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A trans contestant on 'Survivor,' 1 huge mistake, and 7 ways others helped make it right.

Life is messy and complicated, but there are important lessons to be learned.

A trans contestant on 'Survivor,' 1 huge mistake, and 7 ways others helped make it right.

"There is deception here," Jeff Varner said. Ordinarily, on "Survivor," this would be normal. What he said next, however, wasn't.

"Why haven't you told anyone that you're transgender?" he said, looking at contestant Zeke Smith. Uh-oh.

All GIFs from SurvivorOnCBS/YouTube.


Outing someone as transgender — even if it's for the chance to win $1 million on a reality TV show — is 100% not OK.

Luckily, this story has a (somewhat) happy ending.

Not all trans people are "out" as trans, or might only be open about it to close friends and family. Not every trans person goes around announcing they are trans — especially to millions of people on TV — nor should they feel obligated to.

That said, the idea that trans people who don't disclose being trans to everyone around them are being "deceptive" is an all-too-common trope, and it can have some really nasty consequences.

It was a shame to see Varner champion that idea, but if you look to how the other contestants reacted, it was a perfect demonstration of how to be a good ally to trans people.

[rebelmouse-image 19529336 dam="1" original_size="750x559" caption="All photos from CBS/"Survivor."" expand=1]All photos from CBS/"Survivor."

1. The other contestants jumped in to let Varner know what he did wasn't OK.

When Varner asked why Zeke didn't tell the other contestants he was trans, Zeke was caught off-guard and sat in stunned silence. Thankfully, his fellow contestants spoke up, letting Varner know what he did was wrong.

2. They helped educate Varner about why outing someone is wrong.

Outing people can have very real, negative consequences. Trans people are subjected to discrimination and violence based on their gender identity, and in many states it's still legal to fire someone, deny them housing, or ban them from using restrooms because of who they are.

Understandably, many trans people carefully select who they will and won't come out to. It's a decision that should never be left up to someone else, and the other contestants let Varner know.

3. They gave Zeke the chance to speak for himself when he was ready.

"There are people who know [that I'm trans]," said Zeke. "But then I sort of got to a point where I stopped telling people because when people know that about you, that's sort of who you are. There are questions people ask. People want to know about your life. ... It sort of overwhelms everything else that they know about you."

4. They took the opportunity to grow as individuals.

"I'm just thankful that I got to know Zeke for who Zeke is. I've been with him for the last 18 days, and he's super kick-ass," said Sarah. "I'm from the Midwest, and I come from a very conservative background. It's not very diverse when it comes to a lot of gay and lesbian and transgender and things like that. I'm not exposed to it as much as most of these people are. The fact that I can love this guy so much and it doesn't change anything for me makes me realize that I've grown huge as a person."

5. They offered Zeke solidarity, making a unanimous decision to boot Varner off the show.

They didn't even have to vote. Even Varner knew, saying, "I'm ready to go." He took responsibility for his actions. He knew he made a mistake almost immediately and what the consequences would be.

6. Varner offered a heartfelt apology without condition or qualifications, and he's doing the necessary work to atone for his wrongdoing.

People make mistakes, and while we rarely have the opportunity to undo them, we can try to learn from them and make the world a better place. That's what Varner seems to be doing.

In an interview with Parade, Varner owned up to what he did:

"I just pray and hope for his safety. What I did that night was horrible. I opened him up to discrimination and to danger and to crime. Everything horrible. I robbed him of his ability to be. ... There are no excuses for what I did. Not at all."

But beyond that, he used the opportunity to speak out about what's going on in his home state of North Carolina.

"We have to stop as a society discriminating against trans people and minimizing and separating from them. ... We need to lift their voices and help them and not reduce them to body parts and surgeries and things that objectify and dehumanize them. These are wonderful people who are not only trying to live their authentic lives, but thrive. And I think stupid bathroom bills and things like that, especially in the state of North Carolina ... it’s not about bathrooms. It’s about whether trans people have the right to exist in public."

7. As for Zeke, he's trying to make the best of a bad situation. Life's messy, and forgiveness can be a complicated act.

Writing at the Hollywood Reporter, Zeke outlined exactly why what Varner did was wrong.

"In calling me deceptive, Varner invoked one of the most odious stereotypes of transgender people, a stereotype that is often used as an excuse for violence and even murder. ... I don’t believe Varner hates trans people, just as I don’t believe conservative politicians who attack trans people actually care where we use the bathroom. For both, trans people make easy targets for those looking to invoke prejudice in order to win votes."

On whether he forgives Varner:

"But forgiveness does not require friendship. Forgiveness does not require forgetting or excusing his actions. Forgiveness requires hope. Hope that he understands the injury he caused and does not inflict it upon others. Hope that whatever torments his soul will plague him no more. I have hope for Jeff Varner. I just choose to hope from afar, thank you very much."

Out of one horrible act came messy progress.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
True

Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
True

Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This article originally appeared on 10.28.15


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