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Ecstasy and Despair on This Historic Day

Fri, 2015-06-26 10:59
My husband Brad and I were married in our small Episcopalian church two and a half years ago in a ceremony that included just the priest and two witnesses who were volunteers from the church. Yet, despite its small size, the wedding was a monumental experience, made much more so that it was held within those church walls where we worshiped, and where our love was considered sacred and our vows were understood to be binding before one another and God.

Yet, we were painfully aware that outside the walls, our vows could be legally evaporated merely by crossing a state boundary. In a very real sense, it was within our church where we felt most fully human and beloved by our community and by God. To many in the outside world, our love was a fiction that they could erase with a wave of an official hand.

So, on this day, I am thankful to God for the Supreme Court's decision and to the American people, who are so rapidly recognizing that our love is no longer debatable. It hard for people who have not had the right to marry whom they love to understand what it means to have your government change its mind, after so long, to finally think of you as 'human enough' to enjoy the full benefits of citizenship.

For Brad and me, and now for our son, the decision by the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage across the country is like a gate being opened and entrance granted into the hereto guarded sanctum of being considered fully human.

And so I am rejoicing today, and ecstatic that in the years to come, the love that I share with Brad and the love that millions of other LGBT Americans experience will be honored and that LGBT people will have gained dignity and justice at last.

And yet, today, my heart is also despairing. On this great day of celebration, there is also a funeral and great mourning of the loss of the life of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight other African-Americans who were shot in Charleston.

For those nine African-Americans, the church was also their sanctuary. And Mother Emanuel AME was a church where, throughout its history, African-Americans were afforded full human dignity when the outside world wanted to enslave them. That sacred sanctuary was brutally violated just days ago by a twisted, sick shooter and today, we mourn the loss of "The Beautiful Nine."

In a legal sense, African-Americans gained the long fought and centuries overdue recognition of their humanity in the Supreme Court and in the Congress a few decades ago. Despite this, the last year of police brutality in Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, Baltimore and now Charleston shows us the limits of these rulings. And the Supreme Court itself gutted some of those same civil rights in a recent ruling. African-Americans still live within a deeply racist America that now has invaded the sanctuary of the church.

Despite this, anyone who watched the church service at Emanuel AME last Sunday knows that the Church may have been broken into, but it is anything but broken. That sanctuary has a strength and will not be diminished by sin and hate, but will ultimately grow stronger.

Senior Pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, hugs a church member after the Watch Night service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina January 1, 2013.

The church that performed my wedding to Brad and Emanuel AME church are two very different places, but both are important reminders of the role church must still play in the world.

No matter what the Supreme Court ruled today, it will still be dangerous for Brad and I to even hold hands in most of America, must less embrace or kiss. For African-Americans, just walking down the street or driving can be a cause for racially-motivated harassment or violence.

In a world that continues to diminish and discriminate, the church, if it is to mean anything at all, must be a sanctuary for all people to be fully themselves and feel the dignity and pride in who God made them -- whatever race, gender, sexuality, culture, religion or size.

On this day, of celebration and mourning, let the church lead the calls for continued justice, compassion and love for all of humanity. Remembering American martyrs like Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Beautiful Nine as well as those Americans who have died as the result of anti-queer violence, let us all work together towards that great day when we can wipe away all the tears of oppression and discrimination and join hands as one people, free at last.

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10 Life Hacks For Your Best Gay Pride Yet

Fri, 2015-06-26 09:39
Chicago Pride Parade photo by Anthony Meade

You've read plenty of how-to guides, I'm sure, but you can't be too prepared. Pride celebrates our freedom and promotes equality in this great country. Some take this remembrance solemnly. To others, it's just another day to take your shirt off and sport enough glitter to make Ke$ha blush. Neither is wrong.

This weekend, Chicago, New York City and San Francisco host some of the largest Gay Pride events in the country. Here are some tips to make the most of your Pride travels. And yes, most of this is common sense, but it never hurts to re-state the obvious.

1. Plan ahead. You know about the parades, but most cities offer weekend-long events, and most of those require tickets. Buy your tickets online instead of standing in line. Pro tip: Tickets are normally cheaper in advance. So save a few dollars for drinks later.

New York City Pride photo by Santiago Felipe

2. Wear Pride on your sleeve. Dressing up for Pride is no easy task. When packing, remember that less is more. Of course, you need to be comfortable, whatever that means to you -- be it in a T-shirt, tank, nipple tape, wig, Speedo or glitter. In any case, I suggest weaving the rainbow flag throughout your wardrobe; it is Pride, after all. Another must: sunscreen!

New York City Pride photo by Christopher Gagliardi

3. Pack sneakers. Leave the heels to the professionals -- the drag queens. Wear sensible shoes. Trust me, you do not want to be walking around for miles to get from bar-to-bar in heels or even flip-flops. Wear sneakers, boat shoes -- whatever covers your feet. Just not crocs. Never crocs, OK?

