More

8 gay things we were taught as '90s kids

There was a time, not that long ago, when gay marriage was unthinkable. Gay people were not trying to get married ... they were trying to be treated as human beings. That change did not happen by itself. Here are eight people who made those changes happen.

8 gay things we were taught as '90s kids

Before we get this party started, let one of the patron saints from the '90s get you in the mood for our trip back in time.

The '90s were the awkward kid of the 20 century...

...and those of us who lived them know what I'm talking about because most of us were busy being awkward kids too.


But we grew up.

And I think we turned out preeeeetty effing sexy.

The '90s were really important for some social movements, and we got to be part of them.

Gays were in the media, celebrities were coming out of the closet, politicians were starting to fight the good fight, and the freedoms and rights that LGBTQ communities enjoy today were planted in the '90s.

Like Edward Scissorhands sculpting the topiaries of our hearts, these eight people were busy sculpting our understanding of an emerging movement.

8) Bill Clinton chipped away at discrimination for gay people.

Today, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is seen as a dated, bigoted piece of American history. However, it was a really progressive move in 1994 that started a huge conversation about gay rights. Before DADT, members of the armed services were being dishonorably discharged because of their sexual orientations. Clinton put a stop to that by saying "sex is none of the government's business," a bold move that was one of his first acts when he took office.

7) Pedro changed the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Pedro Zamora was the first openly gay man with AIDS to be portrayed in popular media. This is a true story of one man who lived in a house with six people who did not fear his disease. Before MTV's "The Real World" in San Francisco, many of us had only seen the devastating side of HIV/AIDS. Keep in mind that in the '90s, people still thought you could contract the disease by sitting on a toilet seat. Pedro showed us that we were wrong and made us think differently. He showed us that living with or around someone with HIV is nothing we should fear.

After filming "The Real World," Pedro continued to work as an activist until he died a year later. Thanks for your work, Pedro.

6) Ellen made gay OK on the networks.

Before her talk show, Ellen had her own sitcom with male love interests.

But after a few seasons, she decided to come out of the closet on the show. She announced her sexuality to a cheering, live studio audience, which was unheard of at the time. Although by 1997 there were 22 lesbian or gay characters in supporting roles, this was the first time we had ever seen a leading prime-time character come out.

5) Judy Shepard made us safer.

The '90s brought us happy times, but there were sad times too. In 1997, Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence post, and left to die in Wyoming ... all because he was gay. His mom, Judy Shepard, made it her life's work to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community. She spoke at fundraisers and lobbied politicians. Judy Shepard fought for justice. Obama sighed the Matthew Shepard Act into law in 2009, 12 years after the murder of her son. Here's Judy reading her impact statement:

And here's Ellen interviewing Judy just after the act was signed into law.

4) Michael Stipe was normalizing.

By the time Michael Stipe came out as bisexual, everyone was sorta, "Meh, sing something else for us, you handsome singing god." Stipe had reached the peak of commercial success with hit albums in 1991 and 1992. Before the release of "Monster," Stipe decided it was time for his fans to know who he really was. He gave many of us the courage to step out with him. Stipe, if you read this, you did it for me. Thanks.

3) Melissa Etheridge showed us love is love.

There was a time that we did not know the raspy-voiced folk singer was gay, which seems sorta strange since she's been a crusader for gay rights for so many years. By 1993, Etheridge had achieved much success with melodies and words about love that straight and gay people were relating with. She shocked the world (even K.D. Lang) at Bill Clinton's inauguration ball when she came out. Her lyrics suddenly had slightly different meanings to the world, and we began to realize the storytelling of love in music could transcend the divide between straight people and gay people. She taught us love feels like love. Check out her epic coming-out moment:

2) RuPaul chipped away at having to be apologetic.

RuPaul took being a drag queen mainstream. After her hit song "Supermodel," we started to see straight clubs filled with dudes shaking their heads, dancing, and singing to a drag queen while trying to pick up women. Everything was different.

1) Madonna is our sprit animal, our unicorn of the '90s.

Madonna bounded through the '90s like a gay whisperer. She made great music and made out with other women (even though she dated men). She taught us to bend the sexuality rules without apologizing to anyone. She was sorta like our "celebrity-mom-for-gays" who explained things our real moms wouldn't want to talk about, like HIV, sex, and human rights. Her words "Don't be silly, wrap your willie" brought many people (gay and straight) through the one-night stands of our 20s. She loved her gay fans and used her voice to fight for gay rights. No one did it like her. And as an added Madonna bonus, I could hang her poster up in my room to fool my friends and family into thinking I was straight until she contributed enough courage to help me come out. Madonna forever.

I know there are more — these are only the top eight who helped me. Tweet me at @DtnMatt and let me know the important people of your adolescence!

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less