow 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.

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I’m Out So Gay Youth Know They Have A Future

Portrait of Brett Bingham

There is a reason I am an out teacher, and it is simple and clear. Being out gives young LGBTQ people a vision of a possible future. The suicide statistics for this group of teenagers should send shivers down your spine. This is why I travel the country teaching teachers that they have to make their classrooms a safe place for LGBTQ students. This is the brutal fact: only 12% of our LGBTQ students in a high school (without a Gay Straight Alliance GSA club) say they have heard a staff member say something positive about gay people.

To look at it another way, that means we are graduating our LGBTQ students without supporting them and making sure they understand their value. I made that mistake once. When I was a sophomore in high school my best friend told me he was done dating girls. I thought that was great because I was right there with him. I didn’t make much of a big deal about it. I just reassured him we were still best friends, and nothing was going to change that.

Brett Bigham with Sen. Hilary Clinton. Photo courtesy the Clinton FoundationAnd he went home, didn’t answer his phone for a few days, and then, took his life.

I look back all these years later, and it just plain hurts. It’s like a wound that’s been bandaged all these years but has never stopped causing pain. Then, I hear about a Tyler Clementi or a Jadin Bell and the bandage is ripped off. It is horrible.

And you might think that there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.

Yet, I was given an amazing opportunity. In 2014, I was named Oregon State Teacher of the Year. My then domestic partner (and now husband) discussed the honor and agreed that we would ride together in the Portland Gay Pride Parade. This is a big deal in our family because my husband happens to be incredibly shy. He agreed that the positive message we would send young LGBTQ people was something we could not pass up.

Brett Bigham with President Barack Obama. Photo courtesy the White House Press OfficeFate decided to make a little bigger deal out of it. Marriage became legal in Oregon, and when Mike and I tied the knot, it meant the sitting Teacher of the Year (and his very shy husband) just got gay married in front of every news station in town. A few weeks later, instead of the Gay Pride Parade, we rode in the Portland Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade. Almost half a million people watched the parade wind itself through the city. The loudspeakers set up every few blocks announced over and over again the Teacher of the Year and “riding with him—his husband.” Our driver told us he’d been driving VIPs for over a decade, and he had never heard such a thunderous response from the crowd. We knew that with every block of that long parade, we had sent our message loud and clear.

I’m a teacher, and just by being myself, we know every person who watched that parade left with a role model. That act of being out made sure that every one in attendance now has a picture of what being gay means. I wish Tyler Clementi could have been at that parade. I know there are a lot of families who have lost a child that wishes that child could have been at a parade like that.

Brett Bigham with Dr. Stephen Hawking. Photo courtesy AltheaThat is why I am out. Because every time a young gay person hears about a successful LGBTQ adult, it’s like giving them a pat on the back. It gives them a little support. It shows them a possible future.

I want all young LGBTQ youth to know they can be a proud person. I want them to know they can be celebrated. I want them to know they can be a teacher and even Teacher of the Year. I want them to know they can just be.


Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and one of only a handful of LGBTQ teachers who have been recognized with this prestigious award. In 2015, he was given the National Education Association LGBTQ Teacher Role Model Award and was named an NEA Foundation Global Fellow. That same year he was the first Oregon special education teacher to receive the NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence. He is a staunch advocate for LGBTQ youth and speaks around the country to support our vulnerable young people. He is the creator of Ability Guidebooks that support people with autism in the community and now has books in ten countries and in four languages. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook or at his blog.

Photo with President Barack Obama courtesy the White House Press Office; photo with Sen. Hillary Clinton courtesy the The Clinton Foundation; photo with Stephen Hawking courtesy Anthea Bain.


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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Respect in the Workplace: BASF Takes the #Upstander Pledge

Jane and James Clementi Speak at BASF

in 2016, BASF’s Allchemie and the Latin American Employee Group (LAEG) partnered up to create a diversity event on a topic that can affect any of us, at any point in our lives and careers…bullying. Guest speakers from the Tyler Clementi Foundation and the Florham Park Police Department were invited to educate employees on Bullying and its effects.

In 2010, Tyler Clementi’s death became a global news story, highlighting the impact and consequences of bullying.

