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How Lady Gaga & Her Mom Are Making The World "Kinder And Braver"

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Photo: James Devaney/ GC Images.
"Til it happens to you, you don't know how it feels."

Those are the powerful words behind Lady Gaga's "'Til It Happens To You," which she performed at the 2016 Oscars. Gaga brought sexual assault survivors onstage with her at the awards ceremony to represent the reality of the issue on college campuses.

Gaga's speaking out has already inspired others, including a former Bachelor contestant, to share their own stories. That connection with her fans, and her willingness to speak about difficult issues, inspired Gaga to start the Born This Way Foundation with her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, in 2012.

During a women's empowerment conference held by the United Nations Office for Partnerships and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Germanotta participated in a discussion Monday with Soledad O'Brien, journalist and CEO of Starfish Media Group, about her role as president of the Born This Way Foundation. The panel opened with a video of Gaga's moving Oscars performance.

O'Brien asked Germanotta why Gaga started the organization now, at the height of her career, noting that starting a foundation is something many stars would do later in life. Germanotta explained that it stems from the "very authentic relationship" Gaga has with her fans, adding that the connection between the star and her fan base is "beautiful."

Throughout her career, Gaga has never been afraid to speak out about various issues — she wore a meat dress to raise awareness for her speech protesting "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The foundation allows Gaga and her mother to help young people who may be struggling with mental health issues, or who are being bullied, or who may have experienced sexual assault.

"It used to bother me, as a mom, because I didn't understand it," Germanotta said of Gaga's outspokenness about her experiences. "But what I came to realize is that she was healing by sharing her story. And other young people were healing by realizing that they weren't alone."

In the years since the Born This Way Foundation began, it's partnered with various people and organizations, all with the goal of creating a "kinder and braver world," according to its mission statement. For example, Germanotta mentioned the recent partnership with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to create the "Enough Is Enough" legislation to fight campus sexual assault. Gaga coauthored an op-ed on the topic with Gov. Cuomo in support of the bill. The policy implemented a standard procedure for how sexual assaults are prosecuted, and it includes "a uniform definition of affirmative consent, a statewide amnesty policy, and expanded access to law enforcement," as explained by New York State's government website.

Aside from partnering with nonprofit organizations, the foundation also promotes social emotional learning for young people, a topic Germanotta stressed the importance of during her speech Monday. Germanotta said that schools focus on STEM education, but not enough time and resources are devoted to ensuring students' emotional well-being. That's something the foundation hopes to change through its partnership with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

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