August 20, 2014 at 6:00 AM
NEWARK, NJ - Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Essex County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Advisory Board hosted the Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration on Tuesday, August 19th. During the ceremony, DiVincenzo presented Pride of Essex County Awards to Jane, Joseph and James Clementi, family members of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who took his own life after being a victim of cyberbullying. In his memory, his family created the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which promotes safe, inclusive and respectful social environments in homes, schools, campuses, churches and the digital world for vulnerable youth, LGBTQ youth and their allies.
“We are proud to celebrate Essex County Pride Month and raise awareness about the LGBTQ community in Essex and how this segment of the population has contributed to the development of our County. Our year-long cultural heritage series recognizes the diversity of our residents and it is fitting that we include the LGBTQ community,” DiVincenzo said. “Jane, Joseph and James have worked hard to provide support, promote understanding and protect human rights. They are exceptional people who are working diligently to raise awareness about bullying and its effects on LGBTQ youth,” he noted.
Jane Clementi co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation with her husband Joseph Clementi to raise awareness about the consequences of discrimination and bullying, as she learned through the loss of her son. A native of New Jersey and devoted mother of three sons, Mrs. Clementi speaks passionately to parents and community leaders about the need to not merely "accept" or "tolerate" children who come out as LGBT, but to embrace them as wondrous creations of God. In her professional career as a registered nurse, she speaks about the need for parents of LGBT children to speak openly of the love they have for their children and in doing so each one of can impact the world around us and create accepting environments.
Since losing her son Tyler, Mrs. Clementi's spiritual journey has continued to carry and transform her. She left her church of many years because she believed that while sitting in the pews of a church that condemned LGBT people she was herself a bystander to bullying. Mrs. Clementi leads an inspirational life through her unique experience, which she shares with other parents, and speaks passionately about the need to divorce the concept of "sin" from homosexuality. She has spoken out in support of LGBT rights and the need for families and communities to embrace their LGBT populations at BNP Paribas Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, a variety of universities including The College of New Jersey, high schools and churches.
“Bullying can take all kinds of forms, and it can happen anywhere. These harmful actions can be destructive to the human spirit,” said Jane Clementi, who was also representing her husband Joseph who could not attend the ceremony. “New Jersey is making great strides, but there is still much work to be done. Our goal is to not have another situation like Tyler’s every happen again. We hope to create a society that embraces all its members regardless of gender and identity,” she added.
Joseph Clementi co-founded the Tyler Clementi Foundation with his wife Jane Clementi and they continue to work tirelessly to share the story of their personal loss with public audiences at a variety of organizations. Mr. Clementi is a New Jersey-based civil engineer who became an activist for LGBT and vulnerable youth across the United States after the loss of his son.
Joseph Clementi is speaking out because he wants to use his experience as an educational tool and a way to help reach other people who struggle with feeling isolated, uncared for or misunderstood in schools and homes, the areas where they should feel most valued. The primary message that he wants to spread is his goal of turning "Bystanders into Upstanders." His view is that there are three people involved in any type of bullying situation: the bully, the victim and the bystander who sees it, but does nothing to help. Joseph Clementi wants to share his message that bystanders to hostile behavior have an obligation to get involved and defend those who are targeted. He has spoken out at a number of institutions, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Long Island Child Abuse Protection Services, Rutgers University 2011 Symposium and CONTACT We Care Suicide Hotline's 2012 Annual Gala.
James Clementi, Spokesperson of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, is the older brother of Tyler Clementi. The loss of his brother was a life altering event for him, one that sent him on a path of activism and awareness for bullying, suicide prevention, and LGBT rights. Like his brother Tyler, Mr. Clementi is gay. The core part of his message is the equality of LGBT people and the devastating consequences of bullying on our young people. Bullying that happens face-to-face and online through social media has become an epidemic among youth.
Mr. Clementi is focused on reaching out to LGBT and vulnerable youth, using Tyler's story as a tool to reinforce the inherent value of each life. Respect, love and equality are the key components of his message. He envisions a youth culture where kindness is cool, and respect is the norm. James Clementi has written about his experience for Out Magazine, spoken at events such as the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles' First Annual Voice Awards as well as television programs Anderson Cooper 360 and Rock Center with Brian Williams, and has blogged about bullying in The Huffington Post.
“This time of year is very difficult for my family because it’s when families are preparing to go back to school. Four years ago, Tyler was getting ready for his freshman year at Rutgers, ready to branch out and become independent. However, his life and dreams were cut short in just a few weeks,” James Clementi said. “I wish my brother could be here today to see this incredible celebration. The foundation that we created in his memory is an opportunity to get the message out that safe areas must be made for all people. Thank you for validating the work that we have doing,” he added.
Other government officials who participated in the ceremony were Congressman Donald Payne, Jr., NJ State Senator and Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray, Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold, Freeholder Bilal Beasley, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss. Essex County LGBTQ Advisory Board member Gary Paul Wright and his husband Peter Oates performed “Celebrate,” an original song written by Wright.
The Essex County LGBTQ Pride Month Celebration is the part of a yearlong cultural series created by County Executive DiVincenzo to highlight Essex County’s diversity. Other cultural heritage celebrations include African American History Month, Irish Heritage Month, Women’s History Month, Italian Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage, Portuguese Heritage and Latino Heritage. Created in December 2010, the Essex County Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Advisory Board is one of several volunteer advisory boards that discusses issues affecting the community and provides recommendations to the Essex County Executive.