Most people know the name Tyler Clementi From a single news headline: "Gay Rutgers Freshman Ends Life Following Cyberbullying in Dorm Room." To many who followed the story, Tyler became defined by his death, by the last three days of his all-too-short life. I had the good fortune to know him as a brother and a friend. My family and I spent 18 years loving him, and we have spent the last four years trying to understand Tyler’s suicide and put our lives back together.
I loved my brother, but he was human and flawed, and in a time of incredible shame, humiliation, and deep pain, he made the wrong decision. Tyler’s death was a tragedy. My loved ones and I were devastated by what he did. The choice to end his life profoundly changed and affected our lives forever. But through my grief I have found a way to continue loving him and to advocate for others like him, supporting them and encouraging them to find help. There are always options and there is always hope.
Following Tyler’s passing my family founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation in my brother’s name, with the goal of helping other young people struggling with a multitude of issues, including online and offline bullying, coming out, and faith and family acceptance. Our purpose is to prevent other tragic deaths like Tyler’s by creating a culture where kindness and compassion are the norm.
My brother wasn’t given this basic consideration by his college peers, and that is unacceptable. In a bullying scenario there is the bully, the victim, and a third party, the bystander. We want to take the power (or perceived power) away from the bully by empowering bystanders to get involved, advocate for the victims, and become Upstanders. We encourage everyone to take our Upstander Pledge and stand up for all people who are harassed or abused through words or actions. We ask people to print it out and put it up in their homes and offices to let others know their spaces are safe spaces. We ask people to remember Tyler and so many others like him, not only during antibullying month in October, but also throughout the year.
We are a small organization with a lot of heart, and we are constantly finding new allies in the most unexpected places. This fall we have been blessed to gain the support of music superstar Demi Lovato, who has been an Upstander and a crusader against bullying. Demi, herself once a target of bullying, has been the focal point of an online campaign to raise awareness and funds for the Tyler Clementi Foundation.
The campaign allows people to enter for a chance to win two premium tickets to Lovato’s October 25 concert at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and a private meet and greet with Lovato. The winner also receives airfare and hotel accommodations: Omaze.com/Demi.
We feel very lucky to be partnering with Demi. Through this initiative, she is once again demonstrating her commitment to standing up and speaking out against bullying. Her efforts will make it possible for us to help many more vulnerable young people. We want to spread the word to as many people as possible who otherwise would not hear this positive message.
We share our story and Tyler’s story to instill a sense of urgency. We all need to feel this urgency because what happened to Tyler can happen to anyone. We encourage everyone to join us in building a climate where respect for each other’s differences is standard practice. Everyone deserves dignity and a safe space to be who they are, and when we build our school, work and family environments based on this principle we take the first step toward preventing these tragedies.
JAMES CLEMENTI is the brother of the late Tyler Clementi. He, along with his parents, Joseph and Jane Clementi, founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation in 2010.