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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.


[rebelmouse-image 19533948 dam="1" original_size="4603x3041" caption="Gay Rights protesters in 1976. Image by Warren K. Leffler/Wikimedia Commons." expand=1]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.

[rebelmouse-image 19533955 dam="1" original_size="3000x2224" caption="Daniel Chung, Donald Currie, and John Fisher in "Flim-Flam." Photo by David Wilson/Theatre Rhinoceros." expand=1]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.

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

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The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

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via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

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Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

Peter Bence's performance of "Africa" is both entertaining and impressive.

Toto's "Africa" is one of the most beloved pop songs of all time. In fact, it's been touted by at least one neural scientist and by countless music fans as the No. 1 song ever written.

For a song released in the early 1980s, it has stood the test of time consistently, never feeling dated or constrained by its decade. "Africa" is practically in a genre of its own, which is probably why it's been covered so many times in so many styles by so many artists.

One rendition that's getting viral attention—not for the first time—may be unlike any you've ever seen.

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