Meet Upstander and Photographer Syd London

Portrait of Syd London

PURCHASE AN IMAGE + SUPPORT AN END TO BULLYING: View and purchase signed, limited-edition images from Photographer Syd London from April 11-24 right here.

Your photography has such power, color and humanity. What are the things you look for in composing your work?

My process begins with getting at the soul and guts of a story and the people who are directly impacted. Wherever I am, no matter the day, I see the incredible beauty of light and how it shapes everything. However, at this moment in our world I’m not comfortable with simply making pretty photos. Living in such a visually based society, photography and photojournalism have such a well of potential to impact people’s perceptions as well as public policy. Beauty ultimately becomes a tool to engage the viewer, often on subject matter resulting from the ugliest parts of our humanity.

How did you come to making photography your creative voice?

First let me clear, I never expected to become a professional photographer. Though I’m trained extensively in fine arts and design, I am a self-taught photographer. I believe it’s important to be transparent about this because the arts need to be accessible to everyone, not isolated in some ivory tower. The arts and creativity have nothing to do with elitism or wallet size. The arts are about making space for each person’s voice and creative spirit. The arts teach us all about our history, our world and ourselves. They must be accessible, the arts save so many lives… mine included.

There are 3 primary contributing factors to photography becoming my work and creative voice, but it certainly wasn’t a direct route for me. The influence of my grandfather has been a huge factor in my life. Second, my gnawing need to use what I can do to contribute. Finally, receiving the diagnosis when I was 20 of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (E.D.S.), a rare, degenerative, genetic disorder without a cure, it prodded me in this direction while also taking some other options off the table.

Thanks to my grandfather, I knew I had the photography bug when I was about 7, starting with that delicious sound of the closing shutter which actually made my hair stand on end (yeah, I know, I’m weird but I’m okay with that now). When I turned 16 my mom gave me my first 35mm, a little Olympus that I still love to shoot with. For years all I wanted was a35mm. Despite a lot of struggles, the one thing my mom has continually encouraged in my life are the arts, being an artist and designer herself.

My grandfather served in the Royal Canadian Signals as part of the Number 1 Special Wireless Group during World War 2 (from 1939-1946). He was a code breaker. He also took photos for the military, several of which I have and am trying to learn more about. After the war he built a darkroom out of found objects from the dumpsters, including his homemade enlarger. I’ll never forget the first time I watched him place a negative into the enlarger, focus, and suddenly this tiny, inverted image came to life! It blew my young mind!

Growing up in a traditionally Jewish home, in addition to my grandfather being a WW2 veteran and his father having escaped the Russian KGB (a result of his labor organizing work), there were three pieces of knowledge my grandpa embedded into very my DNA. Despite his death when I was 12 I’m so grateful he shaped my core values, what I do now and most certainly how I see. This is what he taught me which drives my work:

One of the greatest weapons of suppression is the erasure of another person or group’s story.

Remember the victors always write the history books.

Question everything, always. The more you are told not to question something, the more it needs to be examined inside out.

Students organized action and vigil responding to Tyler Clementi's suicide.  Washington Square Park, New York City. 10.03.2010 Photo by Syd London ©2010, all rights reserved.Students organized action and vigil responding to Tyler Clementi’s suicide. Washington Square Park, New York City. 10.03.2010 Photo by Syd London ©2010, all rights reserved.

How have people responded to your work?
It’s important to remember how much has happened in the last 10 years. The LGBTQITSGNC and POC communities were dramatically less visible in mainstream media; issues such as transgender rights were certainly not getting any meaningful coverage. As a result there was a strong response to finally seeing our lives being reflected in a more truthful, real and broader ranging way. Honestly, the response to my work really surprised me. I don’t believe any part of this journey would have evolved without the queer community making space for my work. It’s something I’m profoundly thankful for. Community gave me the first opportunities and encouraged me through my photographic growing pains. Community gave me the chance to build my portfolio and the confidence to do that really scary and vulnerable thing – put my work and voice out there.