4. Cash is king. I get it. It's odd to carry cash around in 2015. But you really do need it for Pride. You may want some singles for the go-go boys, or to tip the fierce drag queens. More importantly, some vendors only accept cash. (Apparently, they haven't heard of Square.) Bring it from home so you aren't scrambling for an ATM when you should be drinking/dancing/parading.

New York City Pride photo by Andrew Werner

5. Thank the sponsors. Big-name companies typically join the parades with floats or representatives. It is because of their sponsorships that the events are possible. So, be sure to thank them by buying their goods and services. Just don't be a big ol' Pride mess and try to jump on their floats.

6. Charge your phone. Don't even think of going to the parade with your phone not fully charged. Between texting friends your location and Grindr-ing to make new friends, you'll want a full charge to be able to snap those Instagram-worthy pics. How sad would it be if you miss those nearly naked men with indestructible abs because of a dead battery?

7. Hydrate. The thirst is real. And I'm talking H2O. Pride is more of a marathon than a sprint. If you're going to be slamming back alcoholic beverages all day, sneak in a sip of water from time to time. Heat and liquor don't mix well, and you can't shake that booty if you pass out from dehydration.

New York City Pride photo by Marco Ovando

8. Play safe. If you hook up, use a condom. There will be countless AIDS-prevention groups or health organizations giving out free condoms. Take 'em! And those lube packets are totally TSA-safe, so take extra to bring back home.

9. Stay in a hotel. No one wants to go home with someone who is sleeping on their friend's couch. Pony up for a real, grown-up hotel room, and enjoy the privacy, concierge service, clean linens and strong water pressure.

10. Take work off on Monday. Enough said.

To discover more about gay-friendly cities and to plan and book your gay Pride getaway, visit

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Poll: Gov. Bruce Rauner's Support Slumps

Fri, 2015-06-26 05:48
Since Governor Bruce Rauner unleashed his nearly $2 million TV Ad buy two weeks ago, political and media pundits have been almost exclusively focused on diagnosing the 30-second spot's 20-second attack of House Speaker Michael Madigan.

What has escaped any substantive analysis is the ad's 10-second promotion of Rauner.

"The ads are not very helpful to the [budget] negotiations," said Paul Simon Public Policy Institute executive director David Yepsen on WGN's "Sunday Spin" last weekend to host Rick Pearson. "Republicans have been attacking Mike Madigan for years hoping to rub off on Democratic legislators and it hasn't seemed to work."

Some version of Yepsen's comments have been repeatedly echoed by political and media insiders throughout the last couple weeks.

But the 10-seconds of Rauner's self-promotional message has been widely overlooked.

"Change in Springfield isn't easy. But you didn't send me here to do what's easy. With your help, I'm goin' to keep fightin' to grow our economy, and fix our broken state government," Rauner says in the spot.

The Rauner ad may be as much about boosting Rauner's political standing as undermining Madigan's.


The governor's job approval rating in multiple key legislative districts has fallen - and in some cases sharply - in four legislative districts recently polled. A May 31 survey by The Illinois Observer's e-newsletter, The Insider in the Southern Illinois district of State Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion), for example, found that Rauner had an approval rating of just 29.3% and a disapproval of 43.9% or a net approval of minus 14.6 points despite winning Bradley's district over Governor Pat Quinn, 63-31%.

Now a new poll of 711 likely 2016 voters commissioned by The Illinois Observer reveals that Rauner's statewide job approval has fallen to a new low. Moreover, his approval ratings are now upside down.

The June 20 survey conducted by Chicago-based Ogden & Fry, the only polling firm which correctly predicted Rauner's five-point victory margin over Quinn, shows that just 35.7% of voters approve of the way the governor is handling his job while 46.7% disapprove or net approval of minus 11 points.

"Nearly half of respondents disapproved of the Governor's job performance," Ogden & Fry pollster Tom Swiss wrote in his polling memo.


The poll, which had a +/- 3.75% margin of error, identified 17.6% were undecided.

In our last poll on April 22, after Rauner's first 100 days, the governor's approval stood at 40.6% and disapproval at 36.3%. In the last 60 days, as confrontation with Democrats has grown, the governor's approval has dropped by five points and disapproval has grown by 10.

After the governor's first 30 days, an Ogden & Fry survey conducted for The Illinois Observer pegged Rauner's approval at 43.1% and disapproval at 28.2% with 28.6% undecided.

At the start of his term, a January 14 We Ask America poll placed Rauner's approval rating at 52%, with just 23% disapproving and remainder undecided.

Rauner's supporters and, crucially, undecided voters have been shifting into the disapproval column.

Moreover, the governor's 35.7% job approval - after five days of statewide advertising promoting his "change in Springfield" message - is only a hair above the 34% registered by Quinn in a November 22-25, 2013 Public Policy Polling survey. Quinn did have a higher disapproval rating, 60%, to Rauner's 46.7%.

Meanwhile, despite the governor's sinking public support, 2016 likely voters have failed to embrace the role of Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan as a "check and balance" on the governor's agenda, according to the survey.

