The Born This Way Foundation (BTWF) is an American non-profit organization founded in 2011 by singer Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta. Established at Harvard University, and named after Gaga's second studio album Born This Way (2011), the foundation aims to inspire youth and build better communities. BTWF works in partnership with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The California Endowment.
The foundation aims to create a "braver, kinder world" for youths; create safe-spaces, promote the learning of life skills, and provide opportunities to improve their local communities. In a statement, Lady Gaga said "My mother and I have initiated a passion project [...] 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."
In September 2012 Gaga was awarded the LennonOno Grant For Peace from Yoko Ono for her work with the foundation "actively campaigning on pro-tolerance and peace issues." The award "intends to keep that pop activism alive" in the spirit of Ono and her late husband John Lennon whose song "Imagine" includes the famous line "imagine all the people living life in peace."
Lady Gaga was always interested in the subject of bullying and the empowerment of young people. In 2011, Gaga met with U.S. President Barack Obama to talk on the subject. Her meeting was in part response to gay fourteen-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who killed himself because he was being bullied. He had recorded an "It Gets Better" video and before he died posted a line from a Lady Gaga song on his Facebook page. In 2010, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network stated, "There has been heightened media attention surrounding the [recent] suicides." The same month, Tyler Clementi died, four other LGBT teenagers were reported to have committed suicide after being bullied about their homosexuality.
The Guardian noted as well Gaga's interest in the "history of devastating school shootings perpetrated by students felt to be social outcasts," they wrote:
[Gaga is] recognising that schools are powerful places to spark societal change, she hopes her message will "inject love, acceptance and tolerance into culture." At the end of the day, the goal is not only to "save the victim," she says, "but also save the bully."
In the documentary Inside the Outside, Gaga told of being bullied herself and thrown in a trashcan while classmates looked on.
The organization was launched on February 29, 2012 by artist Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, who said, "challenge meanness and cruelty by inspiring young people to create a support system in their respective communities." Media proprietor Oprah Winfrey, writer Deepak Chopra, and United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius spoke at the inauguration. The Foundation's original funding included $1.2 million from Gaga, $500,000 from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and $850,000 from retailer Barneys New York.
The BTWF was the beneficiary of Barneys New York's 2011 holiday campaign which also featured "Lady Gaga's Workshop." In May 2012, Viacom announced it would be the foundation's lead media partner for the development of events, programming and "opportunities that empower young people to build a braver, kinder world." In August 2012, Gaga was named by American business magazine Forbes, well known for its lists (richest Americans - the Forbes 400, Forbes list of billionaires, etc.), as fourteenth on their "World's 100 Most Powerful Women" list due in part to her BTWF work.
In March 2014, Roger Friedman of Showbiz411 criticized the foundation's spendings after its federal tax reports were released. The reports noted spending of $348,000 on its Born Brave Bus tour; approximately $1.5 million on fees related to Web and social media, publicity, and legalities, as opposed to only $5,000 in grants to individuals and other organizations. "It's unclear that anyone was really helped by the Born This Way Foundation other than lawyers, consultants, publicists and travel agents," Friedman wrote. "We do the work," Lady Gaga wrote in response. "We do not raise money and allocate the funds to other charities for them to do the work." "A clear understanding of the differences between a grant-making organization and one that carries out its work directly would have made this a non-story," Cynthia Germanotta added. "We are not a grant-maker that funds the work of other charities, and were never intended to be ... [But] we are having a profound impact in just a very short period of time."
From March 28 to April 11, 2012, the BTWF ran a poster campaign "to inspire bravery" and encouraging supporters to submit images that answer the question "What does bravery mean to you?" with the 10 semifinalists selected by Gaga and her mother and leading to a prize for the winner(s), selected by fans.
In August 2012, BTWF Co-founder Cynthia Germanotta was one of the speakers at the U.S. Department of Education's third annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit to coordinate "anti-bullying efforts with the best available research," she appeared with White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett with their speeches broadcast on C-SPAN. BTWF's work was discussed among other ongoing anti-bullying efforts.
