Alabama, surprisingly, refuses to air big gay rat wedding.

UPDATE: Last week, the world learned that Mr. Ratburn, the shady, big-hearted teacher from "Arthur" was gay. And the world's collective response? "Uh, I didn't even know 'Arthur' was still a thing."

You know what we call that? Progress! Because it's [jubilant swear words bleeped out] awesome that there's more representation on TV and that people are cool with it (although, it's sometimes tiring that you have to celebrate that the high bar of acceptance is "people aren't freaking out about it!")  and that the 58 moms who make up "One Million Mom" aren't out here crying and screeching about the sanctity of traditional marriage. (Or, if they are, we just aren't paying attention to them!) (At least I'm not. You shouldn't be either.)


No story is perfect, however, and, today, Alabama, the great state that once attempted to elect an alleged pedophile to power and just signed "the most stringent abortion law in the nation" (it's being fought hard!) is trying to put its foot down on LGBT+ representation, too.

The state's public television channel is refusing to show the episode, referring to it as a "violation of trust" to air the wedding ep — the central messages of which are: 1. Marry whoever you want as long as they're consenting and kind; 2. Just because a rat is gay doesn't mean he's going to be fabulous on the dance floor.

If you're wondering why that's considered and, I quote again, "a violation of public trust," the short answer is that "the vast majority of parents will not have heard about the content," according to Mike McKenzie, the president of Alabama's Public Television.

“Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children’s programs that entertain, educate and inspire,” read a statement from McKenzie.

“More importantly — although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards — parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision. We also know that children who are younger than the ‘target’ audience for 'Arthur' also watch the program.”

This is not the first time that Alabama's public television network has pulled an programming featuring gay characters.  In 2005, they pulled an episode of "Postcards From Buster" (an "Arthur spin-off), because the show featured a lesbian couple.

Though some may applaud McKenzie's stance, his argument is really weak and also really ignorant (if not outright bigoted). Homosexuality is not an "adult" concept. The same way that heterosexuality isn't. No one's showing the inner working of the straight parents' relationships on a kid's show and it's not going to happen with gay relationships either.

The only thing this "Arthur" is trying to give voice to? That homosexual people exist and they're no different and deserve no less respect than anyone else. That's only adult in that more of us should be on that same page when we grow up. It's certainly not a breach of trust. Kids can learn gay people exist without adult supervision! They learn about straight people existing literally 24/7 and they're totally fine!

Parents are already contacting the network to protest the episode's omission. Misty Souder, an Alabamian substitute teacher and mom told AL.com that she's using this opportunity to teach her daughter about the importance of standing up for marginalized groups.

“There’s too much going on not to stand up for stuff, even if it’s Arthur," Souder said. "I never thought I’d be going to battle for a gay rat wedding, but here we are.”

JUST FYI: The episode is available to watch on-line right here.

This is only the first sentence of my post and you can probably feel that I'm a little annoyed. A little miffed. A little snubbed. I couldn't sleep at all last night. And it's all because Mr. Ratburn from "Arthur" came out as gay, had himself a big old wedding, and didn't invite any of us. (Or even advertise that it was happening.)

On one hand, it's too bad that (due to the lack of aforementioned advertising) I wasn't able to call up my old childhood friends so we could watch the happy sight of two anthropomorphized and consenting rats tying the knot.

On the other it's just as great that pretty much nothing was said about Mr. Ratburn's sexual orientation until he shared the fact that he was getting married (to a dude-rat) with Arthur and Friends during the premiere of the show's 22nd season. Because it's literally not that big a deal! Gay people exist! And some of them are friendly, talking animals who can teach you a thing or two about not skipping school, Francine!

I was thinking of explaining why that's great in just two reasons but I realize that I have a lot to say about a cartoon rat getting hitched, so here's a brief list of reasons why Mr. Ratburn's wedding is great for all of us:

  1. Arthur has always been a show that teaches and challenges kids to be respectful of others and recognize that the world is vast and round and contains a multitude of people all of whom deserve kindness and understanding whether they're straight, gay, or Matt Damon conceptualized as a cartoon aardvark. In that way, Mr. Ratburn's coming out and being accepted is just one more way  the cartoon is teaching the kids who watch it regularly that "love is love" and that we all just need to let people live their lives.
  2. This isn't the first time the show has handled what some would view as a "sensitive topic." Aside from broaching the subject of homosexuality in 2005 (Arthur's friend Buster met a lesbian couple to great outrage), the show has navigated a variety of topics that are both difficult and necessary for kids to understand — including cancer, dyslexia, and even what it's like to deal with a tragedy (inspired by the events of 9/11) — in a sensitive way. And while I'd like to say that "some people are gay" shouldn't be a "sensitive topic," it still is. Having kids see a character they trust and love come out without any frills is a nice way for them to learn that there's really not a difference between people (or rats) who have different sexual orientations. They're still the same people you've always loved.
  3. This is exactly the type of nuance those who are always demanding that media add "LGBT+ characters organically"  instead of  "shoehorning them in" claim they want. While you'll undoubtedly see some criticism from folks who think that this episode was "driving an agenda" and "shoving homosexuality" down kids' throats, the reality is that this is exactly how sexual orientation should be discussed in the media. Mr. Ratburn's character wasn't reduced to just his sexual orientation. It was just something he revealed about himself. And it was no big deal. The kids couldn't care less about the gender of Mr. Ratburn's intended. All they cared about was that he married someone kind. Their biggest worry: That Mr. Ratburn's dance moves are very embarrassing. I wish I had that kind of message when I was coming out in the early '00s. I bet a lot of other people who identify as LGBT+ do, too.

Of course, the biggest surprise for many people isn't that Mr. Ratburn is gay; it's that "Arthur" is still airing new episodes in 2019.

It's also igniting some serious nostalgia vibes.

Today, Mr. Ratburn's marriage is news because he's gay, but the overwhelmingly positive response the episode's gotten shows that we're moving in a new direction. That representation matters. And that more and more LGBT+ characters are becoming people (and rats) rather than just tropes. I just wish they'd invite us all to their weddings.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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