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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.

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!

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
True

When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Freya from Maya Higa's YouTube video.

Ever wonder what an ideal date for a lemur would be? Or a lizard’s favorite Disney princess?

Thanks to one YouTube poster with a passion for animals and an endearing sense of humor, all questions shall be answered. Well, maybe not all questions. But at the very least, you’ll have eight minutes of insanely cute footage.

In a series titled “Tiny Mic Interviews,” Maya Higa approaches little beasties with a microphone so small she has to hold it with just her thumb and forefinger. And yes, 99% of the animals try to eat it.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
True

The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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2 photos of a woman's bedroom reveal just how powerful depression can be.

"We need to be able to talk to each other about our feelings, even the bad ones."

This article originally appeared on September 7, 2016

Jonna Roslund is a 26-year-old from Sweden who lives with depression.

Photo via Jonna Roslund, used with permission.

Living with a mental illness affects many areas of a person's life, including one annoyance most of us can relate to: the dread of household chores.

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A round-up of delights from around the internet this week.

Hey all!

Welcome to Upworthy's weekly roundup of delights from around the internet. This week's list features a little of everything—gorgeous music, cute kids, adorable animals, hope for the planet and a brand new video message from the late and great Betty White.

That's right, Betty White left us a message of gratitude shortly before her passing. It's brief, but how lovely to see and hear her speak to her millions of fans one last time. Few celebrities are as universally beloved as Betty White was, and though we knew she couldn't live forever, it would have been fun to see her celebrate her 100th birthday. Now, at least, we get to experience her joy and warmth with a few last words.

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