Since some states don't protect LGBTQ people, communities are rallying to offer their own.

You’re getting ready for a date. It’s time to pick the place. Where do you go?

You want to consider price — not too cheap, not too expensive — and ambiance; you want it to be conveniently located, with a good menu and perhaps some alcohol offerings. And if you’re gay in Indiana, you also need to pick somewhere you know you won’t get harassed or downright thrown out.

“Any service provider in Indiana can turn anyone down,” says Amy Shaw, who identifies as a lesbian and has lived in Indiana for the past 14 years. “People get assaulted for being queer. So it’s important to know where those safe places are, where you’ll get served, where people are going to treat you like anyone else.”


In 31 states, including Indiana, it is still legal to discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community.That means that people can be turned down for service, thrown out of restaurants, passed over for jobs, or fired from their work simply because the owner of a business has anti-gay beliefs.

[rebelmouse-image 19397640 dam="1" original_size="6776x5082" caption="Photo via Benedikt Geyer/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo via Benedikt Geyer/Unsplash.

For comparison, Indiana does have nondiscrimination laws that protect people from being discriminated against on the basis of their race, religion, color, sex, disability (mental or physical), status as a veteran, national origin and ancestry. But while everyone else is free to navigate society without fear of danger, LGBTQ individuals still have to do the work of figuring out where they’ll be safe.

That’s why now, a small sticker is showing up in storefront windows across the state carrying a big message: “these businesses serve everyone.”

Created by the nonprofit Open for Service, the stickers let people know that even though it’s legal to discriminate, the business is LGBTQ-friendly and won’t turn anyone away on the basis of who they are.

“To us, it’s obvious,” says Sonja Garnett, whose family owns and operates ABC Roofing Company in Indianapolis. “You don’t want anybody to feel like they aren’t gonna be served for any particular reason.”

“I like wearing my badge. I like my thing that says I do support everyone in the community,” says Eric Wilson, who owns Irvington Insurance in Indianapolis, which also sports the sticker, or “badge” as he calls it. “I just said, you know, everyone’s welcome here at my place, even if you’re not welcome in every place.”

Eric Wilson's business. Photo courtesy of Wilson.

“The sticker signals to me that this place is gonna be cool,” says Amy. “They’re not gonna kick somebody out because of their sexual orientation or behave inappropriately. The florist will still sell me flowers, and they’re not gonna force a bunch of pamphlets on you or something like that.”

It’s incredibly important — to customers, companies, and communities at large — for everyone to be allowed to participate in society equally.

On one hand, it’s simply a matter of dignity. “You don’t want them, or anyone, to have to go through something like that, being humiliated because you’re different than someone else,” says Sonja.

But perhaps more importantly, it’s a matter of establishing concrete equality for all people, in all areas of life — not just in marriage, but in business and economy as well. For the same reason that protections exist for racial minorities, veterans, people with disabilities, etc., it’s time to extend those laws to cover LGBTQ Americans and ensure that everyone is operating on a level playing field.

“I’m offering a service, and it’s a public service that everybody needs access to,” says Eric. “Everybody should have equal access to all the things available to us.”

[rebelmouse-image 19397642 dam="1" original_size="700x700" caption="Photo via Oliver Cole/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo via Oliver Cole/Unsplash.

The sticker is a big step in the right direction, but those who use it still admit that they wish they didn’t have to.

People who are straight and not transgendered don’t need to look for signs or stickers to figure out whether they’ll be discriminated against in a store. And if they are discriminated against for their skin color or disability status, they can take legal action and pursue justice.

Sometimes, people wonder why Amy, and others from the LGBTQ community, don’t move to more accepting states with better protections, but Amy is perfectly happy where she is. “I have a lot of really supportive friends and family,” she says. Plus, she adds, the LGBTQ community in Indiana is strong, and she’s proud to be a part of it.

All that Amy wants is for Indiana to give her the same protections and legal options that others around the country count on to feel safe.

And business-owners like Eric and Sonja want that for her, too. But in the meantime, the Open for Business sticker is an effective stop-gap that can help make life easier for LGBTQ people from Indiana while they wait for state laws to catch up..

“I wear the sticker because it’s necessary for those other people,” says Eric. “I want everybody to be welcome. But you have to have the sticker on the door, because there are people who aren’t like me.”

“It shouldn’t be necessary,” says Sonja. “But sadly it is, because there are people out there who are discriminatory.”

The LGBT community and allies continue to fight for legal protection against discrimination. But in the meantime, the sticker — and the people who use it — have a big impact.

Sonja Garnett and her family. Photo courtesy of Garnett.

Human rights groups are working toward adding gender and sexual identity to existing nondiscrimination laws in the 31 states that remain in need of legal protection for LGBTQ groups. Smaller municipalities are adding nondiscrimination laws to the books in order to protect people in their own towns and counties.

“I want comprehensive hate crime legislation,” says Amy. “That way, people have recourse to protect themselves.”

But while she and the Indiana LGBTQ community await broader legislation protecting against discrimination, it’s people like Sonja and Eric that continue to make Indiana the place that Amy considers home.

“We stand behind people who are seen as ‘different,’” says Sonja. “We got the sticker to show that we support them. So they know that somebody stands behind them.”

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

man and two children on grass field

When I conceived my first born, I was elated. I took four at-home tests to confirm the news, peeing on my hand four times — and on four different sticks. I rushed to the city to tell my husband, with a congratulatory card and a few goodies in a yellow gift bag. There was a pacifier, a bottle, and an adorable Big Bird brush and comb set. And I called my doctor within hours. I scheduled an ultrasound the following week. But when I told everyone else the news, they wanted to know about my unborn baby's sex. Did I want a boy, they asked, or a girl?

I said I didn't care because I didn't. I wanted a child, to be sure. A happy, healthy baby who could (and presumably would) grow to become a happy, healthy kid. But everyone was focused on colors. On labels. Would I be a dance mom or a soccer mom? Would my shower be decorated with pink balloons or blue? And while I learned at my 20-week checkup that I was having a daughter — that I would be having a baby girl — I didn't identify as a "girl mom." My daughter is 8 and I still don't. Because sex doesn't define my daughter. It doesn't dictate her interests or mine, and it doesn't affect how I parent. I treat my son and daughter (more or less) the same. Because I'm not a boy mom or a girl mom, I'm just Mom, and that's an important distinction.


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Comedy Wildlife Award Winners 2021.

Six years ago, the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards started humbly as a small photo contest. But it's grown to be a worldwide renowned competition seen by millions across the globe. The photos are always funny but they come with a serious message: We need to protect the natural world.

This year's winner is "Ouch!" a photo of a Golden Silk Monkey who appears to have injured the family jewels by landing on a wire with his legs open. The photo was taken by Ken Jensen in 2016.

"I was absolutely overwhelmed to learn that my entry had won, especially when there were quite a number of wonderful photos entered," Jensen said in a statement. "The publicity that my image has received over the last few months has been incredible, it is such a great feeling to know that one's image is making people smile globally as well as helping to support some fantastically worthwhile conservation causes."

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