"This experience has stayed with me and served as an important reminder when faced with tough decisions and inspired me to stand up for others," Lewinsky writes
For PEOPLE’s Kindness Issue, Monica Lewinsky, who re-emerged as an anti-bullying activist years after the Bill Clinton scandal, writes about the hero who stood up for her five years ago when others turned away and how he inspired her to stand up for others.
It was the fall of 2014, several months after my first-person essay in Vanity Fair magazine where I had just begun to reclaim my narrative and my life after years of silence. It was also early in my speaking career; one of the first invites I had after stepping back out publicly before my TEDTalk, The Price of Shame. It was, surprisingly, for a banking conference of a few hundred women. (I joked upon receiving the invite that my expertise in this area was that I was good at spending money.) I was so grateful for the opportunity. Terrified still of public speaking but grateful nonetheless.
And then there was a call.
There was a problem.
I was to be one of a handful of speakers and the keynote speaker for this event — a woman president of a bank — didn’t want to participate in an event with me also on the program.
She gave an ultimatum: either I go or she goes. And she brought with her a bulk of the sponsors. The organizer was asked to choose between the keynote and the sponsorship dollars that came with her or me.
I braced myself for what I believed to be the inevitable — hearing the words “I’m sorry, Monica, but you have to understand … etc. etc.”
Those words didn’t come.
• PEOPLE’s first-ever Kindness Issue is dedicated to highlighting the ways, big and small, that kindness can make a difference and change lives. Click here and pick up the issue, on stands Friday, Nov. 8, for more stories on the impact of kindness from Julia Roberts, Tiffany Haddish and other stars, as well as everyday people practicing kindness in their communities.
Instead, the organizer of the event. A feminist. A hero. A man named Vince began to describe the conversation he had with this keynote and the sponsors.
He asked if they would have had the same reaction if it were not me, but Bill Clinton who was to also be speaking.
Their reply: Well, that’s different.
Vince would have none of it. (“Well, that’s B.S.” was the gist of his reply).
He told the keynote and sponsors he was not going to disinvite me.
They could walk.
And walk they did.
Had he not stood up for principle and what was right, the damage it would have done to me emotionally and professionally at that point would have been immense. His profound kindness wrapped in a strong sense of fairness meant more to me than I could ever express in words.
After I spoke, I was floored by the support.
This experience has stayed with me and served as an important reminder when faced with tough decisions and inspired me to stand up for others. It was another step forward for me. To believing that people supported me. To realizing that there is no greater kindness than someone standing up for you.
Last week — to cap off October’s National Bullying Prevention Month — Lewinsky, 46, launched the @GoodnessBot on Twitter. Just reply to a bullying tweet and tag the bot; it automatically generates a positive version of the tweet to drown out hateful behavior.