Shortly after my work began getting published I started receiving some powerful emails and messages through social media. I’ve never talked about it before. Prior to the reversal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, deployed military members would send me secret messages, along with people out in middle of America and even remote places in Europe. They all wrote about how it felt to see these published photos of people they could relate to. They told me they felt less alone or didn’t know they weren’t alone until they saw my photos of our community. It was really deep. I saved each message for my tough days, to ground me in why I do what I do.

Syd London TileAs a young artist, do you feel like people expect different things from you creatively? If so, what types of things and how do you respond?
Thank you dearly for calling me young, I’m turning 39 in a few months, though no one seems to believe it. My guess is that it’s a result of my being so excited to be alive, free and doing what I’m doing.

Honestly, I’ve been more aware of expectations because of being female and a totally “out” queer than I have been about age… actually I find that people seem surprised that one of the projects I’m working on is “Aging While Queer”.

While I may only be in my 30’s, I see many parallels between the disability rights movement, elder rights and how so many social justice movements overlap in the struggle. If anything, folks are caught off guard that I’m so passionate about what is happening to our generations of elders out there. While we must deal with and make space for our homeless queer youth, we can’t ignore how often our elders are fighting to stay off the streets or end up in the shelter system. Too many of our LGBTQITSGNC elders are unable to get proper health care and are living in isolation.

Behind the scenes on the first shoot for "Aging While Queer" with Miss Major and Jay Toole. Oakland, CA. Photo by Wendi Kali ©2013, all rights reserved.Behind the scenes on the first shoot for “Aging While Queer” with Miss Major and Jay Toole. Oakland, CA. Photo by Wendi Kali ©2013, all rights reserved.

My generation and younger often say, “we stand on the shoulders of our elders, they paved the way” yet our elders are facing terrible issues of ageism, even within the queer social justice work place. At the same time many of our elders are watching their own histories / herstories being white-washed before their very eyes. That’s why I started working on the multi media (video, audio and photo) project “Aging While Queer” and am currently pursuing funding to continue.

When people walk away from viewing your artwork, what do you want them to carry with them?
Photography is so subjective there’s a lot of room and potential. The potential takeaway is likely to be different depending on who you are. For some, I hope they learn a little something that perhaps builds a new kind of compassion. For others, I sure hope they feel less isolated and walk away feeling empowered. Education, empowerment and compassion are all powerful tools to move forth with.

Young women and men are often challenged by hostility from their peers as they are growing up. Have you ever experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or humiliation? If so, could you share about those experiences?
Yes, I’ve experienced a great deal of bullying and fear but I believe it’s also important to note my partner, who’s in her late 60’s, is still afraid to use a bathroom in New York City today. Yes, we are an intergenerational couple. Sadly, I’ve found that bullying, fear and suppression are not limited to a specific age group.

My partner, Jay Toole, is very butch; she’s often mistaken for a man. In our community her butchness is celebrated, her nickname is even “Super Butch”. However, when she steps out into the rest of the world it’s entirely different, she can’t even go to the bathroom safely. Something seems terribly wrong in this society when someone who witnessed the Stonewall rebellion almost 50 years ago, as a homeless youth, still can’t go to the bathroom without worrying about arrest today.

Despite all the precautions she takes, including using a female buddy system, the NYPD are often called on her if she dares use the woman’s bathroom. People rarely ask or communicate before calling the police. Way too many in our community are living with the fear of simply needing to pee. Jay is in a particularly precarious position thanks to the sumptuary laws that were enforced into the 1980’s in NYC. The sumptuary laws were yet another way to institutionalize gender policing, requiring a person to wear 3 articles of clothing associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. Like so many queer youth, Jay ended up on the streets because she was thrown out. She was beaten and arrested by the NYPD countless times while homeless. Now Jay lives with traumatic brain injury among other injuries because of these beatings, along with a lengthy arrest record. She knows her body can’t handle being rough handled or beaten again. Based on her experiences, Jay is really concerned she’ll be rough handled if the NYPD get to her, because of having a record.

The bathroom issues that we are finally talking about in the media are far from new. Our gender non-conforming and transgender community has been impacted by gender policing for countless generations. People should not be afraid of arrest or worse because they need to use the bathroom. This is bathroom bullying!

