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After gay marriage was legalized, the best thing happened: I lost my job.

The president of Freedom to Marry talks winning marriage equality and what's next for the marriage movement.

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Modern Love

In 2011, after we won the freedom to marry in New York, I was finally able to marry my fiancé of 10 years in the city we called home.

At that time, I was president of Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nationwide, and I had already been making the case for ending the exclusion of same-sex couples for nearly 30 years.


Me and my husband at our wedding in 2011. All photos used with permission.

In coverage of our wedding, I quoted the old Sy Sperling TV ad: “I'm not just the Hair Club president; I'm also a client.”

On June 26, 2015, we made it possible for all Americans to share in the same freedom to marry that my husband and I celebrated.

When the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the freedom to marry for same-sex couples a year ago, it reflected an epic transformation first in the hearts and minds of the American people, and then the law.

Winning in the Supreme Court was the culmination of more than four decades of work. It was a milestone globally — for all Americans, for the LGBT movement, and also for me, personally.

The victory brought affirmation, security, dignity, and happiness to millions: same-sex couples, our children, our parents, our friends and families. It was a vindication of America’s promise, a resonant example heard round the world of the United States living up to its human rights ideals. And the victory marked a resounding triumph for our strategy and campaign.

More than a million gay people are now legally married in the United States. That’s a hell of a lot of happiness and love.

For me, this triumph also meant that after 32 years of pushing, preaching, and pursuing a vision and strategy to win the freedom to marry, I was going to get a second act.

But before figuring out what that would be — What else do I want to do? What else can I do? — I plunged into fulfilling a promise we had made as we built Freedom to Marry: get the job done and then smartly, strategically, collaboratively close down.

From the get-go, we made it clear that while the work of this Freedom to Marry campaign was done, the work of the LGBT movement, and so many causes, is far from over.

Because we knew even a year ago that it would be crucial to build on the marriage victory, and to sustain and harness the marriage conversation that is the gift that keeps on giving, we didn’t just summarily close down. Freedom to Marry’s board and staff got to work, carefully archiving and sharing our resources, including the launch of a new “legacy and lessons” website that lives on at freedomtomarry.org.

Our staff on June 26, 2015.

We distributed the bulk of our remaining assets to key partner organizations, while dedicating a portion to launch a new Freedom to Marry Global Fund that is now beginning to advance the cause around the world. We helped place our A-team staff in other good-guy jobs, including with campaigns such as Freedom for All Americans, modeled on the Freedom to Marry playbook to secure nondiscrimination protections.

Then, we joyfully, nostalgically, proudly, gratefully shut our doors.

Freedom to Marry’s last official day was Feb. 29, 2016. On that Leap Day, I took a leap into a new chapter of my life, too.

Since my law school thesis back in 1983, I’d focused on why we should have the freedom to marry and why we should fight for it. Now we had won, and I was suddenly faced with the question (helpfully posed and re-posed to me by seemingly hundreds of friends and strangers): “What’s next?”


Me after the Supreme Court victory, at our offices.

One of the happy consequences of success is that many people want to learn how you did it.

I decided that for a time, at least, rather than jumping to take charge of a new thing, I wanted to respond to the many requests for advice and assistance I was getting from diverse movements, causes, and countries eager to share the lessons to be learned from our campaign.

In my new life chapter, I was determined, I wanted to learn and contribute even more widely — not just marriage, not just LGBT, and not just the U.S.

Now, I teach law and social change at Georgetown Law, and have an affiliation with Dentons, the world's largest law firm. I am called on to advise organizations on a wide range of issues: gun control, women's rights, reproductive rights, campaign finance, voting rights, environment, education reform, labor, animal rights, death penalty, and philanthropy. I also still assist with ongoing LGBT priorities, too (such as securing nondiscrimination protections, combatting religious exemptions, and assuring good lives, as well as good laws).

As someone who’s spent most of his career suing the government, it’s been a thrilling turnaround to be invited to work with several U.S. embassies in the last year as well.

I've met with local advocates and made the case for the freedom to marry in countries as diverse as Austria, Japan, and, most recently, Cuba.

We must pursue explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

At every level — federal, state, and local, and in businesses, and through legislatures, agencies, and the courts — a next priority, I said, for our movement is to pursue explicit protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in important arenas such as employment, housing, education, and public accommodations such as restaurants, businesses, and, yes, bathrooms.

Advances and voices against discrimination and exclusion, through the law and through cultural embrace, help reduce the kinds of hate, fear, and exploitation we still see too often — whether in recent battles over anti-civil-rights legislation in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Indiana, or in the apparent pathology that a killer, armed with weapons of carnage, carried into a gay dance club in Orlando, ending 49 beautiful lives and shattering many others.

The Orlando shooting was a reminder of how much toxicity, how much vulnerability, and how much violence gay and transgender people still face in the U.S., and in cultures and countries around the world.

But listening to the friends and family members of the victims speaking so articulately and passionately at vigils and on TV, and seeing the solidarity among LGBTQ, Latino/a, and Muslim leaders, among so many others, is also a heartening reminders of how far we have come and what we can do together.

There is so much seemingly on the wrong track here in the U.S. and globally, and there is so much more to do.

Though I am no longer the Hair Club president, I am still moved by the people who every day share their journeys and stories of their lives and their weddings with me.

They show me pictures of their families, their children, and their friends, and I am gratified at the ways in which their lives have been lifted and their belief in the power of change restored by America’s living up to its promise.

Me and my husband at our wedding in 2011.

How wonderful to be able to offer proof that people can rise to fairness, that we each can make a difference, and that together we can make a better world.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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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
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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.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

Music might be the closest thing the world has to real magic. Music has the ability to transform any atmosphere in seconds, simply with the sounds of a few notes. It can be simple—one instrument playing single notes like raindrops—or a complex symphony of melodies and harmonies, swirling and crashing like waves from dozens of instruments. Certain rhythms can make us spontaneously dance and certain chord progressions can make us cry.

Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

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Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied. We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


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