(Photo courtesy of Reuters)
Lady Gaga came to Harvard University today to launch her Born this Way Foundation, drawing fans and tight security on a freezing, snowy day.
Lady Gaga and Oprah Winfrey kicked off their event at Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre at about 4 pm. The Born This Way Foundation is a nonprofit charity with a mission to “foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated.”
"This is not an anti-bullying foundation. This is a youth-empowerment foundation," Lady Gaga told the Sanders audience. (See the live blog of the event here.)
Outside, a smattering of fans, some from as far away as England, gathered.
“This event encourages and supports all the people that have gone through bullying and gives them the bravery to say “this is who I am,' '' said Ryan-Lee Johnson, 21, who runs a Lady Gaga website called Gaganews.com and said he has experienced bullying throughout his life.
Another fan outside the event was Stephanie Picher, 30, of Raynham, who said she was bullied throughout school. She runs a Lady Gaga Facebook group, and was thankful that the performer was holding the anti-bullying event.
“Events like these are very new. The issue has been swept under the rug by telling people to toughen up, but that’s not reality,’’ said Picher, a student at Bridgewater State University. “I believe it will be extremely effective. Maybe the star power of Lady Gaga and Oprah is what we need to really work on this issue.’’
Lady Gaga, herself once a bullying victim, has already been outspoken on the issue of bullying. After the suicide of a New York teenager last year was linked to harassment over his sexual orientation, the singer wrote on Twitter that “bullying must become illegal.”
A school official said the security was the tightest it has been since the arrival of a Chinese diplomat. Visitors to Sanders Theater had to go through two security check points. But before that tightly controlled event, the performer attended a student summit and also was photographed walking through campus by fans , who quickly posted photos on Twitter.
The launch of the Born This Way Foundation was set to be live streamed starting at 4 p.m, after some initial problems with the feed.
The star power behind the group, along with help from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and its Graduate School of Education, makes it one of the most high-profile efforts against bullying, which has increasingly become a focus of education experts, policymakers and politicians nationwide.
When she first announced last year that she would start a foundation with along with her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, the singer said that it would address issues like “self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development and will utilize digital mobilization as one of the means to create positive change.”
According to the @BTWfoundation Twitter account, the foundation is "Led by @LadyGaga and her mother Cynthia, we are building a brave new world where humanity is embraced, individuals are empowered, and intolerance is eliminated.''
Earlier today, the executive director of MassEquality, a leading gay rights group, praised Lady Gaga's message but also pointed out that lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender youth in Massachusetts still face high suicide rates and other challlenges in Massachusetts.
“This Foundation supports the core values that any just, accepting society should embrace and empower: the right to live authentically in safety; the resources to learn the skills to be empowered; and the opportunity to enrich your own community with a message of inclusion,'' MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini said in a statement. "These values are critical to empowering all minority groups, not just LGBT people, to live to their fullest potential.''
Meanwhile, Bloomberg News reported that seven Harvard University students who were expelled in 1920 on suspicion of being gay were set to be remembered in a campus protest today. A group of Harvard students and faculty, called "Their Day in the Yard," is asking for the college to grant degrees to the students expelled more than nine decades ago, Bloomberg reported.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino announced yesterday that he would attend the launch of the foundation. This afternoon, Menino plans to join 30 Boston public school students for a "youth summit on the issue of bullying in schools" as part of Lady Gaga's anti-bullying campaign.
As part of the visit, Harvard Square businesses are offering discounts for their merchandise and will donate a portion of their sales to the Born this Way foundation.
Upstairs on the Square, for example, this week is inviting people "to come to our over-the-top bar, pink and gold and all dressed up just like Lady Gaga, for a glass of this special rose for $6 per glass, with profits going to the Born This Way Foundation,'' according to Harvardsquare.com.
And Zinnekans waffles "will be donating $2 for each totally sinful Lady Gaga & Oprah waffle (banana, whipped cream, dark chocolate and caramel).''
Local realtor Holly Donaldson of Coldwell Banker is donating 5 percent of her next home sale to the foundation, according to the Harvard Square Business Association.
"The Born This Way Foundation addresses issues such as self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development through research, education and advocacy,'' Harvard Square Business Association said in a statement. "The Gaga nonprofit is in partnership with the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society and the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation."
Meanwhile, Cambridge Community Television reports that the public won't get much of a chance to see Lady Gaga and Oprah, who will be joined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree.
"Everything about the affair is a closely kept secret, presumably to prevent crowding and disorder,'' Cambridge Community Television reports on its blog. "Tickets are not available through the Harvard Box Office, and Harvard and Cambridge police departments are not releasing information about how or when Lady Gaga will get there. Requests for press access have been unanswered by the foundation office and politely turned down by Harvard's Office of Public Affairs and Communications.''