Entertainment icons Tom Arnold and Fran Drescher are among the nearly 20 celebrity "ambassadors" promoting West Seattle based nonprofit, FREE2LUV, which promotes individualism, equal rights, and helps teens cope with bullying.
FREE2LUV celebrates uniqueness, fights teen bullying
A new nonprofit called FREE2LUV has been launched by an Alki couple to offer cover to youth getting bullied, both gay and straight, and to encourage individualism in teens pressured by their peers to "blend in".
Tonya and Kym Sandis said they "never call a bully a bully".
"We call it an 'act of bullying,'" Kym explained. "The labeling, and putting people in boxes, is where it all starts. The kid who bullies is often being bullied at home."
Tonya and Kym, a lesbian couple together 26 years, planned their family. They have two daughters, 11 and 13, who they home school.
"Being gay we can relate to the feeling of being different," Kym said. "The way we are raising our children is the message we want to get out there, daring to be who you are. FREE2LUV will bring that to a larger audience."
And while their sexual identity helps them understand the stigma gay teens may go through, Tonya said, "There are a myriad of reasons one might get bullied, including just being different. As a society we promote wanting our kids to be the same. But as a parent we tell them to be themselves. So there is a struggle. It's sad. People are becoming hypercritical, and many kids don't have the skill sets, or strong partnership with theirs peers or teachers.
"Our children have two moms, but to them, who cares?" Tonya said. "Children receive 'messaging' today that identifies how they should be, like Disney characters that identify how a child behaves and should look like. If a child does not fit in that standard, they get picked on. I don't get it. I say 'don't be a sheeple'. Be unique and celebrate it. Gay, straight, black, white, whatever religion. It should really start at home first. But let's face it. The parents are out working, or don't have the dialogue they should have, so school curriculum is crucial, especially K-6."
They are promoting dialogue about bullying, peer pressure and teen suicide in schools and have been invited to speak at Gay-Straight Alliance school groups.
"Now with the whole cyber bullying it is taking it to a whole new level," said Kym. "Someone who might have been bullied by one kid in a classroom of 30 is now bullied on the Internet throughout the world, and can feel helpless, hopeless, alone. There are so many benefits to social media, but also drawbacks, like access to the Internet to figure out how to kill themselves, and other troubling information."
The Sandises acknowledge a bit of irony in their public school activism while home schooling their kids, but explained they are simply promoting tolerance among peers, and they aren't home schooling to make a statement.
"It's a myth that they are not socializing while being home schooled," said Kym of their daughters. "They have cousins they spend time with and they're involved in sports."
"Our 11 year-old is learning French, the piano, and enjoys science," said Tonya. "And our 13 year-old is an extreme dog enthusiast. She even has a dog business called Fancy Paws, with the slogan, 'Big or small I walk them all.' We're all about our kids having the ultimate life."
Like their daughters, Tonya and Kym, too, have been living a charmed life. They moved here last year from Los Angeles where they were in the show business industry, both VP's at Sony BMG, with marketing sales in one of their divisions. They decided to open our own entertainment company as producers and writers, WithOut Ego Media.
They made some celebrity friends and acquaintances along the way, and some have embraced FREE2LUV, pushing the cause on their Facebook pages, giving public service announcements, designing FREE2LUV t-shirts and taking photos in them, tweeting, and doing other promotions Tonya and Kym hope to cultivate further.
"We're a global movement dedicated to spreading love, equal rights, and ending bullying," said Tonya. "We like to hold hands with celebrities who help us get our message out."
Celebrity "ambassadors" include Fran Drescher, Carmen Electra, Tom Arnold, Lisa Kudrow, Tea Leoni, Carson Kressley, young teen singing sensation Gabbie Rae, "The Little Girl with the Big Voice," and Mayim Bialik, who came to fame through the TV series, " Blossom" and now stars as Amy Farrah Fowler in "The Big Bang Theory".
"Mayim is quirky, and has always been herself," said Tonya. "She is all about spreading uniqueness."
Equal Rights Activist Charlene Strong
Gay rights activist, marriage equality advocate, and Seattle Lesbian co-editor Charlene Strong shared some thoughts on bullying with the West Seattle Herald.
"As (Washington State) Human Rights Commissioner I am very aware of the ongoing need for education," she said. "Treating others poorly is nothing new. What is new, relatively speaking, is a more proactive look at what this really means. I do believe that schools don't fully have a handle on what to do and what still needs to happen to protect all students, not only LGBT, but those who just don't feel acceptance."
Strong has a baby girl.
"My daughter is going to be taught to treat others with respect," she said. "Children who bully others are suffering in their own world. It starts with being an example and I believe we are dialing in our parenting when we plop our little ones in front of the TV and they are assaulted with the negative behavior on many reality shows. Parents need to get more involved, and should not expect educators to be the moral compass for their children.
"I'm not sure I was a kid that felt like I fit in," recalled Strong. "I was very tall and much older looking then my peers. I was raised in an environment that did not instill confidence in who I was due to family illnesses, like alcohol and abuse."
She does not recall being bullied by peers. Said Strong, "I wanted to disappear mostly, which may have kept me from being too much of a target."