The diversity event, hosted in Florham Park and webcast to all North America sites, aimed to raise greater awareness for bullying prevention. Tyler Clementi’s mother and brother, Jane and James Clementi, and Police Sergeant Glen Johnstone helped us better understand the consequences of bullying and what we can do to create a more inclusive environment.

Jane and James Clementi speak at BASF.The heartfelt sharing of both Jane and James Clementi and the positive influence of their endeavors in Tyler’s memory made for a presentation that touched all in attendance. The law enforcement portion provided statistical data and valuable tools to identify and assist in the prevention of bullying.

Nationwide, anti-bullying campaigns such as Spirit Day on October 20th and #Day1, which was started by the Tyler Clementi Foundations are making great impact in schools and campuses. The message that bullying is unacceptable needs to be continually reinforced so that it extends beyond the classroom to all facets of daily living.

Audience at the BASF PresentationAs a company that embraces diversity, we are hopeful that BASF can continue laying the groundwork for our future colleagues to join a company that is welcoming and free from bias. We are all unique beings and that only augments our strength.

In the spirit of diversity and inclusion and, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the event concluded with a networking Latin-inspired lunch.

Are you looking to make your workplace free of bullying, harassment and humiliation? Learn more about both our Upstander Speaker Series and Workplace training programs.

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Meet Upstander Travis Montez

Portrait of Travis Montez

How would you define bullying?
Broadly, I think bullying is any time a person or group uses their power or privilege to harass, threaten, demean, humiliate or assault someone.

Can you explain why the issue of bullying is important to you?
I experienced it a great deal growing up. I was a gay, black kid growing up in the South in the ’80s and ’90s in a fairly religious family. Kids called me names. Wrote “Faggot” on my locker and schoolbooks. Yelled “Sissy” at me as the school bus drove off each afternoon.

I haven’t been a kid or teenager in decades, but I still remember quite clearly how isolated, unwanted, and wrong that treatment made me feel. I don’t think I ever believed the kids who bullied me were mean or evil. My takeaway was that there was something fundamentally wrong with me that I couldn’t change no matter how hard I tried or prayed.

And at one point, when I was 15, I tried to kill myself. Not because I wanted to die but because I just could not stand that isolation. Now, as an adult, I see that bullying is embedded in our culture, particularly youth culture. With social media and technology, kids today experience bullying on a level that I never did and don’t think I could have handled as a teen.

Travis Montez TileI very much allowed that anger and hurt from being bullied to make me a bit of a bully later in high school. That’s why this issue is important to me. I don’t think most bullies—at any age—recognize the impact of their behavior. That’s the problem.

As an adult, have you ever personally experienced being bullied or felt like you were in a hostile space directed at you?
As much as I was bullied in school as a youth, I never feared for my safety. Not really. But as an adult living in supposedly progressive New York City, I have many, many times been made to feel afraid by bullies. I have been called “Faggot” while walking in the West Village, sitting on the subway, by a security guard while going into the District Attorney’s office as part of my job, and countless times in court. I have been threatened with sexual violence by complete strangers who told me that if I wanted to ‘act like a b****,’ they should treat me like one and sexually assault me. The list of these experiences I have had as an adult go on and on. It is what prompted me to start training in mixed martial arts so I could defend myself. Perhaps not coincidentally, I don’t get harassed in public since I started training.

How does your writing allow you to process this hostility from others?
I think the thing that writing does for me—that I didn’t have as a kid—is the opportunity to ‘get it out.’ It allows me to voice the experience and not keep all that hate inside me. This is really what the bully wants—to diminish you, destroy you, make you believe you are less valuable than he or she is. When I write, I get to tell the story and take that power back and share with the world what ugly thing happened to me.

Are there writers you might suggest for someone looking to experience more voices of African-American LGBT people in America?
James Baldwin, particularly for his novels like Just Above My Head. He was writing about gay, black men in such a normative way in like the ’60s with such passion and clarity. Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill are also two writers whose work I found utterly humanizing when it found me.

Staceyann Chin. I always loved her as a poet, but someone gifted me with her memoir recently. It is a necessary read. Audre Lorde, of course. Janet Mock. J Mase is stunning!!! G Winston James. Marvin K. White. Aziza Barnes is like…all the poet you will ever need, I think.

