In a world that wasn't safe for LGBTQ people, a play in a leather bar changed the game.

1977 was a risky time for a play about fighting back against gay bashing. But that didn’t stop Allan B. Estes.

To pull off Doric Wilson's play, “The West Street Gang,” Estes had to work with what was available — and in the '70s, that wasn't much.

Estes was a playwright and a young gay man living in a time when politicians like Anita Bryant openly insulted gay folks and violence against LGBTQ people was all too common. The world wasn’t exactly welcoming his vision for a creative space for queer people.


Gay Rights protesters in 1976. Image by Warren K. Leffler/Wikimedia Commons.

He also didn’t have a theater to work in. So he decided that his production of “The West Street Gang” wasn’t going to be just set in a leather bar, it would also be performed in a leather bar.

Described as “a queer bar farce about sitting down for drinks and standing up to oppression,” the show was a huge success.

It was so successful, in fact, that Estes got enough recognition to help him produce more plays.

And he soon secured a downtown San Francisco location to open something that didn’t exist but was sorely needed: a theater dedicated to art by and for queer people.

By August 1977, Theatre Rhinoceros became official — and it still exists today as the world’s longest-run queer theater.

Kathryn L. Wood and Elaine Jennings as Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Photo by David Wilson/Theatre Rhinoceros.

Theatre Rhinoceros filled a huge need as a space that reflected the lives of LGBTQ people who were invisible in mainstream arenas.

“In 1977, there was no queer representation,” says current executive director and artistic director John Fisher. “There was just really nothing where queer people could see their lives portrayed. And so it was very important that there was a place where they could go and see plays.”

With founder Allan B. Estes as the first artistic director, Theatre Rhinoceros began producing plays exclusively for gay men. A few years later, Estes opened the company to include lesbians, paving the way for the theater’s current content, which continues to expand to represent more letters in the LGBTQ+ rainbow.

Among the early performances were works by noted playwrights, including Harvey Fierstein, Terrence McNally, Adele Prandini, and many more.

Harvey Fierstein, Lanny Baugniet, Allan B. Estes, and J. Kevin Halon at San Francisco’s Theatre Rhinoceros in 1981. Photo courtesy of Theatre Rhinoceros.

In 1984, tragedy struck: Estes died suddenly at the age of 29.

He was one of the many lives lost to the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

The AIDS epidemic devastated the community of artists and audiences that came together at Theatre Rhinoceros. They lost leaders, actors, and loved ones. “This disease almost destroyed the theater,” Fisher says.

But, through unfathomable pain, Theatre Rhinoceros carried on.

The company members kept doing what they did best: providing visibility, safety, and love for their community.

In fact, the same year as Estes’ death, the company premiered “The AIDS Show: Artists Involved with Death and Survival.” It was the first play in the U.S. to address the AIDS crisis.

National attention followed, including a PBS documentary with Academy Award-winning directors and a tour of “The AIDS Show” around the United States.

This attention was crucial. Victims were rapidly dying of AIDS without knowing why, and their communities were terrified. Theatre Rhinoceros helped give its community representation on the big stage and educate huge audiences about AIDS.

Today, resilience through art continues to shine in the spotlight at Theatre Rhinoceros.

In August 2017, the theater celebrated its 40th anniversary with a staged reading of “The West Street Gang.” After all, their very first play's theme of resistance through struggle remains relevant in new and evolving ways.

While there are more queer theaters now than in 1977, for instance, many have shut down in recent years as their neighborhoods become less and less affordable for these theaters and their actors.

André San-Chez and Charles Peoples III in "The Legend of Pink." Photo by Steven Ho/Theatre Rhinoceros.

And they are continuing the tradition of reflecting contemporary LGBTQ lives.

One recent show, “The Legend of Pink,” received rave reviews for its story of a black transgender woman who was once one of the 40% of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ. The Rhino’s current show, “Transitions,” is a witty take on being queer during the Trump presidency.

And, in spite of the risks of covering such touchy topics, The Rhino has reached wide audiences and touched an abundance of lives.

Daniel Chung, Donald Currie, and John Fisher in "Flim-Flam." Photo by David Wilson/Theatre Rhinoceros.

The Rhino’s lasting legacy reminds us of why representation is so meaningful for LGBTQ communities.

Whether faced with a devastating epidemic or hateful politicians, queer artists have always looked out for their communities. When they had nobody else to help them survive violence and grief, Estes and his company turned to their own creative power to build hope and visibility.

Art like the Theatre Rhinoceros’ helps us reach each other, express ourselves, and send our stories into corners of the world they’ve never seen before.

These artists prove that we have the tools for change right at our fingertips.

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NBC's Rise

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

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Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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