The reason Perez Hilton hopes his son isn't gay is actually heartbreaking.

"I purposefully would not put my son in dance class because dance class might make your kid gay," said internet personality Perez Hilton during his March 27 podcast.

The shocked co-host, Chris Booker, gave Hilton the opportunity to walk back the comments or say he was joking, but Hilton was persistent: "I think dance class can make your kid gay."

It was a bizarre, stereotype-laden assertion, not particularly grounded in anything aside from Hilton's observation that a lot of professional male dancers happen to be gay.


The backlash was swift, and at least some portion of it was deserved. Dance Magazine's Courtney Escoyne wrote, "Are there gay men in dance? Yes. Did dancing make them that way? No." GayRVA's Marilyn Drew Necci pointed to Hilton as proof that "you don't have to be straight to be homophobic."

The idea that a parent's decision to let their child take up one hobby or another can influence the child's gender identity or sexuality is steeped in harmful ideas that makes up the basis of a lot of junk science-driven "conversion therapy."

It's obviously not something Hilton meant to contribute to, but nevertheless, he got a few rounds of applause from social conservatives.

"I would prefer if my son was heterosexual," Hilton continued in another particularly startling comment coming from an out gay man.

There's a bit more nuance to this one, however.

When Booker asked what's wrong with being gay, Hilton replied, "Well, nothing, clearly, but I would prefer if my son was heterosexual. If I had to choose, I would prefer to be heterosexual, too. It would be easier."

There, he actually has a great point: As much progress as has been made when it comes to LGBTQ rights and acceptance over the past several decades, there's still a lot of work left to do. Homophobia, sexism, and racism are still hardwired into our culture as well-connected systems of oppression, and it's completely understandable that a parent would hope their child wouldn't have to experience that.

Even still, dance class will not make a straight boy gay any more than playing football will turn a gay boy straight.

The world isn't hard because being LGBTQ inherently makes it so, but because society still chooses to make it hard for LGBTQ people.

According to the Human Rights Campaign's "Growing Up LGBT in America" survey, 42% of LGBT youth say that their community is not accepting of people like them, they are nearly twice as likely to have reported being physically assaulted by peers, and a remarkable 92% say they see and hear negative messages about LGBT people on a regular basis.

The problem isn't LGBTQ people: The problem is a world that still can't fully accept and respect their existence. A more accepting world can produce significantly better outcomes for LGBTQ youth.

For example, a 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that the simple act of recognizing and using transgender people's chosen names can reduce the likelihood of depression and thoughts of suicide.

"Many kids who are transgender have chosen a name that is different than the one that they were given at birth," study author Stephen T. Russell told UT News. "We showed that the more contexts or settings where they were able to use their preferred name, the stronger their mental health was."

UCLA's Williams Institute came to a similar conclusion in a 2014 study, finding that the effects of discrimination can increase the likelihood that a trans person will attempt suicide. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Men's Health found the same about gay men and suicide attempts.

"I never have really spoken in depth about how hard it was me being a gay boy in a Latino and religious family and school environment."

Like other parents, Hilton admits that he doesn't have all the answers. He hopes that the nuance needed to make his point shines through.

"Is what I said problematic? Yes! Is parenting and our past baggage and family dynamics complex? Yes!" he writes in a direct message.

He clarifies that he would sign his son up for dance classes if asked, adding that the example was a bit of a hypothetical and noting that if it were possible to "make" his son gay, having Hilton for a father would probably do the trick faster than any dance class ever could. But he knows it doesn't work like that.

"Parenting is hard," he says. "Being a gay parent is harder. Being a gay parent in the public eye is even harder. None of this is easy. But at the end of the day, the only opinion that matters about how I parent my children is my own."

Hilton with daughter Mia and son Mario. Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Santa's Secret Workshop 2017.

If we're to give Hilton the benefit of the doubt, it's because he just wants his son to live a happy and healthy life.

It's just sad that, for now at least, that means he hopes his son doesn't end up being gay. "So much would have to change," Hilton tells Upworthy in a Twitter direct message:

"Not just externally but also in the households, in the relatives' homes, in the schools. I never have really spoken in depth about how hard it was me being a gay boy in a Latino and religious family and school environment. It is still hard for young gay boys in those communities. Not for all, clearly, but for many. So communities have to change. And the country needs to follow."

It's a hard truth, but he's right.

Hopefully, eventually, all that will happen. But in the meantime, it's on all of us to tear down those systems of oppression in society and for us to realize just how harmful our actions can be to members of groups that face discrimination — both visible and invisible.

There's nothing Hilton can do to determine whether his son will be gay or not, but there is something we can do to help make this less of a worry for families across the country: Take a stand for LGBTQ kids, for women, and for people of color.

Hilton and his son Mario attend the 2017 GLSEN Respect Awards. Photo by Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images.

Courtesy of CAMFED/Eliza Powell
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Alice Saisha was raised in the Luapula Province of Zambia with 10 brothers and sisters. She always had big dreams for when she grew up. However, she almost didn't achieve them. "I nearly had to drop out of school because of poverty," she says. She also almost became a child bride to a much older man.

"If CAMFED did not step in, my story would have been different."

CAMFED is a pan-African movement revolutionizing and supporting girls' education — which is exactly what it did for Saisha. Not only did she finish school with their support, she also got her undergraduate degree in Sociology and her Master's degree in Development Studies. She's currently looking to get her Ph.D.

And she didn't stop there. "All of the knowledge I obtained was applied right in the community where I grew up," she explains. Saisha is a trainer and facilitator in leadership and enterprise, financial education and psychosocial counseling — and an activist, philanthropist and advocate of women's rights.

"We speak out for the voiceless, create leaders along the way, and amplify the importance of children's welfare in school and at home."

Today, Saisha is a CAMFED ambassador, using her education to benefit her community and make sure that other girls, just like her, find a way out of poverty through education. Her work creates a bridge between the young women, children, youths and all the existing opportunities, information, and aid they can access. She provides mentorship and financial aid to those in need. "I come up with innovative ways to reach out to other young women or girls through media, calls, and one-on-one or group meetings," she explains. "To share knowledge, use my experience and give room to lend a listening ear whenever need be."

"I am very passionate about seeing women progress in all areas of life."

Without a doubt, she says her life story helps drive her work, not only because it is the motivation behind what she does, but also because it helps her relate to the girls she supports. Saisha is currently supporting 11 orphans and vulnerable children by directly funding their education. She is also fostering two of the children. "[They] come from similar backgrounds," she says. "They were at the verge of dropping out due to early marriage." She met them during her volunteer work in district communities and noticed a reflection of her own experiences. "I instantly connected with them and I believed they had brighter futures."

"Seeing them transform is priceless, and hearing them dream big is so touching. Their achievements speak to it all."

Courtesy of CAMFED/Eliza Powell

Saisha is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to CAMFED — the very organization that helped get her where she is today.

"I want girls to be heard. It does not matter where they are in the world, what race they were born into or the type of background they came from," Saisha says. "Girls should be supported to escape unsafe environments. They need to always have a safe space which allows them to grow, and to nurture the great visions they possess."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today.

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash
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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

Photo by ismail mohamed - SoviLe on Unsplash

The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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