Many discuss the need for LGBTQ community members to create a more inclusive experience for individuals of color and other communities who often feel excluded from the history of gay liberation. Do you agree with this?
I think the work is definitely to create a space that recognizes the role that people of color have already and always played. We really are not going to achieve liberation without each other.

How can LGBTQ people work to improve safe space in the community for people of all races, religions, etc.?
I think LGBT people can do the work of making their own spaces safe and more inclusive.

But if this is a question about safe spaces more broadly, I am not sure that is our work. We didn’t make them unsafe. We, as LGBTQ people, can certainly continue demanding our inclusion, pointing out how, why, and where we are unsafe and what our safety would look like. Much of that work of creating safe space is the work of people who make us unsafe. That is their job. You know what I mean?

Men have to fix misogyny. White folks have to fix racism. Cisgender folks have to fix their transphobia. And so on. We have to recognize and call out our own biases as individuals and communities, understand the cost of that prejudice and fix it. We must be willing to listen.

In your role as a Public Defender for youth, do you see bullying come up as a factor in a young person’s decisions?
I have worked with kids who have bullied and who have been bullied. What strikes me is how normal kids who bully think bullying is; how they never ever see themselves as bullies. So much of mistreating another person among young people is based on impressing peers.

Can you share how bullying (or reactions to bullying) are influencing the behavior of youth you represent?
Being bulled can cause acting out, bullying in retaliation, self-harming, truancy, all kinds of anti-social and harmful behavior. I have seen it cause kids to engage in behavior they otherwise would not have just to be liked—participating in crimes, sexual activity, running away, acting out in school, etc.

I have worked with kids who simply stopped going to school because of the incessant bullying or who had to transfer schools because of it only to have it follow them because of social media. I think how kids experience themselves as regarded by their peers has a huge influence in their decisions.

Young LGBT are disproportionately bullied, and many of us are familiar with the high rates of homelessness for LGBT youth. Why should all communities be working to provide positive spaces for LGBT youth?
Because LGBT youth come from and belong to all communities. Being LGBT isn’t an island. These youth are as vital, essential, vulnerable, and worthy as any other kid out there. Kids are our responsibility. Period.

What resources do you think a person should have available to respond to bullying?
Therapy. Mediation. Peer mediation. And I think bullies should really be informed about the impact of their behavior.

What are three things you think a person could do today to express kindness in their community?
Volunteer on a regular and consistent basis.

I am a huge fan of anonymous in-kind donations. I promise there are things around your house in great condition that you don’t use that someone needs and would love.

Any thing that gets art and art supplies and creative space to youth.


Travis Montez is a Tennessee-born Brooklynite, writer, and attorney for children. I love all things pop culture, but especially comic books. I fall in love a lot. Follow 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.

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RESPECT FOR ALL!

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We are happy to kick off Respect for All Week with the New York City Department of Education tomorrow! The week is started off right by schools using #Day1 programming to begin the conversation. This simple and effective program consists of talking about the rights and responsibilities we all have to treat each other with respect. Students will have an opportunity to learn about how to keep their peers and themselves safe from bullying or harassment.

Many people believe bullying is a rite of passage for any kid, but bullying and harassment can cause long lasting damage that can affect mental health and physical health well into adulthood. This public health threat can be a launching pad for depression, anxiety, PTSD, drug abuse, dropout, and even suicide. Programs like #Day1 and Respect for All week help students and faculty learn how to manage bullying and harassment in a way that ensures the issues are addressed quickly and respectfully within a school’s climate.

We hope you join with us in our excitement about this opportunity to bring Tyler's story and the #Day1 program too all NYC children. If you are in the NYC area- contact your local school and ask them if they are taking part in the #Day1 program. If you are outside of the NYC area, ask you local school what is being done to address Respect for All. Talk to them about the NYC initiative and see if something like that can be done locally. Schools want to listen to the community, but the community needs to talk to them.

I believe in Respect For All

Join with us this week by showing your support of RFA week by downloading this tile to use for your social media. Also, consider hosting a local fundraiser to continue to support the Tyler Clementi Foundation so we can continue to bring these programs to schools and community groups across the US.

Thanks so much for your continued support as we all work together to end bullying, harassment and humiliation.

