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The right to dance with other gay folks in a bar somewhere? That's thanks to these people.

Sometimes a seminal event changes our culture forever. The Stonewall Rebellion (aka Stonewall Riots) was just such an event, and it ushered in a new era of gay and transgender people being out, proud, and no longer afraid to even dance at a bar without cops throwing them in jail.

The right to dance with other gay folks in a bar somewhere? That's thanks to these people.

In the 1950s and '60s, being gay was considered "un-American."

Those were rough times for gay and trans people in the United States. Their activities were monitored by government organizations such as the State Department. Even the U.S. Post Office, the FBI, and local police departments were involved.

Police would often raid gay bars or places suspected of having a large number of gay patrons.

They would raid and shut them down, and photos of the patrons would be plastered all over the newspapers. Some gay folks were even lodged in mental hospitals.


However, the civil rights movement, along with the antiwar movement, began to inspire people to fight the power.

Folks were challenging arbitrary police actions that kept citizens intimidated and in the shadows when they tried to rise up.

And there was a full-blown cultural shift happening — people were simply not going to live with the social constructs of the 1950s anymore. And I don't blame them.

A massive shift for gay rights began on June 28, 1969, in a Greenwich Village bar called Stonewall Inn.

This New York City bar was a popular hangout for gay and trans people in the area — an oasis, as many gay bars had been shut down. At the time of the rebellion, it was one of the only bars in Manhattan that allowed men to dance with men, and women with women.


The Stonewall Inn circa 1969. Image by Diana Davies/New York Public Library.

To prevent raids that targeted these people, bars often had to pay off cops — but it didn't always stop them.

Some say the owners of Stonewall Inn — who were members of the powerful Genovese mafia family — paid off cops in order to provide liquor without a license and to minimize raids. To this day, it's not clear whether police raided Stonewall Inn on June 28 in spite of being paid off or because they hadn't been paid off on this particular occasion.

During such raids, women were escorted to the restroom so female cops could "verify their sex." Anybody without ID was arrested, as was anyone not wearing three pieces of clothing "appropriate" for their apparent sex. All liquor was usually confiscated, too.

This had been pretty standard for gay bars since the 1950s, but something was different that night in June. They fought back.

"Now, times were a-changin'. Tuesday night was the last night for bullshit. ... Predominantly, the theme [w]as, "this shit has got to stop!"
— Anonymous Stonewall riots participant, via "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution" by David Carter

About 200 people at the Stonewall Inn that night refused to comply with showing their IDs to "prove" their sex.

Those not arrested or sent into the street didn't disperse as usual. They hung around outside the bar to see what was going to happen next. More came from the surrounding neighborhood, swelling the crowd to several hundred people, and more as word went out about the raid.

As cops escorted more patrons outside the bar, some began to shout "gay power!" and sing, "We Shall Overcome," the song adopted by civil rights demonstrators all over the country.

Laughter turned to rage. The air was electric with rebellion and resistance.

Image from PBS's " Stonewall Uprising."

Coins, followed by beer bottles and eventually rocks, were thrown at the police and their vehicles as rumors spread among the still-swelling crowd that some inside the bar were being beaten.

"Part of history forgets, that as the cops are inside the bar, the confrontation started outside by throwing change at the police. We started with the pennies, the nickels, the quarters, and the dimes. 'Here's your payoff, you pigs! You fucking pigs! Get out of our faces.' This was started by the street queens of that era."
Sylvia Rivera, historic transgender activist and cofounder of the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance


It's unknown what the true catalyst was, but as the story goes, it was after one too many rough arrests — perhaps the arrest of noted gay civil rights icon Stormé DeLarverie — that the crowd couldn't take it anymore and ignited. All police vehicles sped away for fear of being overturned. Some cops remained and grabbed a few citizens on hand, including a journalist and a musician — perhaps as witnesses — and retreated back into the bar for safety.

The following hour saw rocks, bricks, and garbage cans thrown at the door of the bar, windows broken, and some fires set.

"We all had a collective feeling like we'd had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn't anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration. ... Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us."
— Michael Fader, via "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution" by David Carter

By the time the fire trucks made it, the cops had managed to get themselves out of the bar. Then came the tactical police force. Imagine the riot-gear-wearing, jackbooted cops like the ones who tear-gassed Occupy Wall Street folks several years ago. Or like those recently in Baltimore or Ferguson. This was the precursor to that style of riot "control," and they'd perfected their tactics in the civil rights demonstrations and antiwar actions of the earlier 1960s.

What followed totally pissed off the cops in riot formation. The crowd formed chorus kick lines, dancing and making fun of the cops, singing these words to the tune of "The Howdy Doody Show" theme song:

"We are the Stonewall girls.
We wear our hair in curls.
We don't wear underwear.
We show our pubic hairs.
We wear our dungarees
above our Nelly knees!"




As Martin Duberman wrote in his 1993 book, "Stonewall," "It was a deliciously witty, contemptuous counterpoint to the [police]'s brute force."

This humiliation only increased the savagery of the cops, who charged again and again, batons swinging. The crowds and kick lines would disperse as the riot formation advanced and reform after they'd passed, resuming their impromptu performances and taunting them further.


Even when cops managed to capture some of the demonstrators, people in the crowd would chase them and retake their comrades rather than let them be beaten and thrown into police trucks.

Poet Allen Ginsberg, who lived in Greenwich Village and visited Stonewall during one of the nights this was going on, stated:

"You know, the guys there were so beautiful — they've lost that wounded look that fags all had 10 years ago."

It took five days for the Stonewall Rebellion to subside, but its effect was permanent.

A year later, a march was held in Greenwich Village to remember Stonewall, and Los Angeles and Chicago held simultaneous marches. These were the first gay and trans pride marches in the history of the United States, and from those grew thousands more in cities and towns all across the country.

It also sparked the formation of many gay and trans rights groups, and the gay liberation movement itself.

In the video below, actor Tim Robbins reads from the inspiring words of Duberman's "Stonewall." You can sense just a little of the energy that was felt up and down the streets of Greenwich Village for those nights, starting June 28, 1969.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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