By Julie A. Palm
“I will stand up to bullying whether I’m at school, at home, at work, in my house of worship; whether I am speaking in the digital cyber world or out in the real world with friends, family, colleagues or teammates.”
More than 1 million people have taken that oath as part of 10-point Upstander pledge to not use bullying language and behaviors, to stop bullying when they witness it online or in person, and to assist people who are being bullied. The Million Upstander Movement was launched two years ago by the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which marks its 10th anniversary this fall.
“We strongly believe we need more Upstanders in this world, more people who will stand up and speak out in a bullying situation, not be a passive bystander,” says Jane Clementi. “It’s a daily decision to be an Upstander.”
The foundation is named for Clementi’s son, Tyler, a Rutgers University student and openly gay man who was relentlessly bullied after his roommate surreptitiously posted video online of Tyler and a date being intimate. Eighteen-year-old Tyler died by suicide on Sept. 22, 2010, several days after the incident. His parents co-founded the organization shortly after his death, and Jane Clementi left her job as a public health nurse in 2018 to become its chief executive officer full time.
While the Upstander pledge lays out clear actions people can take when they encounter bullying, Clementi urges people to think of the concept more expansively.
“We also need to be Upstanders in all areas of our life,” she says. “We need to vote for people who are respectful and who will stand up for everyone, who will support anti-bullying and anti-discrimination legislation. We need people to be Upstanders by supporting companies that are inclusive and nonbiased.”
In addition to becoming an Upstander, Clementi invites people to attend the foundation’s virtual fundraiser Oct. 15, hosted by MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts and featuring members of the “Queer as Folk” cast. And she encourages people to participate in the foundation’s #Day1 campaign designed to stop bullying before it starts — and wherever it occurs. The foundation offers specific #Day1 toolkits for use by a variety of organizations, including workplaces and faith groups.
One faith group, the Southern Baptist Convention, is the target of the foundation’s latest initiative. True Faith Doesn’t Bully is an education campaign “to show the immense harm and pain that the Southern Baptist Convention has caused with their harmful teachings and traditions of dogma, bias and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community,” according to a news release. Prominent ministers and LGTBQ leaders (including Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign; and Kevin Jennings, president of Lambda Legal, founder of GLSEN and son of an SBC preacher) are writing letters to pastors of several influential Baptist churches (including those attended by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy).
“We believe that bullying can happen from the pulpit, and that some churches are misinterpreting Scripture. Love isn’t about harm. If people see the harm they are causing, they may transform their dogma,” Clementi says. “We want everyone in the pews to know that they are loved and affirmed — and that there is a huge faith community that supports the LGBTQ community. We are not encouraging people to leave their faith; we want them to know that there are churches that are affirming.”
Clementi doesn’t expect True Faith Doesn’t Bully to enjoy the relatively quick results of the Upstander campaign. “This is a long-term initiative,” Clementi says. “But if we can save even one child from harm or one family from being destroyed or broken, that’s reason enough to keep doing the work.”