Cynthia Germanotta is cofounder and president of the Born This Way Foundation, an organization that empowers young people to tell their stories, combats bullying, and encourages acts of compassion. She may be better known, however, as Lady Gaga’s mom. Germanotta will be honored by Greater Boston PFLAG at their Pride & Passion benefit and auction on Friday, May 6, receiving this year’s Cornerstone of Equality Award. We caught up with her and asked about the young people she encounters, Gaga’s emotional performance at the Oscars, and plans for the future.
Q. Talk about the history of the Born This Way Foundation.
A. It was really inspired by my daughter. Her goal was building a kinder, braver world and focusing on young people’s mental, emotional, and physical wellness. We do this by connecting with young people and highlighting their stories, supporting quality research, and building strong partnerships with allied organizations.
Q. Was there a moment when you recognized the impact you were having?
A. The event that gave us the most “wow” and “a-ha” moments was on the Born Brave Bus Tour that traveled on the road with Gaga’s concerts for the first two years. Gaga called it modern-day tailgating. . . . I called it “giving young people a giant hug.” We had four partner pods: Youth Volunteering/Engagement, which included organizations like Youth Service America; LGBT, which included nonprofits such as the Trevor Project and Campus Pride; Mental Health, which included organizations like the National Council for Behavioral Health and NASP; and Mentoring, with MENTOR and Mentor Inc. There were many wow moments when the kids not only talked to each other, but to the partners. We asked some of them, “why did you come alone?” And they said they knew they would leave with friends, they felt safe, and they knew they could seek out opportunities.
Q. What was the age range of kids who came out to the Born Brave Bus Tour?
A. They were mostly in the 13 to 25 age range. It was middle school and high school years primarily, but I spoke to one 8-year-old, whose family came with four generations of women. It had been spearheaded by a grandmother who brought her daughter, who brought her daughter. It was very exciting.
Q. Do you think with the ability to share stories and talk online, young people are coming forward with their struggles more easily?
A. Not necessarily. When we focus on it, we can create environments that foster that. But in the absence of connecting with young people, they don’t always feel brave enough to do that. They wonder, “How am I going to come across?” or “How am I going to be received?” These are immediate concerns human beings have about being different. We tell them it’s OK to be different. That seems to be easier than it used to be.
Q. What do you have going at this moment?
A. We have another exciting partnership with Intel, Re/code and VOX Media called Hack Harassment that is focused on combating the harassment that occurs online. The technology community is banding together and believes this needs more attention than it’s getting.
Q. What would you tell a young person reading this interview?
A. I think I would impress upon them that they’re not alone. That as much as they feel alone, they’re not alone. I would tell them to reach out to a community that wants to hear from them. The first step is the hardest, but to be brave enough. That they have tremendous value and to remember most that we’re here for them.