How does a parent raise a kid who grows up to be not only one of the most talented and famous artists in the world but also an incredible agent for social change?
For Cynthia Bissett Germanotta, Lady Gaga’s mother, having a few shared values is a big part of it.
“My daughter and I truly believe passionately in building a kinder, braver world,” Germanotta tells Boston Spirit magazine, “and that means fighting for equality for all people, and certainly including the LGBTQ community.”
For her work as president of the Born This Way Foundation, which Germanotta created with daughter Stefani (aka Gaga), Greater Boston PFLAG is honoring her with its 2016 Cornerstone of Equality Award at its 14th annual Pride and Passion benefit and auction at the Boston Marriott Copley Place on May 6.
“As a dad,” says Tom Bourdon, executive director of Greater Boston PFLAG, “I can tell you she’s the kind of parent I aspire to be and I know many others do too. She’s raised two children, Stefani and Natali, in a home that values individualism, inclusion, compassion, and this idea that we all have the ability to make an incredible impact on the world.”
“At Greater Boston PFLAG, we know that acceptance and support has a tremendous impact on outcomes for youth,” Bourdon says. And that’s what the Born This Way Foundation is all about.
Growing up Gaga
“From the very start of her career and even prior to that,” Germanotta says, “[Stefani] has been very candid with her fan base about the struggles that she experienced and the struggles that she observed other young people facing.”
Germanotta describes Stefani as the kind of kindergartner who, “if she saw someone crying she’d go over and give them a hug. If someone was new in middle school she’d introduce herself and ask them to have lunch with her. And then the older she got, in high school and college, and saw wrong things in the world, she would advocate for change and stand up for human rights and equality and inclusiveness and acceptance. She used her voice to advocate for people.”
“The double-edged sword when you’re raising a child like that,” Germanotta says, “is that it is very positive but it’s also very much of a struggle because she’s so sensitive. She feels people’s pain so deeply that if affected her. It led to self-doubt. It really rattled her and she became so depressed and developed anxiety disorders, and ultimately led to some destructive behavior. So that became a challenge for us as a family.”
As Stefani grew into a young adult, her mother says, “there were times, honestly, that I was concerned because she was being so open about the struggles that she had, but what I began to realize over time was that she was healing by sharing her story and other young people were healing by hearing that somebody else had been through this and overcame it.”
A Shared Mission
“The Born This Way Foundation uses storytelling, as does the Greater Boston PFLAG, to empower individuals and change hearts and minds,” Bourdon says. “Their mission is to protect youth and to build community. Our mission is to create safer and more inclusive environments for LGBTQ people and their loved ones. So the missions really align.”
“I just really want to applaud Greater Boston PFLAG for all of the amazing work that they’re doing and for raising the conversation and the dialog and changing attitudes for our young people,” says Germanotta. “They’re a fabulous organization and I know they work tirelessly to create environments of equality and inclusion and acceptance, and that’s where we’re really aligned.”
Partnering with groups like Greater Boston PFLAG is a big part of Born This Way’s mission. For example, they developed a bus tour that followed Lady Gaga in concert. At each stop, they connected young people with resources right in their own communities. Resources that covered mental health and behavior concerns, civic engagement and mentoring organizations, and for LGBTQ issues they had representatives from the Trevor Project, GLSEN, and Campus Pride. And as the tour went on more and more organizations got on the bus.
“The really cool thing about what we did on the bus tour was that when we left we had young people who knew where to go in their communities, either to get help or to volunteer. It was a very, very successful campaign,” Germanotta says.
Along with organizational partnering and sharing resources directly with youth (largely through its robust bornthisway.foundation website but also through youth leadership camps, one which has partnered with the YMCA, and a whole lot of other initiatives you can check out on their website), research is a top priority. Born This Way has twin advisory boards, one made up of scholars in partnership with top universities and the other of youth. “It was very important to my daughter that we always have the voice of young people in our work,” says Germanotta.
“There needs to be so much more research done on youth resilience and empowerment and other things that they’re focusing on like self-awareness, openness, and compassion,” says Bourdon. “They’re looking at how teens hurt each other and at things that sound simple but are actually very complicated, like what it means to be kind, what it takes to be brave and to take a stand, and where teens are most likely to get help.”
“Our goal,” Germanotta stresses,” “is to take the learning from our research and put it into practice through the partnerships we form.”
“It’s my hope that we can incorporate what we’re learning from the Born This Way Foundation into the work that Greater Boston PFLAG is doing in the community,” Bourdon says. “I hope that we will build a strong partnership between the two organizations and have a stronger and more positive impact on the youth that our organization is getting to on the ground level.”
Pride & Passion
Coming just two days before mother’s day, 2016 Pride and Passion “honors both mothers and everyone else who’s out there supporting and loving us unconditionally,” Bourdon says. “After all, not everyone has a mother. My kids have two gay dads.”
Honorary co-chairs include Attorney General Maura Healey and her mother Tracy Healey-Beattie, with Karen Akunowicz, executive chef of Myers+Cheng and Top Chef contestant, serving as culinary chair. Plus the Elsie Frank Scholarship recipients, youth leaders promoting LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance, join Germanotta in being recognized for their work at the event. Get your tickets early, says Bourdon, because tables fill up fast!
For more information, go to gbpflag.org or call 781-891-5966.
[Editor’s note: This story is running in the current March/April 2016 Boston Spirit magazine. Subscribe for free today!]