When Miley Cyrus heard that one of her teenage fans in Lansing, Mich., was being bullied over a “Legalize Gay” T-shirt, the pop star picked up the phone and called her. “Someone at the school who is an adult and seemed more powerful than her told her that she wasn’t supposed to be wearing that shirt at school,” said Cyrus. “I just wanted to make clear that she had a legal right to express herself however she wanted.”
Cyrus’ call is part of the work she’s doing with the newly launched Happy Hippie Foundation, which supports LGBTQ and homeless youth. When Cyrus launched the nonprofit organization earlier this week, she spoke in interviews about her personal investment in the issue, saying she’d had relationships that “weren’t straight.” In conversation with TIME, she clarifies that she doesn’t label herself as gay, bisexual or straight.
“I’m not hiding my sexuality. For me, I don’t want to label myself as anything,” she says. “We love putting people in categories, but what I like sexually isn’t going to label me as a person.”
Cyrus says that she believes she should be judged based on herself, not who she is or isn’t dating. “It has a lot to do with being a feminist, but I’m finally O.K. with being alone,” she says. “I think that’s something we have to talk about more: that you can be alone.”
“There are times in my life where I’ve had boyfriends or girlfriends. And there are times where I just love being with myself and don’t want to give part of myself away to someone else … I think that’s a new freedom for women, especially. I don’t know that my mother would have been able to be 22 and secure in being alone. But my future doesn’t rely on having a partner.”
Still, Cyrus understands her rejection of such labels will be hard for people to accept. “There’s all this pressure to define yourself sexually, but why? Our world revolves around sex,” she says. “Like, when I did this photo shoot with Annie Leibovitz when I was 14 or 15, everyone jumped to make it this sexual thing. But I never thought of it as sexual. Annie never thought of taking a sexual photo of a teenager. But everyone made it something it wasn’t.”
Speaking about personal issues has helped Cyrus gain a passionate social media following that looks to her for advice or help, as that young fan did after hearing that Happy Hippie had a mission to empower young people through social media. The girl was ecstatic to hear from the star, who she’d followed since Cyrus’ days on Hannah Montana, and cried when she saw Cyrus call the issue out on social media. “Without Happy Hippie, maybe that story wouldn’t have been heard, and she would have changed the shirt,” says Cyrus.
The principal of the Michigan school tells TIME that she intends to speak with the person in question — who was neither a teacher nor an administrator — and that the school allows students to exercise their First Amendment rights.
Other than them both being massive stars, what do George Clooney and Miley Cyrus have in common? Country roots and a Christmas special.
Earlier this week, George was spotted chatting with the pop star at the Met Gala in New York City, and Thursday, at his “Tomorrowland” junket in Los Angeles, George told Access Hollywood’s Liz Hernandez about his connection to Miley.
“I worked with Miley Cyrus,” he said. “Bill Murray has a Christmas special coming out next Christmas and I ride in a sleigh with Miley Cyrus, pulled by The Rockettes, I think — or something like that,” George said.
“So I’ve gotten to know Miley and we have a little Kentucky history together,” George continued (Clooney is from Kentucky and Miley’s dad, Billy Ray, was born in Kentucky).
George said teaming up with Miley for the Bill Murray holiday project was a blast.
“She was fantastic to work with, I’m telling you like fantastic and fun and a real pro,” he continued. “And Bill Murray and I had drinks a few nights ago and he was just talking about how impressed he was as an entertainer and also just as a — just in general as a pro, how professional she was. I really liked her.”
Two other celebs George and his wife, Amal Clooney, were spotted conversing with at the Met Gala were Sofia Vergara and her fiancé, “Magic Mike” star Joe Manganiello.
“That was fun,” George said. “Joe’s huge, man!”
“I’m 5’11 and I literally felt like… you’re like, ‘Oh my God. You’re a giant!'” George continued (Joe is 6’5″). “He’s huge and she always makes me laugh. I’ve seen her for years and she has the greatest sense of humor. She’s fun.”
In George’s new film, the actor plays a curmudgeonly inventor who goes on a sci-fi adventure with Britt Robertson’s character to Tomorrowland. Inside Tomorrowland, there is a lot of action and adventure, and Clooney’s character definitely gets into some scrapes.
“Oh no, that’s not fun,” George said of the fight scenes and flying ones. “I don’t enjoy all that stuff. That ticks me off, because it used to be, in my thirties, I was the guy throwing all the punches and I was the guy winning the fights, but now I’m at the age where I lose every fight — every single fight I get punched and fall on the ground and whine.
“And it’s really fun getting older and doing those,” he joked. “But I really did enjoy the stuff just driving around the truck with Britt and Raffey [Cassidy] was really fun. …Those young women were just fun and smart and really fun to hang with. I really enjoyed that.”