Can you explain why the issue of bullying is important to you?
It’s hard for me not to associate bullying with suicide and suicidal ideations. School could have been my refuge; I’ve always loved learning. Instead school felt like one more battlefield. Mostly it was verbal but the bullying was relentless. The bullying came from both teachers and students at a time when I struggled to believe I had any right to exist. My mom began threatening to kill herself, then disappearing into the night when I was nine. I knew her mom had killed herself so it just me seemed like the one door out, if I couldn’t hack it anymore during my childhood. When I was 5 years old my father stuck his handgun in my mouth and told me if I ever told what was happening he would kill my mom and me. As a result of my dad’s violence and my mom’s mental health instability I thought it was my job to protect my mom. I understand the price of silence really well.

By the time I was in middle school my mom left our faith, becoming a born again Evangelical Christian. When I tried to come out to her she threw me out “for doing the work of the devil”. There was no other living family and nowhere for me to go. Between home and school, nothing felt safe. I had no idea if or how I was going to survive.

Honestly I’m still not entirely sure how either my partner or I managed to survive our childhoods but I’m really glad we did. We both feel strongly about using what we know to contribute to our communities. It’s impossible for either of us to spend so many years living that kind of fight for basic survival and then turn our backs on our community.

Fear and shame are incredibly powerful weapons of suppression.

You have dedicated a large body of work to documenting L.G.B.T.Q.I.T.S.G.N.C. (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Two-spirit, Gender Non-conforming) communities. These identities along with so many others are being challenged with increasing hostility all over the country. Many people (teachers, community organizers, parents) have reached out and want to know how they can create safe space for young (and all) people of all identities. Do you have tips or thoughts on how people can work towards making their classroom, organization or workplace a safe space for all people?
We’ve made huge strides in some areas of L.G.B.T.Q.I.T.S.G.N.C. rights but we’ve also left behind some of our most critical survival issues like homelessness, suicide, lack of physical and mental health care access, police violence and elder care. I believe strongly we need to come together as a larger community and focus on these survival issues or we will continue to leave a huge portion of our family behind in this movement. That’s why I veered away from doing a lot of marriage equality coverage and focused on issues effecting trans people of color, First Nation Two-Spirit communities, issues of LGBTQITSGNC homelessness and healthcare access.

Opening night of "Ground Surge: Communities Rising" in the Human Rights Institute Gallery at Kean University in 2016. Syd London speaks welcomes everyone to her first solo exhibition. Photo by Katrina del Mar © 2016Opening night of "Ground Surge: Communities Rising" in the Human Rights Institute Gallery at Kean University in 2016. Syd London speaks welcomes everyone to her first solo exhibition. Photo by Katrina del Mar © 2016.

Yes I do have some tips. We created a lesson plan that helps guide students and teachers towards making school a safe space. It was created as part of the programming tied to my first solo exhibition, “Ground Surge: Communities Rising” at the Human Rights Institute Gallery. It builds on a series of questions and exercises, supporting students to self determine individually and working in groups. They examine what they believe is needed and how they can become active participants in building safe space for learning. I had the opportunity to create this lesson plan with Collette Carter, a brilliant social justice organizer along with Janice Kroposky, she’s an education specialist who leads the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean University. The lesson plan meets common core standards to ensure it’s something teachers can really use in the classroom. I’m happy to make digital copies available to interested faculty, students, parents and grandparents. Please contact me if interested to know more.

Your new studio space includes capacity to support local creative people as a community space. What motivated you to do this and how do you feel like this will impact where you live?
The idea basic ideas of Thunder Hill Studio are something I began working towards when I was 19 years old, with the formation of my first business Feral Woman. My goal was to build a business that backed an organization. The plan for the organization was buy land, restore the indigenous flora and fauna while offering programming to support women in need of safe space. Back in the 90’s, before the green eco-business movement, there wasn’t a model out there. I was trying to figure it out on my own and people thought the ideas were nuts because they’d never heard of such a business model. Feral Woman was a small, one-woman business but it began growing rapidly, until September 11th.

