Grantee Spotlight: Right to Be

Green background with white text saying "Grantee Spotlight Emily May Right to Be" on the right. The Catholic University of America logo on the left.

At RALIANCE, we are always eager to check back in with our grantees continuing to impact their communities. We recently sat down with Emily May, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Right to Be, previously known as Hollaback! – two-time grant recipients.

“We wanted a name that reflected a broader vision for our work,” May told RALIANCE about the organization’s name change. “When we started in 2005, we were just trying to be a blog, not a nonprofit organization. We wanted a name that implied an empowered response to street harassment. ‘Get holla’ed at? Hollaback!’ It was a fun, sassy hip name at the time—which quickly became dated,” she added.

Taken from their vision statement, “you have the right to be who you are, wherever you are,” the organization’s new name, Right To Be, stuck.

RALIANCE: It’s great to catch up again, Emily! In our last discussion, you shared how the first grant assisted with the bystander intervention trainings. Can you tell us how things have been going in the last couple of years and how the second grant helped?

May: Right To Be has seen a significant and sustained increase in demand for service since our first partnership with RALIANCE.

-Our bystander intervention trainings grew from a program that reached 23,180 people per year pre-pandemic to one that has reached over 1.4 million people to date.

-As Right To Be grew, we built upon our trainings through deep partnerships with community-based organizations to respond to emerging needs. That growth has included new and expanded training modules such as Bystander Intervention to Stop Anti-Asian/American and Xenophobic Harassment (with AAJC), How to Safely Intervene and Respond in the Face of Anti-Black Police-Sponsored Violence and How to Be an Ally When You Witness Online Abuse.

-Importantly, we’ve been able to build trust in bystander intervention and leverage that trust to reach more people through RALIANCE-supported research. Right To Be’s approach shows a 98.8% success rate in helping people to identify and safely intervene when witnessing violence. We were able to look at the real-world impacts of training; how people were responding to harassment and hate incidents in their daily lives. What the research showed was a significant (>67%) real-world use of Right To Be’s bystander intervention tactics in de-escalating violence.

Moving forward, we’re building on this momentum through new partnerships, rapid response training efforts, and an expansion of Right To Be’s 5Ds within the school system.

RALIANCE: There was a recent CDC report about the uptick in sexual attacks against teen girls. How can being a bystander help address that or how can people be part of the solution?

May: When we have a culture where harassment is seen as the standard for identifying as a woman or where the harm it creates is dismissed as normal, you create a culture where things like sexual assault are seen as more acceptable, too.

If society agrees to intervene in things like harassment, disrespect, and microaggressions, it sends a clearer message that things like sexual attacks – which are often happening behind closed doors – are not okay either.

Right To Be’s 5Ds of bystander intervention are:

Distract. Create a distraction to de-escalate the situation.

-Delegate. Find someone to help.

-Document. Create documentation and give it to the person being harassed.

-Delay. Ask if they are OK, and what you can do to support.

-Direct. Set a boundary with the person doing the harassing, and then turn your attention to the person being harassed.

RALIANCE: What is one key tip everyone should know about being a bystander?

May: It’s easy for us to intervene in situations that we’ve experienced in the past. For example, if I see a group of LGBTQ+ folks being harassed – I feel confident that it’s harassment because I’m also LBGTQ+. But if I, as an able-bodied person, see a disabled person being harassed, it may not be as clear to me what’s going on – or how it might feel to the person experiencing it.

There are a couple of ways around this. First, you can educate yourself on what harassment looks like for other communities by attending our free trainings or reading our book on bystander intervention. Second, you can just ask the person being harassed if they are OK (Delay) and let them take the lead. (That might not work if the harassment is ongoing. You’ll need to find a way to disrupt it.)

This brings me to my top tip: none of the 5Ds will create harm in the situation, even if you misread the situation and it isn’t actually harassment.

Let’s say you spilled your water or started a conversation with a stranger on a crowded train (Distract)?  Maybe you asked the person to you for help (Delegate) – that’s OK! Maybe you documented the situation but when you went to give it to the person who was harassed, they didn’t actually need it (Document). Or you checked in (Delay) and they confirmed that it was a friend just joking around. Or maybe you even set a boundary (Direct) that wasn’t needed and the person who you thought was getting harassed wasn’t.

In our experience, the impact is similar to holding open a door for someone who then decides to go a different way. Even though they didn’t need it, they still appreciate it.

RALIANCE: How can people support Right to Be?

May: Here are three things you can do to support this work:

Read: I’ve Got Your Back: The Indispensable Guide to Bystander Intervention by Jorge Arteaga and Emily May

Attend: our free anti-harassment trainings. Sign up for one today.

Share: your story of harassment. Whether it is online, in public, or at work, our anonymous storytelling platform can support your healing process while showing the world that harassment is never OK.

Please join us in thanking RALIANCE for their ongoing support of our work – we’re stronger because you’ve got our back.

RALIANCE is a trusted adviser for organizations committed to building cultures that are safe, equitable, and respectful. RALIANCE offers unparalleled expertise in serving survivors of sexual harassment, misconduct, and abuse which drives our mission to help organizations across sectors create inclusive environments for all. For more information, please visit

The RALIANCE Grant Program has supported more than 75 sexual violence prevention projects with a total of $3.2 million in grant funding from the National Football League (NFL). The majority of the grant projects funded to date were awarded to programs serving people of color, LGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, religious minorities, immigrants, young people, and others who often are heavily impacted by sexual violence yet historically overlooked by funders. Learn more at


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