Americas

Lady Gaga Launches Born This Way Foundation

Lady Gaga during a concert in Milan, Italy on December 4, 2010. (Photo: ChinellatoPhoto, Shutterstock.com)

Lady Gaga and some of her high-profile friends, including Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra, paid a visit to Harvard University on Wednesday to launch her empowerment organization, the Born This Way Foundation (BTWF). Also on hand: Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary. 

According to the Washington Post, Winfrey explained that she doesn’t usually make appearances like this, but she believes in the foundation’s message. “I am here because I believe that every human being who comes to the planet comes with the inherit and divine right to be himself and herself,” she said.

Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard, said that she and her colleagues invited Lady Gaga because they had been searching for ways to address bullying as a neglected area of education and as a human rights issue. Ms. McCartney went on to say “As many as one-fifth of children feel bullied. If you don’t feel safe as a child, you can’t learn.”

The day holds significance not only for Gaga, but also for some Harvard students and faculty members.

As the Associated Press Reported, in 1920 a “secret court” of Harvard administrators expelled seven students for being or being perceived as gay. Current students and faculty want the university, which apologized for the expulsions in 2002, to award posthumous degrees to the affected students.  A student movement called "Their Day in the Yard" was founded in 2010 to urge the university to grant the honorary degrees to the students expelled in 1920.

According to the Associated Press, the Harvard tribunal began its investigation after student Cyril Wilcox committed suicide in his Fall River home in May 1920. Wilcox was having academic problems and had been asked to leave Harvard. When Wilcox's brother, George, informed the acting dean of the college, Chester Greenough, of Cyril's suicide, he passed on letters that left no doubt that Cyril was part of a group of gay men at Harvard. After consulting with Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, Greenough convened a group of administrators to gather evidence. The expelled students, including the son of former U.S. Rep. Ernest William Roberts, were told to leave the Harvard campus — and Cambridge — immediately. One student, Eugene Cummings, 23, committed suicide at Harvard's infirmary after he was questioned by the tribunal.

Gaga announced plans to create the foundation shortly after the suicide of 14-year-old fan Jamey Rodemeyer.  Rodemeyer had questioned his sexuality and was bullied by his peers at school and online, his parents said. The teen had created an “It Gets Better” video.

The singer, known to her fans as Mama Monster, vowed to fight bullying and has met with President Obama to discuss the issue.

Gaga, who also vowed to make bullying a crime after the suicide of Rodemeyer, said she now understands that it isn’t possible to make such a law.

“The culture of love is not going to change overnight. So we have to start it slowly. But you are the answer,” Gaga said. “You are the future.”

In addition to her fans, Lady Gaga said her biggest influence to start the foundation was her own "Mother Monster," explaining: "My mother really inspires me, because she talked about giving back ever since I was very, very young. And the more that I got to know my fans, the more that I realized that not everybody has that support system at home."

The singer took care to make it clear that the foundation is not solely about bullying, but rather “youth empowerment.” “At the end of the day,” Gaga said: "The foundation is all about saying the power is in your hands. There really is sort of a focus on the victim, but what I want to point out today is that the victim and the bully are on the same playing field.”

“I’m not here today to give you an answer. This is about transformative change,” Lady Gaga told the crowd, according to the Boston Globe. “This is about changing the climate of the school environment and not putting the power in the hands of the teachers or the government. … I don’t believe they have the answers. I believe that you do.” The singer also introduced the Born to Be Brave bus, which is expected to make tour stops with the singer and be a safe haven for fans to come together to contemplate ways to end violence. “It will welcome anyone from any walk of life … to come and hang out and talk about love, acceptance or kindness,” Gaga continued. “And the best thing about it is it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be, essentially, a tailgate.”

Lady Gaga explained further that one of the core values is teaching her fans to empower themselves to be "brave," adding: "This, again, is not focused on bullying, the bravery aspect; I want for young people to know they have the power. How can we inspire young people to know they have the power to be brave?"

The Born This Way Foundation also announced on Wednesday that Lady Gaga has made a $1.2 million personal contribution to BTWF, dedicating $200,000 to cover the foundation's overhead costs. Barneys New York has raised more than $750,000 for the foundation through product sales from Gaga's 2011 Holiday Workshop, and has donated an additional $100,000. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is also committing $1 million in support, with $500,000 going to the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard to lead research efforts, and the remaining $500,000 directly allocated to BTWF to support online and on-the-road efforts to engage young people in civic life and deter bullying.

According to the Born This Way Foundation’s Web site, the global effort starts with today's youth. By empowering and inspiring young people to promote bravery, tolerance, and acceptance, we can change the way people view those who are different from them.

Lady Gaga certainly has her work cut out for her — but if anyone can make a difference, she can. Not only is she one of the world’s top pop stars, she also has the most Twitter followers in the world. Maybe next she’ll tackle workplace bullies.

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