The United Kingdom is one of the United States' closest allies.

(Soldiers running on a beach. Like you do).


And for the most part, our militaries are pretty similar.

But there's one big difference.

The United Kingdom allows trans men and women to serve openly in its armed forces. And despite the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the United States still does not.

Indeed, there is an enormous gap between being a trans soldier, sailor, or airman in a military that welcomes you with open arms and one that pretends you don't exist.

Ayla, the British Royal Air Force pilot featured in the documentary above, is allowed to serve openly as a trans woman. Which allows her to do her job better.

"When you have a diverse group where diversity is not just tolerated, but it's included and encouraged, that group — that organization — is more productive. It's just a nice place to work. It works better. Significantly better."
— Ayla, RAF pilot

Meanwhile, her American counterpart in the documentary can't even show her face or identify herself by name for fear that she'll be discharged.

"We work just as hard and we're just as good as anyone else. Just because we have a different view of ourselves doesn't mean we can't do the job. I think what it comes down to is they think we can't perform as well when, in fact, we perform just as well, if not better."
— Soldier, U.S. Army

Indeed. All the +1s, in fact.

Fiona Dawson is the filmmaker behind "TransMilitary," and the woman who interviewed both subjects.

I spoke to her via email about the process of collecting these stories, and what the future might hold for the American soldier who volunteered to speak out.

1. What inspired you to make the documentary?

I was inspired by the opportunity to tell untold stories that would make a significant impact on making the world a better place. As a bisexual woman who volunteered many hours advocating for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I myself was shocked to learn that transgender people are still banned from serving in the U.S. Yet they can serve in 18 countries worldwide, including in the UK since 1999. [Ed. Note: In the video above, Fiona did say 13 countries, but 18 is actually the correct number.] I have a number of trans friends, and I wanted to direct my career into presenting and producing visual media that promotes human equality, so starting a project sharing the personal stories of awesome transgender service members seemed like the right thing to do.

Through working on this project, I'm inspired by how transgender service members overcome with an incredible show of strength the huge challenges imposed upon them by the military and society. I'm inspired by the lesbian trans woman I know who continues to serve despite being told she is not welcome at command social functions. When asked why, it's because she loves her job and she loves her country. What could be more "American" than that?

The goal is to give the largest, loudest platform for transgender people to be heard, so when people come to know that our similarities far outweigh our differences we will create a society with true equality. I believe that when Americans see how kick-ass transgender service members are, they will realize that they're equally kick-ass in civil society too.

2. Are you still in touch with your subjects? How have their careers evolved since the film was made?

Yes, absolutely I'm still in touch with the people I first got to know, and I have built relationships with many more over the past couple of years. There are 15,500 American transgender service members, many of whom are connected through a private group, SPARTA. I am fortunate to be connected with many SPARTANS who have trusted me to help share their stories. It's a privilege and a pleasure. At this point my "subjects" are my family. We chat every day throughout the day, and I get to hear every twist and turn in their experience of serving in the military: doing the job they love to the highest standard whilst risking discharge simply for not identifying with the gender associated with their sex assigned at birth (SAAB). In my mind this is gender discrimination.

The female in this video is still actively serving, but her situation is not secure by any means. Every day we're wondering, "Is she going to be next?" But then there are many people living circumstances like hers. The irony is that the estimate of 15,500 people makes America's military the largest employer of transgender people. A government organization whose outdated medical policies ban transgender service employs more such people than any other known entity.

It's hard to fathom that those who protect the home of the brave and the land of the free are not given the same respect and opportunity in life that they so fiercely defend.

3. What can people who want to end the exclusion of trans men and women from the U.S. military do to get involved?

People can help get to know trans service members and share their stories. It's a fact that media changes attitudes toward people. Open transgender service will happen when the Department of Defense updates its policies, but they need to have the political will to do it and the powers that be need to know their transgender service members.

We can't bring 15,500 people to the Pentagon, but we can bring a handful — who are courageously willing to risk their careers — to our media screens.

(This interview has been condensed for clarity).

In order to help end the ban on transgender soldiers, sailors, and airmen serving openly, please consider getting involved with the Transgender American Veterans Association.

Fiona and her partners are also looking for funding to complete their documentary project, which you can support here.

V, a friend of the American Soldier interviewed in the film, puts it best.


"She has chosen a career path to serve our country and support our country, and it would be awesome if our country would in turn support her."
— V
Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

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.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

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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"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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