Tyler Clementi's Parents Launch New Anti-Bullying Effort – with the Help of Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker
Jane and Joe Clementi formed their foundation after their son, Tyler, 18, killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge
For the past five years, Jane and Joe Clementi have tried to ensure the death of their son, Tyler Clementi – the Rutgers University freshman who jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after being cyberbullied over his sexuality – was not in vain.
In 2011, they formed the Tyler Clementi Foundation with hopes of helping other lgbt kids from meeting the same fate.
It has also helped them heal.
“I am finally waking up out of a cloudy place,” Jane, of Ridgewood, New Jersey, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “Things are falling into place. It’s a daily battle and struggle. At this point, the foundation is helpful in that I get to meet many people. I do a lot of speaking. ”
Adds Joe: “The foundation has helped and at times it’s not helped. What I mean is we’ve got some good programming in place that is helping helping kids and parents not go through what Tyler went through.
“When I’m engaged with these things the memory of what happened to Tyler becomes more prevalent and in my face,” he tells PEOPLE. “You want to forget about it. It’s a reminder of a bad thing, but I balance that with knowing what we’re doing is helping kids and their families.”
Their latest endeavor is #Day 1 – an anti-bullying campaign that aims at stopping bullying before it begins, which already has a slew of celebrities publicly voicing their support.
The program, which requires a person in authority to lay out what behavior will be tolerated and a verbal confirmation from the students, launched Monday and will be slowly rolled out on the first day of classes in schools and colleges across the nation. It has the backing of the American Federation of Teachers.
Had such a program been in place at Rutgers when Tyler first went there in August 2010, his death might have been prevented, they believe.
Tyler’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, was found guilty of bias intimidation and other offenses in 2012 for webcamming Tyler’s sexual encounter with a man and showing it to dorm mates. Tyler came out to his parents right before he left for college.
“I think it would have helped because people don’t think about bullying until it happens,” says Joe. “If you have somebody draw attention to it in the beginning and warn people of the expectations, they are more likely to meet that. If you ignore it and let people figure it out on their own, people make the wrong mistakes. This is an attempt to have them make one less mistake.”
“I think that Tyler’s experience – having his sexual actions webcammed and having people tweet about it and post on Facebook about it – was devastating to Tyler,” she says.
Another celebrity voicing her support of #Day1 is actress Susan Sarandon.
“I think that it can work,” Sarandon tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I think every structure that you can put in place that gives people the skills to deal with bullying and to make a difference in that situation and to make it clear it’s not acceptable is really important.”
Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are among the celebrities performing in Mark Cortale’s Broadway @ Town Hall concert series in Provincetown, Massachusetts, which benefits The Tyler Clementi Foundation.
“We are very honored to be a part of an evening that is helping bring attention to the Tyler Clementi Foundation,” Parker and Broderick, who perform Monday night, said in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE.
“The services, comfort, counsel and education they provide is so necessary for young women and men and we are grateful for the vital role they play in the LGBT community,” they said.
Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, David Burtka, performed there on August 10.
On February 14, the Clementis had a special moment of their own to celebrate. Their son, James, married his boyfriend, Ramon Armenta.
“It was lovely and difficult all at the same time,” says Jane. “Very bittersweet … so very sad that our family was not all present, yet in the moment of the day it was also very beautiful, in that James and Ramon were so happy and excited and so very much in love.”