This man used to be homophobic. Here’s why he’s now a huge supporter of LGBTQ rights.

Matt Hershberger grew up in conservative, suburban Cincinnati, but since he never knew anything else, the effects of that more conventional mindset didn't phase him, at least not at first.

For example, the community's approach to educating kids about sex came down to abstinence only. "It was just 'exercise self control' preached to masses of horny kids," Matt writes in an email.

So unsurprisingly, he and his friends went to less reliable, oftentimes super misogynistic outlets — like the internet — to learn about sex. As a result, a strong undercurrent of toxic masculinity began to build up in them.


[rebelmouse-image 19397739 dam="1" original_size="700x465" caption="Photo by papaioannou kostas/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by papaioannou kostas/Unsplash.

And homophobia wasn't far behind.

Some of the boys that Matt hung out with had homophobic parents and coaches, or they heard anti-gay sermons in church. So unsurprisingly, bigoted slurs became a part of everyday conversation, But swearing like that wasn't just for fun, it was about asserting dominance.

"We all bought into the alpha male crap because no one else was telling us otherwise," explains Matt, "and so we were all a bunch of little misogynists and homophobes by default."

Since this was before LGBTQ people had become a staple of mainstream culture, it was easy for ignorance-bred behavior like this to take over in towns like Matt's.  

But soon, Matt got a wake up call. Actually he got two, and both came from places of love.

One was that his mother befriended a woman who is a lesbian and Matt realized that he genuinely liked her.

She was someone his mom had met in grad school, and she’d occasionally invite Matt over to hang out on her property where she had a little pond and lots of animals to play with. She also happened to be the first openly gay person he’d met in his life. It was one of the first things he knew about her. But after they spent time together, he learned there was so much more to who she is than that, and he stopped seeing her as "different."

At the same time, he also started hanging out with new friends who would call him out whenever he made hurtful comments instead of enabling him to do so. Slowly but surely, this made him more aware of his actions. Constant reminders from friends and loved ones that what you’re saying may be hurtful to others is perhaps one of the best ways to curb the behavior, because they’re like living alarm bells.

So by the time he graduated high school, he knew what a homophobe was and that he didn't want to be one.

[rebelmouse-image 19397740 dam="1" original_size="700x467" caption="Photo by Luke Porter/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Luke Porter/Unsplash.

But, while the decision to leave homophobia in the dust came quickly, the ideological changes Matt wanted to make were more gradual. It was during school debates that he realized he didn't actually have the same political views as the rest of his family, which in turn made him want to reexamine all of his beliefs.

"That and starting to actually meet LGBTQ people and listen to their stories was what started changing me," notes Matt.

This change has been an ongoing process for Matt, which makes sense because it can be hard to unlearn behaviors that had been ingrained in you from an early age.

But Matt's always trying to evolve, which is why he started going to LGBTQ events when he came across them.

Back in 2016, he had recently moved to Asbury Park, New Jersey — a town with an active LGBTQ community — so he decided to check out their Pride parade.

It was the first Pride parade there since Obergefell v. Hodges made it illegal for states to discriminate against same-sex marriage, so needless to say the celebration was epic.

[rebelmouse-image 19397741 dam="1" original_size="700x603" caption="Photo by Michele de Paola/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Michele de Paola/Unsplash.

While Matt's decision to attend didn't feel monumental at the time — it just seemed like a fun thing to do — he ended up being really moved by it.

"As a cis straight male, pride isn't really for me, but I still thought it was just a really cool experience to watch a group of people, that for so long had to live in the shadows, be out and proud in the open," he writes.

He was also elated to see how many businesses and faith groups came out to show their genuine support.

The whole experience inspired him to be more of an active advocate for LGBTQ people, and marginalized communities in general.

Today, Matt is a writer who often writes about the importance of being an LGBTQ ally and creating an accepting environment for the community.  

Matt giving a speech at his wedding. Photo via Matt Hershberger.

In one of his articles, he explains that we should make an effort to talk to and learn about people who are different from us so that we can understand that being different is not a bad thing. What’s more, being compassionate and accepting those differences makes the world a much better place to live.

Of course, he knows how challenging that can be.

“Acceptance can be hard, because it often means rejecting old things you used to think were true. It's no small thing to lose a religion or a worldview, which is why the sea of change on this issue over the past few decades has been so tremendous."

Now that he's a father, Matt's also hyper aware of making sure that his daughter feels accepted, no matter what her gender or sexual proclivity ends up being. It's not the easiest line to walk because many outdated gender stereotypes are still alive and well in our culture, but he's doing the best he can to shield her from them.

There's still lots of work to be done, but people like Matt are proof that changing your views is possible. All you have to do is open your eyes.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

Keep Reading Show less

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

Keep Reading Show less

"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

Keep Reading Show less