Adam Polaski

Lady Gaga's Plans for the Born This Way Foundation

Filed By Adam Polaski | November 03, 2011 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, The Movement
Tags: anti-bullying, Born This Way Foundation, GLSEN, Lady Gaga, Trevor Project

Yesterday, Lady Gaga took a step toward making good on her promise to speak out against bullying, especially among school-aged youth, by announcing the planned launch of a new organization. She'll soon be heading up the Born This Way Foundation, an organization designed to derail the effects of bullying and bolster the self-confidence and self-image of youth.

The singer and media personality has been buzzing about the importance of tough anti-bullying policies across the country for the past several months, lobbying particularly hard on behalf of LGBT kids.

It looks like the Born This Way Foundation will have a broader focus, encompassing bullying in general as opposed to centering specifically on anti-LGBT bullying.

According to The Advocate:

The entertainer will use the title of her hit pro-LGBT anthem and best-selling album as the name of the non-profit that will focus on youth empowerment and "issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development."

Gaga will personally direct the foundation, along with and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta. "Together we hope to establish a standard of Bravery and Kindness, as well as a community worldwide that protects and nurtures others in the face of bullying and abandonment," Gaga says in a statement.

The project is a collaboration between Gaga, her mother, and two partners: the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Neither partner is LGBT-specific either, but they seem to have extensive experience dealing with bullying's effect on youth interactions.

The Berkman Center's mission statement is:

The Berkman Center's mission is to explore and understand cyberspace; to study its development, dynamics, norms, and standards; and to assess the need or lack thereof for laws and sanctions.

We are a research center, premised on the observation that what we seek to learn is not already recorded. Our method is to build out into cyberspace, record data as we go, self-study, and share.

The MacArthur Foundation wields a similar goal:

The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.

But is another anti-bullying organization necessary? Two prominent national organizations deal primarily with outreach of an anti-LGBT bullying message - the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and The Trevor Project - and another general anti-bullying organization, PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center, has been around for about five years.

What do you think, Projectors? Can Lady Gaga's organization do better? Are there structural problems with PACER or GLSEN or The Trevor Project that the Born This Way Foundation can avoid? Or would it have been more advantageous for Gaga to have put a spotlight on these already-existing organizations and bring national attention to their strengths?

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"It looks like the Born This Way Foundation will have a broader focus, encompassing bullying in general as opposed to centering specifically on anti-LGBT bullying."

Oh, good. Just like her song.

Anyway, the question about Trevor Project and GLSEN is an interesting one I hadn't considered. In terms of bullying, I think I agree that her organization isn't necessary when these two could stand more support and recognition. Why she wants to make her own instead of helping to expand these well-known and celebrated others requires some questioning.

Did Mother Monster just want a piece of the anti-bullying pie?

Considering her approach to a lot of issue so far, I'm pessimistic about how this organization will turn out. Germanotta seems to latch on to vague and general ideas, without putting a lot of thought into specifics. If she plans to truly run it herself, I think we'll see high profile, but clumsy and poorly planned initiatives; potentially a lot of money thrown around to fight bullying through stricter laws (or making it "illegal") while more basic concerns are ignored. Looking at the roots of problems and underlying causes doesn't seem to be her strong suit at all.

If, which is more likely, she hands off the operations and design to more experienced people (potentially her mother (?) and the partners) you might see a more solidly run program. But if it is successful, inevitably, it will be taking dollars from GLSEN and Trevor Project because it's one more competitor, and a donation of $50 is suddenly split into $16 each, if it's split at all. And with someone as beloved as Gaga creating and advertising her new project, you can guess where the money's going to flow. People love giving to new things, not so much things that have been around for a while.

In general, I don't see the need for this center when other orgs do well and could always use more help.

Comparatively, I do always think it's great to have more youth shelters and crisis centers, as it distributes demand. Cyndi Lauper's True Colors House, for example, is welcome to me, because though shelters compete for resources, it also means more beds and more options where they are lacking. But more orgs talking about the same political issue of bullying? Perhaps if the Born This Way Foundation can carve out a niche for itself (career development and counseling would probably be a better direction than anti-bullying political action), then it will be a success.

But for now, my impression based on her take on things so far is that we'll have a meringue--big glitzy, sweet surface with very little going on inside.

The name suggests a foundation, usually a giving entity not a programmatically focused organization, so it's possible she might use it primarily as a vehicle for giving her own money away. A lot of celebrities do this. Some (e.g. Pearl Jam) do it in a really awesome progressive, forward thinking way that strengthen those who have been doing this work on the ground and know what they're doing. Others (not naming names) just appropriate others programs but don't involve the right stakeholders, so end up doing a crummy job at it to inflate the celebrity's ego and provide an easy tax write-off.

Too early to say what Gaga's will be like.

Lady Gaga is young, smart and talented. I'm glad she is tackling this issue.

Of course such an org isn't necessary. Celebrities don't start orgs because there's a need (they could just give to existing orgs if that was the purpose); they start orgs because they want publicity.

Also unsurprising that this doesn't mention LGBT youth, just like half the straight celebs' IGB videos. Of course, we recognize anti-bullying legislation in most states not mentioning LGBT youth as homophobic, but not celebrities' initiatives that try to de-queer LGBT youth initiatives. Funny, that.