In this day in age, I believe it’s essential medicine to have safe creative spaces, where we can breathe and reground in our feral (untamable) spirits. While the capacity of Thunder Hill Studio will be on much more intimate scale compared to my grand teen dreams, it’s a whole lot better than nothing. The closest queer space we’ve located is the LGBT Community Center in Kingston NY, over in Ulster County. That’s over an hour’s drive, each way. We are merely 2 hours from midtown Manhattan, yet it might as well be a world away

Love & Shelter. A couple that met in the NYC Women's Shelter system snuggle during Queers for Economic Justice annual picnic in Prospect Park.  Brooklyn NY, 2011 Photo by Syd London ©2011, all rights reserved.Love & Shelter.
A couple that met in the NYC Women’s Shelter system snuggle during Queers for Economic Justice annual picnic in Prospect Park.
Brooklyn NY, 2011
Photo by Syd London ©2011, all rights reserved.

I treasure most of the aspects of living rurally, except when it comes to resources for minority communities. Sullivan County, where we are located, comes in second to last in health & wellness out of all 63 counties in the state of New York, annually. Each time my partner or I chat with local teachers or guidance councilors they talk to us about how their student body is 50% homeless, it’s really hard to wrap my brain around! 4 to 6 out of 10 homeless youth self identify as LGBTQITSGNC nationally. That’s why my mind immediately started wondering what’s available to our community on a local Sullivan County level. I’m still looking but I’m not waiting. It’s great to know as soon as we can open the doors to Thunder Hill Studio we will be a resource and help to hold safe space in a variety of formats.

There’s no way to predict the impact. Hopefully, Thunder Hill Studio will support cross-pollination between the urban and rural L.G.B.T.Q.I.T.S.G.N.C. communities by serving as a retreat space for city based groups and creative space for locals. It will be a space where we can gather in small groups. I understand first hand how it corrodes self worth when the primary message someone hears from family and/or loved ones, friends, school and work is how “bad or wrong ” they are. My chosen family and community keep me grounded in my right to be alive and to be treated with love. That’s why I hope Thunder Hill Studio can serve as a vehicle to support growing that sense of community in Sullivan county.

What are three things you think a person could do today to express kindness in their community?
Each and every person has a story and is experts in their own experiences. Respecting and honoring each person in this way goes far. We don’t have to agree with each other to treat each other humanely and respectfully, that’s part of what’s great about living in a democracy.

Find ways to create and support accessible, safe space, which visibly indicates itself as such so people know they are in a safe space.

Vote with your dollar and at the ballot. Boycott spaces, businesses and groups which refuse to become accessible to everyone and/or who support hate, bullying or suppression of any of our human rights.

Syd London is a social justice storyteller & patriotic muckraker. Very queer, Jewish, New Yorker who also loves nature, creating, building and tinkering plus, you should know that music is her food. Follow on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Visit her site here.

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.


Tyler’s Suite is a Powerful Musical Experience

Dion Grace of Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus

Hear selections from Tyler’s Suite live at the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus’ event Hand in Hand on April 7 and 8. Get Tickets Now

Tyler’s Suite is an emotionally moving work. Listening to it helps the audience connect with the emotional responses from the many different perspectives represented—Tyler, his mom, his dad, his brother. Singing it, however, is a completely different experience; and using the word ‘powerful’ is quite the understatement.

I was taught as a kid to watch what I say and think before I speak because what I say is, in fact, powerful. Tyler’s story embodies the impacts of hurtful language and actions.

Saying “I hear you say ‘I love you’; I’d say ‘I love you more'” puts me directly in the shoes of Jane Clementi and the unconditional love she can no longer express to Tyler. It’s hard wrapping my mind around how much my mom loves me, but this piece helps understand that love. Joseph Clementi resonates with his emotional response of confusion: “How could this happen? How could someone be so cruel to another person?” It’s an uncomfortably familiar question.

Tyler’s Suite shows that bullying has consequences far beyond words that are said and actions that are taken against intended targets as acts of intolerance. This work is important to me because it reminds us first and foremost that Tyler Clementi was human. He had emotions. He had people that loved him. But because he was bullied, there will be songs we’ll never hear him share and music that will always be unplayed.

Dion Grace is a member of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. Follow the chorus on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.




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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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:


New Video

Jane Clementi speaks at the GCN Conference 2017 General Session