Famous musicians are trying to stop an anti-trans Texas bill before it becomes law.

"Bills like these are poison."

So reads a letter addressed to "Texas Leaders" signed by over 100 prominent artists in opposition to Texas Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 1362. Both are so-called "bathroom bills" that would require transgender students in public schools and people who work in certain state buildings to use the restroom that corresponds to their biological sex rather than their gender identity.

The letter is signed by a roster of celebrities including Ariana Grande, Sting, Sara Bareilles, Amy Poehler, Emma Stone, and Laverne Cox — who recently shouted out Gavin Grimm, a transgender Virginia student whose school board barred him from using the boys bathroom  — at the Grammys.


Image by The Ally Project.

"Transgender and gender non-conforming people are already subjected to bullying and harassment," the letter reads. "Can you imagine the message these bills send to children — the message of 'that child is unwelcome, that child is dangerous?'"

After North Carolina's HB2 was passed, artists responded with denunciations and boycotts. This time, the performers are taking a stand against the bill to prevent it from becoming law in the first place.

The letter was spearheaded by Jack Antonoff, lead singer and songwriter of Bleachers and co-founder of The Ally Coalition, which is sponsoring the campaign against the bills in conjunction with Equality Texas and GLAAD.

"What we want to do is stop it, but if we can’t stop it, we want to try and cast a light on it," Antonoff says. "We don’t want it to go through quietly. We want people to know what’s going on."

Jack Antonoff. Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images.

Antonoff was motivated to take action on the legislation, in part, through his work with New Alternatives, a New York City-based support organization for homeless LGBTQ youth. Bills like SB6, he says, make things worse for everyone by ostracizing LGBTQ children from their peers and communities.

The Ally Coalition plans to target six different categories of bills.

In addition to these "bathroom bills," the organization will work to oppose state-level bills meant to repeal same-sex marriage, bills that allow groups on college campuses to discriminate against LGBTQ students, religious liberty bills, bills that strip housing and workplace protections from LGBTQ people, and bills that require school officials to out LGBTQ students to their parents.

In the meantime, the group is urging its followers to sign on to the campaign and for those who live in Texas to call their representatives and speak out. Their site includes a form with a sample letter for supporters who want to register their opposition to the law.

Antonoff wants his fellow performers to be bold and address the issue at their shows.

Ariana Grande, a signatory to the letter, performs in Las Vegas. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.

"The biggest way you can fight back as someone with an audience is to speak to your audience," he says.

Getting thousands of screaming concertgoers to scream against discriminatory legislation, he hopes, might just wake up a state legislator or two.

And now is the time — before anyone gets hurt.

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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