By Ana Lanfranchi
Over 130 guests poured through the doors of the Education Building on Wednesday, Nov. 14 to hear special guests James and Jane Clementi, and Joey Kemmerling.
As a part of Anti-Bullying Week, the College’s Student New Jersey Education Association orchestrated a special event to have the Clementis, mother and brother of bullying victim Tyler Clementi, come and speak out against bullying. They were joined by openly gay and LGBTQ rights activist, Joey Kemmerling, to speak about his personal experiences with bullying.
Mark Kiselica, who has devoted many years to studying and working toward a better future for boys and men who struggle with rejection and mistreatment due to their sexual orientation, began the night with a compelling introduction to the issue.
Kiselica discussed the “daily tortures” that gay boys and men have to face in this “heterosexual world” and the urgency of this problem.
Following Kiselica’s speech, the crowd gave a warm welcome to bullying victim, founder of The Equality Project, and a college freshman, Joey Kemmerling.
Kemmerling spoke about his experience of discovering that he is gay, and the journey that ensued as his life was threatened, his pleas ignored, and his suicide almost complete.
When he first tried to reach out for help to his middle school principal, he was told, “Maybe if you act a little less gay, they’ll leave you alone.”
A short time after this, Kemmerling said that he felt as though he did not deserve to live. Inspiringly enough, he not only decided against his planned suicide, but channeled his pain into a positive notion to speak out against the injustice that he faced.
He expressed that he wanted to do everything within his power to make sure that no other person ever felt the way that he did.
At the age of just 16, Kemmerling founded The Equality Project, where the mission statement is “to give those victims who are quiet the confidence to be loud, and to inspire others to inspire others,” as well as speaking out on many other occasions and becoming an admirable icon all by his freshman year of college.
After Kemmerling’s story, Jane Clementi, co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation and mother of both James and Tyler Clementi, spoke about the importance of fostering an environment, on every occasion, that values and enforces acceptance as well as the urgent need to make bullies feel uncomfortable with their actions. Her personal goals as well as those of the foundation are to “make bystanders upstanders.”
Following these presentations, Mrs. Clementi, James Clementi and Joey Kemmerling opened up the floor to the audience for a Q&A. The crowd of students, adults, teens and parents were eager to ask questions regarding personal experiences and the absolutely heart-wrenching process of forgiveness and moving forward.
Sophomore history and secondary education double major, Danny Kaplan, expressed that this presentation was monumental in taking a step forward with anti-bullying initiatives.
In one year, there was about 15 million tweets of anti-gay slurs. Ninety-seven percent of gay students have said their classmates have given anti-gay messages. About one-third of adolescents’ suicides in the U.S. are gay boys. If nothing else, know that your words are powerful and maybe you’ll want to think twice before you say “that’s so gay” next time.