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Tyler Clementi’s Mother Calling on Melania Trump to Meet With Her to Discuss Cyberbullying

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The Tyler Clementi Foundation is placing a full-page advertisement in the inauguration week issue of the Washington Examiner. The ad will call on future first lady Melania Trump to meet with Foundation co-founder Jane Clementi to discuss ways to end cyberbullying. Clementi wants to share the lessons she learned following the death of her son to suicide after experiencing cyberbullying.

In November, shortly after the election, Jane Clementi offered to work with Ms. Trump on her effort to end online bullying of children and teenagers. Clementi welcomed Ms. Trump’s pre-election announcement that as first lady she would work to stop this abusive behavior. Clementi wants to meet with Trump to discuss how she and the foundation could work with her. But she also called on her to recognize the Trump campaign’s bullying of many marginalized people and groups. “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,” Clementi said.

Join us in inviting Melania to the conversation

The Washington Examiner is a weekly magazine and website based in Washington, D.C. that covers politics and the federal government.

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Mom to Mom: Invite Melania to Join Us in Conversation

SIGN THE LETTER BELOW + SEND YOUR OWN LETTER: Want to make it clear that Melania should join the conversation in how we all can end bullying, harassment and humiliation? Send a physical letter to First Lady Melania Trump, asking her to meet with Jane Clementi to discuss working together to end online and offline #bullying. Send the letter to either Trump Tower, 58th floor, 725 5th Avenue, New York NY 10022 or Office of the First Lady, The White House, Washington, DC. Take a picture of the letter or envelope and share on social media (remember to tag us!) to inspire others to join the campaign.

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As a nation, the time is now to stand up for bullying prevention in our schools and our communities. Jane Clementi, mother of Tyler Clementi, has responded to First Lady elect Melania Trump’s call to end online bullying by inviting her to a discussion. She is also inviting mothers throughout the nation to join her in this invitation in hopes that raising our voices in unison creates a safe space to talk about real solutions that support youth of all races, religious affiliations, sexual identities, gender identities, and abilities.

Please read the letter below and add your support:

“Thank you, Melania, for agreeing that cyberbulling is a major problem.

Bullying is a health crisis with implications across communities and schools. As a mother, I believe all families must have safe spaces for learning and interacting with others. We must work together to prevent all forms of online and offline bullying, harassment and humiliation from affecting any child’s development.

Let’s have a conversation—mom to mom—to discuss solutions that put an end to all online and offline bullying for everyone.

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Tell Your Senator: Insist that Betsy DeVos Fight For All Youth or She Isn’t Fit to Lead USDOE

Betsy DeVos has a long history of working to dismantle public education in favor of charter and voucher schools.

Tell your Senator to Demand Betsy DeVos Commit to All Students

These institutions may offer less protections legally than traditional public schools, when it comes to civil rights and bullying protections. Putting someone in charge of the very agency they have worked to undermine raises serious questions about whether our youth will be safe under her tenure. Ask your senator to ask Betsy DeVos tough questions about her commitment to protecting minority youth, including LGBT youth and her commitment to dedicating resources to bullying prevention and remediation.

Read Jane Clementi's statement about the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

We are calling on you to reach out to your Senators and ask them to demand DeVos confirm a commitment to all youth or fail appointment to the President’s Cabinet:

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Composer and Upstander Lynne Shankel Lays bare Her Path to Standing Up Against Bullying

GET THE ALBUM + SUPPORT AN END TO BULLYING: Lynne Shankel is sharing the proceeds of her album with the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Your support not only leads to great tunes, but also bullying prevention programming across the country! The album is now available for pre-order on iTunes, Amazon and at yellowsoundlabel.com.