In October 2014, the Connecticut Commission on Children held a Summit on Youth, Civics, and Positive School climate, co-sponsored by the BTWF, the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the Connecticut Department of Education, the Anti-Defamation League, and the UConn NEAG School of Education. The Summit consisted of legislators and high school students from around the state, who shared their experiences with bullying and harassment, including an opening performance by high school freshman Nina Lee, whose anti-bullying song and video, entitled "Try to Break Me," had caught the attention of State Senator Danté Bartolomeo, and culminated in a keynote address by Cynthia Germanotta on behalf of the BTWF. The BTWF's work with the Connecticut Commission on Children and the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence continued thereafter, leading to the Emotion Revolution Survey and Summit.
In October 2012 the formalization of a seven-person Research and Advisory Board was announced that will advise on BTWF's "youth empowerment and tolerance programs" based on "sound theory and research." Susan Swearer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor of school psychology in the College of Education and Human Sciences, will chair the group. Swearer has worked with BTWF since 2011 creating resources "as it prepared to enter the national anti-bullying discussion," she co-directs the Bullying Research Network, which "promotes international collaboration among bullying and peer victimization researchers." Also named to the board is C.J. Pascoe, the only sociologist, from Colorado College who studies gender, sexuality, inequality, youth and new media.
Gaga announced in May 2012 that the "Born Brave Bus" would follow her on tour as a youth drop-in center as an initiative against bullying and homophobia. In June 2012, "Born Brave" community and school groups, these localized groups dedicate to making positive change where they live. Born Brave Nation, a name chosen by the BTWF supporters, was requesting founding members in July 2012 but had not yet launched. The Born Brave Nation would later be headed by youths "dedicated to building a kinder, braver world in their homes, schools, and communities" and appears to accept anyone only up to the age of 100 years as a founder, teacher, student or supporter.
In August 2012 the BTWF launched a national youth advisory board, 24 young people ages 17-23 who will represent other young people. They initially attended a three-day summit at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, where they held discussions with youth advocate and journalist Anne Collier, and Maya Enista Smith, the CEO of Mobilize.org. During the summit the board provided feedback on upcoming programs and initiatives of the BTWF, "helping to guide the Foundation's plan for the coming year." The youth advisory board will serve as ambassadors to "Born Brave Nation."
In 2012, Gaga expressed an interest in being part of the "natural fabric of schooling." In July 2012, the BTWF partnered with supplier of office products Office Depot to create a range of limited edition back-to-school products including: "empowerment gift cards" containing motivational messages, and "bravery bracelets." Office Depot agreed to donate 25% of the sale value for each item sold and guaranteed $1 million USD donation in 2012 to the foundation. This led the Florida Family Association, what New York Times noted was a one-man Christian fundamentalist organization, to accuse Office Depot of influencing teenagers to reject heterosexuality. In support of the efforts by Office Depot and the Born This Way Foundation, public service announcement videos were created by model and actor Patrick Schwarzenegger, and by pop singer Greyson Chance to be aired on Facebook, YouTube and other outlets.
In September 2012 Gaga launched a new project called A Body Revolution 2013 to address poor body image and body acceptance, this was done, in part, because media outlets had negatively remarked on supposed weight gains by the performer. To start the project she posted images of herself in underwear and asked others to follow her lead stating "May we make our flaws famous, and thus redefine the heinous." She accompanied the photos with statements that she suffered from the eating disorders bulimia and anorexia nervosa since she was 15.
On July 24, 2013 the BTWF announced a Crowdrise campaign with the stated goal of crowdsourcing the process of raising money to continue the Born Brave Bus tour. On January 7, 2016, at the CES 2016, it was announced that the foundation partnered with Intel, Vox Media and Re/code to fight online harassment to provide a safer online experience.
On October 16, 2016 toy company Mattel released the Zomby Gaga collector doll for pre-order as a part of their Monster High doll line in partnership with the BTWF. The doll is based on Gaga's Zombie Boy inspired skeleton tattoo make up and tuxedo look from the Born This Way music video and designed by Gaga's sister Natali Germanotta together with Mattel. The doll was released on Jan 2, 2017 with all proceeds benefitting the foundation.
Last year when a 14-year-old boy committed suicide after being teased for being gay, Lady Gaga tweeted: "The past days I've spent reflecting, crying, and yelling. I have so much anger. It is hard to feel love when cruelty takes someone's life". The right response, of course. But she also took action and a few months later launched the Born This Way Foundation "to reach youth and create a new culture of kindness, bravery, acceptance and empowerment".
Lady Gaga has taken her message of individualism to heart and become the face of the anti-bullying movement. In February, she launched the Born This Way Foundation, which focuses on encouraging individuality and self-expression among young people.