Among its latest reasons for attempting to ban transgender people from the military (again), the Trump administration points to potential disruptions to something called "unit cohesion" — basically, how well members of a troop work together.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis wrote that allowing trans people to serve in the military "could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the  military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality."

Using that memo, Trump announced that trans people would be "disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances." The entire process was clearly just a way to reverse-engineer a rationale for implementing his impulsive July 2017 tweets on the subject.


Yet while the ban remains tied up in courts, trans people continue to serve openly in the military — which means we can see how those claims hold up in the real world. Let's take a look at the three most important ones.

President Donald Trump addresses members of the Air Force in September 2017. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

1. Is that unit cohesion narrative legit?

Over the past several weeks, chiefs of staff for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard have all weighed in — offering a surprising, and pretty much unanimous, answer.

Testifying before the Senate on April 12, Gen. Mark Milley, the Army's chief of staff, was asked by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), "Are you aware of any problems with unit cohesion arising? ... Have you [heard] anything, how transgender service members are harming unit cohesion?"

"No, not at all. ... We have a finite number [of trans service members]," he replied. "We know who they are, and it is monitored very closely because, you know, I'm concerned about that and want to make sure that they are in fact treated with dignity and respect. And no, I have received precisely zero reports of issues of cohesion, discipline, morale, and all those sorts of things. No."

[rebelmouse-image 19476564 dam="1" original_size="500x261" caption="GIF via Political News/YouTube" expand=1]GIF via Political News/YouTube

Five days later, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), asked Vice Adm. Karl Schultz, the incoming Coat Guard commandant, the same question. He replied, "I am not aware of any disciplinary or unit cohesion issues resulting from the opening of the Coast Guard to transgender individuals."

On April 19, Gillibrand asked Adm. Jon Richardson, the Navy's chief naval officer, and Gen. Robert Neller, the Marine Corps commandant, whether they were aware of any issues resulting from open service.

"We treat every one of those sailors, regardless, with dignity and respect that is warranted by wearing the uniform of the United States Navy. By virtue of that approach, I am not aware of any issues," replied Richardson.

[rebelmouse-image 19476565 dam="1" original_size="500x278" caption="GIF from CSPAN." expand=1]GIF from CSPAN.

"There's 27 Marines that have identified as transgender ... . I am not aware of any issues in those areas," said Neller.

Finally, on April 23, Gillibrand asked Air Force Chief of Staff, General David Goldfein, whether he was aware of any "issues of morale or discipline resulting from open transgender service." He responded, "The way you present the question, I have not."

[rebelmouse-image 19476566 dam="1" original_size="500x278" caption="GIF from CSPAN." expand=1]GIF from CSPAN.

2. How about that popular argument put forward by Trump about transgender troops' "tremendous medical costs"?

"After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military," Trump tweeted on the morning of July 26, 2017. "Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you."

Of course, pretty much none of this is accurate. A study commissioned by the Defense Department found that the total added cost of allowing trans people to service and access health care would amount to somewhere between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually. To put that in perspective, the military spends as much as ten times that amount annually on erectile dysfunction medication. That same study found no basis in cost, cohesion, or medical status to prevent trans people from serving in the military.

People protest the trans military ban outside of the White House on July 26, 2017. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

3. Then there are those who say trans people simply aren't fit to serve, medically. Is that true?

In a letter on April 3 addressed to Mattis, American Medical Association CEO Dr. James Madara wrote, "There is no medically valid reason — including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — to exclude transgender individuals from military service.  Transgender individuals have served, and continue to serve, our country with honor, and we believe they should be allowed to continue doing so."

On March 26, the American Psychological Association slammed the administration for its "misuse of psychological science to stigmatize transgender Americans and justify limiting their ability to serve in uniform and access medically necessary health care," adding, "Substantial psychological research shows that gender dysphoria is a treatable condition, and does not, by itself, limit the ability of individuals to function well and excel in their work, including in military service."

Dr. Joycelyn Elders testifies before the Senate during her confirmation hearings in July 1993. Photo by Kort Duce/AFP/Getty Images.

Former Surgeons General Joycelyn Elders (who served under Bill Clinton) and David Satcher (who served under Clinton and George W. Bush) came out with a joint statement on the issue, writing, "We are troubled that the Defense Department’s report on transgender military service has mischaracterized the robust body of peer-reviewed research on the effectiveness of transgender medical care as demonstrating 'considerable scientific uncertainty.' In fact, there is a global medical consensus that such care is reliable, safe, and effective."

Sure, that's what a bunch of experts say. But a small group of anti-LGBTQ activists and a famously anti-LGBTQ vice president have a few thoughts, too.

Though the White House has been extremely reluctant to divulge how they arrived at the decision to try and ban trans service members and who was involved in those conversations, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern landed on a bit of a scoop:

"According to multiple sources, Vice President Mike Pence played a leading role in the creation of this report, along with Ryan Anderson, an anti-trans activist, and Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBTQ lobbying group. Mattis actually supports open transgender service, but he was effectively overruled by Pence, and chose not to spend his limited political capital further defending trans troops. In a memo released on Friday, Mattis encouraged Trump to ban transgender people from enlisting in the military, and to discharge those service members who wish to transition. Trump has now formally adopted these suggestions."

Here's hoping that the courts, while ever increasing in their Trumpiness, stand on the side of expertise, science, and facts over anti-LGBTQ culture warriors. The arguments being made here, especially ones about unit cohesion, are the same ones used to keep people of color, women, and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals out of the military — this just just the latest hurdle.

The Trump administration has taken aim at trans people during these first 15 months in office. Whether it's banning trans people from the military, giving doctors the green light to refuse trans people medical treatment, reversing course on a policy intended to protect trans students, argued that trans people aren't covered by employment non-discrimination laws, and more. It's an obsession that goes beyond the military, which is why it's so important to fight back against bigotry, starting here.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Your weekly roundup of internet sunshine.

Hey everyone! Hope you're staying safe and healthy, and if you're not, at least you know you're not alone. I mean, omicron? Phew. Pandemics certainly know how to keep us on our toes.

If you need a respite or distraction from all that, we've got you covered. If immersing yourself in cute animal videos and feel-good stories of human awesomeness is wrong, who wants to be right? Nobody, that's who.

We all need a break from the less pleasant parts of life, and cheering ourselves up with simple, happy things is a tried and true way to push those endorphins and lift our mood for a bit.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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1. Fair Trade Woven Dark Gray Alpaca Blend Scarf

Celinda Jaco selects a cozy blend of Andean alpaca for this handsome men's scarf. Classic in style, it features fine stripes of white and black woven through the dark grey textile. Hand-tied fringe completes a distinguished design.

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Norwegian artist Ronny Tertnes does just that. His "liquid sculptures" look like something from another planet or another dimension, while at the same time are entirely recognizable as water droplets.

I mean, check this out:


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