This new bill banning the 'gay and trans panic defense' deserves your attention.

Two decades ago, in a crime that stunned the country, college student Matthew Shepard was tortured and violently murdered — because he was gay.

One of the killers argued Shepard made a sexual advance toward him while the two murderers were robbing him. He was so upset by the alleged flirtation, the murderer claimed, that he killed Shepard in a fit of blind rage.

Mourners attend a vigil for Matthew Shepard in 1998. Photo by Andrew Cutraro/AFP/Getty Images.


That legal tactic became one of the more well-known examples of the "gay and transgender panic defense" — where defendants attempt to justify violent responses against LGBTQ people by using the victim's sexual orientation or gender identity as an excuse.

Yes, it's a deeply homophobic and transphobic strategy — but it's still legal in every U.S. state, except for California and Illinois. To this day, there's no federal law banning it.

But maybe not for long.

Rep. Joe Kennedy and Sen. Edward Markey, both of Massachusetts, introduced legislation that would ban gay and trans panic defenses from being used in federal court.

Sen. Ed Markey. Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images. Rep. Joe Kennedy. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

If passed, the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2018 would prohibit a victim's status as an LGBTQ person from being used "to excuse or justify the conduct of an individual or mitigate the severity of an offense."

In other words, criminals would no longer be able to blame their crime on another person's queer identity.

"Gay and trans panic legal defenses reflect an irrational fear and bigotry toward the LGBTQ community and corrode the legitimacy of federal prosecutions,” Markey said in a statement provided to NBC News.

It may seem outrageous that such a blatantly discriminatory tactic is used to defend the indefensible. But two decades after the death of Shepard, it still happens.

More than you might think too.

In 2016, James Dixon beat up Islan Nettles, a trans woman, who later died from injuries she sustained on the street where the two crossed paths in Harlem. Dixon claimed learning Nettles was transgender "fooled" him, sparking him to react with "blind fury."

At first, he even pleaded not guilty.

Mourners gathered in New York City to honor the life of Islan Nettles and demand justice. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Similar cases made national waves in 2002 and 2014, as well. And in those instances, the murderers successfully used panic defenses to lessen the severity of their sentences.

In fact, panic defenses have appeared in court opinions in about half the states in the country since the 1960s, a report by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law found in 2016.

We can help make sure these inexcusable panic defenses are never used in the courtroom again.

Right now, Markey and Kennedy's bill has 10 cosponsors in the House and five in the Senate, according to NBC News.

With a GOP-controlled Congress and White House, however, the future of a bill advocating for LGBTQ protections faces an uncertain path forward, which is all the more reason to vote this November. Bigotry shouldn't have a home in our justice system, after all.

"Murdering or assaulting anyone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is not a defense," Kennedy said. "It is a hate crime."

Contact your reps to tell them you support the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2018. And make sure you're registered to vote this fall.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

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Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

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Culture