“Tomorrowland” hits theaters on May 22, 2015.
In December of last year, Leelah Alcorn, a young transgender girl, committed suicide. It hit me as hard as if I had known her. I felt connected to her. For a year, my focus has been on helping homeless youth, and it was heartbreaking to hear that 40 percent of homeless teens identify as LGBT. The more I learned about what life can be like as a transgender person, the more I realized how especially woven into homelessness that is. Acceptance is a huge step towards eradicating youth homelessness. Being who you are and who you want to be has nothing to do with gender, sexuality, body type, race, or age.
I haven’t been quiet or shy about discrimination issues towards the LGBT community because by alienating people, it makes it harder to work, live in society, have a home, have a family, and can result in homelessness. I wanted to learn more about other challenges in the LGBT community, like violence against transgender women, HIV/AIDS and family condemnation. Anything beautiful on this planet takes time, and with time comes change. That’s why I’m launching the Happy Hippie Foundation — because every life is valuable and we should make sure those who question their value feel protected.
Art starts as a blank canvas and has to be painted on by someone with a vision to become a piece of art. We are our own canvases — we should be free to create anything we want our lives to be!
The Happy Hippie Foundation is encouraging people to be the artists of a picture of true freedom, freedom of self-expression… freedom to be true to themselves. The fight to be free isn’t over. We have to rally together and fight injustice. Being a happy hippie means making others happy, even those unlike yourself! Happy Hippie Foundation isn’t just focusing on one problem; I am young and there is so much to fight for, learn, and be passionate about. Homeless youth and young people experiencing the negative effects of being LGBT in our world today is an issue that is very common and extremely current. I am honored to be a part of this movement and living in a time to witness the revolution! Bruce Jenner spoke beautifully about using his platform and fame to DO GOOD and to make real change, and I want to do exactly that!
Change is what we need and what young people are counting on! Living a life untrue to who you really are makes life unbearable for human beings with feelings and emotions — like love, maybe the greatest one of them. Pointless judgment and its consequences are unfortunately way too common. All humans have valid feelings and rights!
No one should have to hide who they really are, no matter what his or her name, gender, status or orientation. That’s why happy hippies are here to say that every life is valuable and it is our mission to make sure those who question the value of themselves and their lives feel protected and loved by us… which they very much are.
When Miley Cyrus wears pasties or posts photos of her pink armpits, it’s not to be a provocateur. The 22-year-old says she’s just being herself, and she wants all young people to have that same opportunity.
That’s why she’s launching the Happy Hippie Foundation to help homeless and LGBT youth, adding that not all her past relationships were “straight, heterosexual” ones. Cyrus didn’t elaborate.
“The position I’m in, I feel like I’ve got a lot of power,” she said in a Monday phone interview with The Associated Press. “But so many kids don’t feel that way. They’re under their parents’ rule.”
Cyrus, who famously asked a homeless man to accept her Video of the Year trophy at the 2014 Video Music Awards, said she was inspired by the attention generated by that gesture. And she was further moved by the suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn in December. More than 1.6 million young people are homeless in the United States, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. Cyrus said 40 percent identify themselves as LGBT.
An entertainer since age 14, she wants to use her fame for good, calling Bruce Jenner “my hero” for shining light on transgender issues.
“When you have all eyes on you, what are you saying? And that’s what I had to ask myself a lot,” she said. “It’s like, I know you’re going to look at me more if my (breasts) are out, so look at me. And then I’m going to tell you about my foundation for an hour and totally hustle you.”
Cyrus is passionate about a lot of issues, from climate change to animal welfare, but said she chose to focus on youth homelessness because it’s specific and tangible.
“It’s something that everyone sees,” she said. “It’s like the birds chirping. We’re consciously ignoring it at all times, but it’s always happening right in front of us.”
She plans to remain focused on increasing acceptance for LBGT youth and improving homeless kids’ lives for at least five years before broadening her scope.
“It’s not going to be an overnight process,” she said. “You’ve got to get into a lot of people’s brains and you’ve got to really make this a topic.”
Funds raised by Happy Hippie will create digital support groups for LGBT youth and their families. The foundation is also aiding My Friend’s Place, a center for homeless youth in Hollywood.
To launch the Happy Hippie Foundation and raise money and awareness for its programs, she’s unveiling a collection of music video collaborations with artists such as Joan Jett and Ariana Grande. The Backyard Sessions will be available on the foundation’s Facebook page beginning Tuesday.
Cyrus is also writing songs about loving one another and being true to one’s self. Which comes back to why she dyed her armpit hair pink.
“The pink pits are saying, ‘Don’t tell me what to do,'” she said. “It’s back to what I’m preaching in a way, you know, telling these kids. I’m not just saying you be yourself and I’m going to go be Miley Cyrus. I’m saying I’m going to be my (expletive) self, too.”