I guess I was pretty lucky growing up. I was a Midwestern white person in a sea of other Midwestern white people. My family was pretty straight-up middle class, so we didn’t really stand out one way or another. I made friends. I blended in. I think the “blending in” part is key—because if you can be just enough like everyone else, maybe nothing bad will happen and no one will make fun of you. I remember being hyper-aware of this by 7th grade. I was in junior high and the cliques were forming. I was watching what the “cool kids” were wearing, making mental notes of brands and colors. I was listening to what they were talking about and the words they were using. I just wanted to be like them. I wanted to be above the fray. I didn’t want to end up like Ben, the kid who was stuffed in a locker on almost a daily basis. I didn’t really know him and I don’t think I ever spoke more than two words to him. No one did. He was just too weird. And no one wanted to be thought of as weird. I was already very involved in music and I was in the “gifted” program, so things could go either way for me on the social ladder of junior high. I was smart, so I could be perceived as a dork. I also played music, which would either make me a Super Dork or it could give me a pass. I studied classical music, but I also made sure I knew some Billy Joel songs. That helped. 🙂 When I got into high school, the arts were clearly what I was all about. I was involved in everything—choir, band, theatre. Those programs loomed large at my school, so everything was copacetic. I got into community theatre, which was big as well. We were a bunch of white people doing shows like The King and I, but whatever! I was totally fitting in! YAY!

I went to the University of Michigan to study piano performance. U of M is a highly diversified community. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by lots of people who were NOT Midwestern white people. I was amazed. There were black people. And Indian people. And Jews from New York. And gay people who were actually “out.” THAT was new, for sure. Back in high school, my friend Chris asked our group of friends if we thought he was gay. I think our response was something like “Well, yeah. DUH.” I mean, there was NO WAY he liked girls, so we were just being honest in our idiotic, blunt, teenager-y way… But he seemed pretty upset about it at the time. He didn’t know what to do about the fact that at this point in his life, people could actually TELL he was different. Clearly, no one could know. That would be against all Blending Rules. But in college, people didn’t really seem to care. There were SO many different kinds of people, and that’s what the whole experience was about: diversity. When I went home for the summer after my freshman year, for the first time I became aware of the lack of diversity in my hometown. EVERYONE was white. EVERYONE had the same hair. EVERYONE wore Abercrombie & Fitch. If you were truly included, you were all of these things. I was shocked that I hadn’t ever realized it before.

2017-01-tile-lynne-shankel-1080x1080Fast forward to now. I have lived and worked in the New York theatre community for twenty years. Diversity is what we do. It’s who we are. If you are nutty enough to be in this business, you probably made lots of left turns when everyone else was turning right. You have probably left the Blending Rules far behind. But getting to that place of feeling free to be who you are can be a major struggle.

In 2012, I was lucky enough to write some new songs for bare: The Musical. bare is a story about two teenage boys in a Catholic boarding school who fall in love. In their environment, those who do not follow the Blending Rules are bullied and tortured. In the eyes of our leads, Peter and Jason, being outed as gay would be the worst thing that could happen. And for one of them, the struggle is just too much to survive. For the creative team of bare, it became our mission to try to help people who felt trapped like Peter and Jason did. If we could help even ONE person to realize that things WILL get better, then all of our work would be worthwhile. During the run of the show, our producers hosted post-show anti-bullying forums with their non-profit partners and I was lucky enough to get to know the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Tyler’s story closely mirrored ours, so the connection between us was very natural. We held post-show talkbacks where we heard from so many young people who were struggling with their sexuality. Really, really struggling. They talked about how they weren’t sure they wanted to go on with their lives when they came in the door that day. Then they saw the show, and they felt a glimmer of hope. That’s all you really need sometimes. You just need one glimmer of hope.

I think now about Ben from junior high. If I knew then what I know now, maybe things would have been different for him. Maybe all he needed was for someone to ask him how his day was going. Or just say hi. It would have been so simple to show him a moment of kindness. But in the social war of teenager-dom, I chose not to.

tcf-email-lynne-shankel-bare-naked-albumI spent 2016 working on my double album, Bare Naked. The album includes the songs lyricist Jon Hartmere and I wrote for bare as well as a dozen of my most recent songs. Bare Naked is about me seeing you and you seeing me just as we are. No filters, no games, no apologies. Here we all are, with our arms wide open saying, “This is me. This is who I am.”

In honor of bare and Tyler’s story, I am giving 50% of album proceeds to the Tyler Clementi Foundation. In this era where it feels like the Blending Rules are trying to make a vicious comeback, nothing could be more important than continuing TCF’s mission. I hope you’ll take a listen.

Bare Naked will be released on Jan. 24. The album is now available for pre-order on iTunes, Amazon and at yellowsoundlabel.com.

Learn more about the Tyler Clementi Foundation.

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Jane Clementi speaks at the GCN Conference 2017 General Session