Homophobes are made, not born. Mike Pence — basically the homophobe in chief — was made in Columbus, Indiana.

It's a pleasant, small town in the southern part of the state. It's home to a destination-worthy ice cream parlor, a putt-putt golf center, a surprising amount of world-class modern architecture, and around 45,000 people. It's where Pence grew up and formed the values he would later bring to his work.

[rebelmouse-image 19528103 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption="Columbus, Indiana. Photo by Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr." expand=1]Columbus, Indiana. Photo by Graham Coreil-Allen/Flickr.


Pence, who served as Indiana's governor from 2013 to 2017, describes himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order." His policies during his time leading the state reflected those priorities, placing the civil rights of the state's LGBTQ population in serious jeopardy. Now, he's got the ear of the president and may, one day, hold the office himself.

Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks as NASA introduces new astronaut candidates. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images.

So what's it like to celebrate Pride Month in Columbus, the hometown of a man set on using policy to limit the freedoms of the LGBTQ population?

For Sameer Samudra, finding comfort in Columbus didn't happen overnight. When he arrived in 2000, the city was mostly white, Christian, and conservative. Samudra, now 42, a gay man born and raised in Pune, India, says there was a certain degree of culture shock.

"I didn't feel really welcomed or really part of it," he says.

Samudra (left) with his husband, Adit. Photo via Sameer Samudra, used with permission.

Samudra works for the city's largest employer, Cummins, which is a company that designs and manufactures engines and generators. It's under the company's leadership that life in Columbus has improved for LGBTQ people and people of color.

The company began allowing domestic partner benefits in 2000 and recruits employees from all around the world, making Columbus slightly more diverse than neighboring communities. There are now more diverse restaurants and recent immigrants joining the community. It's a welcome sight, even though the town remains around 82% white.

In large part due to the company's push for diversity, Columbus feels more like home for Samudra. He married his husband, Amit, there in 2010. While friends from big cities balked at the idea of getting married in the small community, Samudra didn't flinch.

"I feel like in the U.S., people have these conceptions about 'a smaller town in southern Indiana,'" he says. "There are so many things that you can experience and explore in small Midwestern towns. It's one of the reasons me and Amit... made Columbus our home."

Photo via Sameer Samudra, used with permission.

In 2015, Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a piece of legislation that essentially allowed individuals and small businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion. The law became a national issue with vocal opponents, including longtime Columbus resident Sondra Bolte, 67, who protested against it. Bolte has lived in Columbus since 1981, and after experiencing harassment and intimidation before she came out of the closet, she knew Pence's policy was a step in the wrong direction.

"It seems like it didn't matter who testified, how much testimony there was in favor of our rights; it just always came down on the other side," she remembers. "It was just really incredibly frustrating, but we'd get up and do it again the next day."

At left, demonstrators gather outside the Indianapolis City-County Building in March 2015. On the right is Sondra Bolte. Photos via Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images and Sondra Bolte, used with permission.

Pence signed a "fix" to the bill just a few days later to assuage concerns, but the emotional toll on the LGBTQ community was immediately felt. Samudra says the policy empowered hateful groups and discrimination.

"It felt like someone just insulted me and slapped me in my face and punched me in my gut," he remembers.

Now that Pence is out of state government, many in Columbus are cautiously optimistic. But mostly cautious.

Samudra believes the negativity and vitriol stirred and emboldened by Pence and the Trump administration may actually have worked against them because more allies are moved to act in the fight for equality.

"A lot of straight allies ... didn't realize how bad it can get," Samudra says. "Now a lot of people are asking me, 'What can we do to change this or help ... the LGBT movement?'"

Samudra at a local demonstration. Photo via Sameer Samudra, used with permission.

Indiana's new governor, Eric Holcomb, has rolled back some of Pence's policies, but the damage to the state, particularly the LGBTQ community, hasn't been undone.

"I think [Holcomb] really cares about governing in the state of Indiana and he cares about the people, whereas I think Mike Pence cared about Mike Pence. Period," Bolte says.

That's why Pride Month — in Columbus and across the country — is so important.

For Samudra, it is a chance to celebrate LGBTQ visibility.

"This is a really huge community with their own unique needs and challenges, and [Pride Month] gives us that visibility and that sense of accomplishment," he says.

Revelers hug during Circle City Pride activities in Indianapolis in June 2015. Photo by AJ Mast/AP.

For Bolte, Pride events put faces to the often monolithic "LGBTQ community" designation. These are friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members — not just faces in a crowd.

Celebrations and events can give people still in the closet a boost, too.

"I believe that things have changed for us because people were willing to be out and take whatever comes their way," Bolte says. "June is incredibly important to help people who are a little bit afraid go, 'I can do this.'"

People like Mike Pence have the means and power to do serious damage.

They can strip away the rights, freedoms, and privileges everyone deserves. But they can't take away passion, resilience, or pride, even in the place they hold most dear. Not now. Not ever.

And that's something to celebrate.

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.

That first car is a rite of passage into adulthood. Specifically, the hard-earned lesson of expectations versus reality. Though some of us are blessed with Teslas at 17, most teenagers receive a car that’s been … let’s say previously loved. And that’s probably a good thing, considering nearly half of first-year drivers end up in wrecks. Might as well get the dings on the lemon, right?

Of course, wrecks aside, buying a used car might end up costing more in the long run after needing repairs, breaking down and just a general slew of unexpected surprises. But hey, at least we can all look back and laugh.

My first car, for example, was a hand-me-down Toyota of some sort from my mother. I don’t recall the specific model, but I definitely remember getting into a fender bender within the first week of having it. She had forgotten to get the brakes fixed … isn’t that a fun story?

Jimmy Fallon recently asked his “Tonight Show” audience on Twitter to share their own worst car experiences. Some of them make my brake fiasco look like cakewalk (or cakedrive, in this case). Either way, these responses might make us all feel a little less alone. Or at the very least, give us a chuckle.

Here are 22 responses with the most horsepower:

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As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

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"Veteran" mom and "new" mom parent differently.

When a couple has their first child, they start out with the greatest of intentions and expectations. The child will only eat organic food. They will never watch TV or have screen time and will always stay clean.

But soon, reality sets in and if they have more kids, they'll probably be raised with a lot less attention. As a result, first-born kids turn out a bit differently than their younger siblings.

"Rules are a bit more rigid, attention and validation is directed and somewhat excessive," Niro Feliciano, LCSW, a psychotherapist and anxiety specialist, told Parents. "As a result, firstborns tend to be leaders, high achievers, people-pleasing, rule-following and conscientious, several of the qualities that tend to predict success."

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