After the tragedy, I was so inspired by the Orlando community’s response. I’ve lived in Orlando since 1983 and for the first time I saw community members rallying together to support the LGBT community. From blood banks overflowing to marches and speeches by local politicians, the community’s response was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. People came together from all different backgrounds to support each other. What stood out was the religious community, which has not traditionally been our supports, were there in support.
How do you define bullying?
Bullying is anytime someone feels inadequate, uncomfortable or less than equal. Everyone should feel safe and have a sense of belonging. Acceptance is key. When others create a sense of inadequacy because they are different, people begin to suffer and feel bullied. Bullying only breeds more bullying as it becomes a norm in a community.
The Pulse tragedy can be seen as fueled by transphobia and homophobia, which continues to affect LGBTQIA youth in schools throughout the country. How do you see impact of this tragedy affecting the conversations communities must have about all prejudice and what do you feel each person in a community should be doing to challenge bigotry?
The impact is awareness, the more people that become aware that prejudice is affecting our community every day in real ways, the better we can educate them to be cognizant, then people can see how to stop prejudice and embrace our differences. In almost all cases, bystanders are just as guilty as the bully. People need to prove that they are an ally to others, ready to fight and advocate for others when they witness bigotry. Education is key to awareness.
Can you explain The 49 Fund? What inspired you to launch the fund?
The 49 Fund is a scholarship fund that I created after seeing firsthand the impact of the Pulse tragedy in our community. I want to be sure that our community has leaders for the future. This unique scholarship will be offered specifically to LGBT students in Central Florida. The scholarships will be awarded to students who will be the leaders of tomorrow and want to make a positive impact on our community. I was so inspired by my community’s response to the Pulse tragedy that I wanted to create this fund in honor of the 49 victims to ensure that we have great leaders for the future. The goal is to raise one million dollars so the fund will be endowed and continue in perpetuity.
How can people donate to The 49 Fund? What if someone can’t afford it?
We established The 49 Fund to be for everyone to be part of it. If you are a student, donate $4.90; if you are a young professional, $49; a small business, $490; a thriving entrepreneur, $4,900; or a successful business or leader, $49,000. Donations can be made online. One great part of the fund is that we welcome donations from everyone in the community and strive to make it affordable to make an impact. In doing so, we have various levels of contributions. Others in the community are committing to pledge $4900 over five years. There’s a contribution level for everyone that wants to make a difference.
How can students apply for The 49 Fund?
Students can apply online. The scholarships will be awarded to students who strive to by leaders and want to make a positive impact on our community. A 3.0 GPA, an essay, a letter of recommendation, and demonstration of a financial need are required. Preference will be given to any survivors and families of the victims of the Pulse tragedy.
You’ve been very successful in business, what lessons have you borrowed from business when launching The 49 Fund?
I’ve borrowed the lesson of rallying peers around this mission that I am passionate about. When I founded my companies, The Closing Agent and Barry Miller Law– it was only me. Since then, we’ve grown to 5 offices and over 30 employees. I’ve rallied employees around my company’s mission of providing outstanding closing, title and legal services just like I’ve tried to encourage my community to get involved in The 49 Fund. A core of my business is to give back to the community. In the past I have served as President of The Orlando LGBT Center, President of The Orlando International Fringe Festival (the oldest and largest in the US) and have sponsored many endeavors for arts and education. I currently serve as President of the Central Florida Gay and Lesbian Lawyers Association (CFGALLA).
As a business owner, how do you see bullying prevention in the workplace being a part of the solution to end bullying?
Sadly, bullying doesn’t stop in schools. From my years in business, I’ve seen that there’s no place for bullying in the workplace. Employers must educate their employees that this is a real problem, everywhere. If businesses educate their employees, they can bring this information home and teach their children that bullying is just wrong and that tolerance, differences and uniqueness of people is what makes our nation and our communities great.
Have you ever experienced (or witnessed) bullying? Can you share about that experience?
Growing up, unfortunately I did experience bullying and it was very traumatic. When I was growing up there were no outlets for help, that is why it is so important today to get the word out…to educate on this important issue.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who has been bullied?
Borrowing from a line that I love, I’d tell someone that ‘it gets better.’ Every individual, no matter who they are, has felt like they were bullied before. What matters is how someone reacts to the situation of being bullied. I encourage children and adults to not stand idly by when they are being bullied or witness someone else getting bullied. Speak out against the indifference you see in the world. It is so important. Awareness, education and action will someday stop bullying.
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.