In response to the question "Do you approve or disapprove of Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan serving as a check and balance on Governor Bruce Rauner's agenda?", only 30.1% of voters approved and 41.5% disapproved and 28.5% are undecided, the poll says.

They're in a poor position as a PR counterweight.

In the battle over the current political stalemate, neither side holds a public opinion advantage with likely 2016 voters.

Still, the bigger fight - and likely point of Rauner's advertising - is over the 2016 election rather the FY 2016 budget.

"I would suggest that this a longer-term effort than just the current stalemate," Pearson said on Sunday.

Ditto Yepsen.

"I think it [Rauner's ad] may be part of a longer game that the governor and Republicans are playing," said Yepsen. "They want to make gains in the legislative elections in 2016. I'm assuming it's part of longer-term strategy to soften up the Democrats."

More than to "soften up Democrats," the Rauner ad campaign is also aimed at rebuilding the governor's public support. Otherwise, Rauner-funded legislative candidates in 2016 face the same dilemma that Democrats faced under the unpopular Quinn - being associated with a deeply unpopular governor.

There may lie the reason that Madigan has taken to referring to GOP lawmakers as "Rauner Republicans."

Stay tuned.

David also edits The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.

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Crazy UFO Sightings In Illinois

Thu, 2015-06-25 19:36

Illinois might just be one of the most UFO-crazy states in the nation. Using data from the National UFO Reporting Center and the Mutual UFO Network, Metrocosm has created an interactive map that includes more than 90,000 reported UFO sightings dating all the way back to 1905.

Unlike Rachel, Nev., Illinois isn't considered a go-to destination for ET enthusiasts hoping to catch a glimpse of some paranormal activity. But according to Metrocosm's map, UFO hunters might have a better chance at spotting strange lights in the skies of Illinois than anywhere else in the country.

Six of the 10 most corroborated UFO sightings in recent U.S. history have occurred in Illinois, says Max Galka of Metrocosm. Galka assumes the more witness reports there are, the more credible the UFO sighting. Take a look at the map below. The size of the circle represents the number of witness reports.

While researchers, astronomers and scientists say at least 95 percent of UFO sightings can be explained, perhaps the most interesting of UFO sightings in Illinois are the recurring "Tinley Park Lights," sometimes referred to as the "Tinley Park Triangle."

Six of the 10 most-corroborated UFO sightings in the U.S. have happened in Illinois. Here are three:

"Tinley Park Lights"

1. Aug. 20, 2004

  • Location: Tinley Park

  • Witness reports: 45

  • Description: 3 red lights in triangle formation

2. Oct. 31, 2004

  • Location: Tinley Park

  • Witness reports: 77

  • Description: 3 red lights in triangle formation

Witness account:

At about 8:00 p.m., Oct. 31, 2004, three bright red lights were seen in the eastern sky. They started out in a gradual "L" formation. They were moving very slowly. There was no noise, like an airplane or helicopter would make. It then seemed like they were moving closer to one another. They moved into a perfect "L" formation, then a straight vertical formation, and then a triangular formation (one at the top two at the bottom). Then, the top light seemed to fall quickly out of place, going straight down. And eventually you couldn't see it anymore. It seemed to disappear. The other two kept moving slowly, not changing positions. Then they seemed to gradually move away from one another. It was a cloudy/foggy night, so the other two eventually disappeared. Then at about 9:20 p.m. that same evening, another bright red light was seen moving east, all by itself. It was only visible for a few minutes, then disappeared.

3. Oct. 1, 2005

  • Location: Tinley Park

  • Witness reports: 72

  • Description: 2-3 red lights in triangle formation

Check out three more Illinois UFO sightings considered by some to be very credible.

NEXT ARTICLE: 10 Illinois laws every resident should know


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What It's Really Like to Cook on a Food Stamp Budget

Thu, 2015-06-25 17:11
In 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in households struggling with hunger, a stark number which includes 15.8 million children and 4.8 million seniors. Food insecurity is a daily reality for about one in seven households. So why do we only seem to talk passionately about it when a celebrity is involved?

If you paid any attention to the recent controversy surrounding Gwyneth Paltrow's $29 SNAP grocery shopping challenge, you know what I mean. When she posted a photo of the groceries she purchased with the weekly budget of a typical SNAP (food stamp) recipient, Paltrow inspired a lot of snarky editorials poking fun at the actress's cluelessness and comments naming all the ways her charmed life is not like the typical SNAP recipient's, but in the end, it was just more media coverage of a wealthy celebrity.

What are the challenges of shopping, meal planning, and cooking when your budget relies on SNAP benefits? Someone who spends a week trying it out isn't the right person to ask. Instead, I spoke with regular people with real experience with SNAP -- some who receive benefits, others whose jobs involve working with recipients -- to learn more about the individuals behind the statistics and the realities of feeding yourself and your family with the help of SNAP.

What Is SNAP?
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a federal aid program administered by the USDA that provides food assistance to low- or no-income Americans. Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, it now uses a debit card system to distribute benefits, so recipients pay for their purchases with an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card. The amount that households receive depends on several factors, including location, but often averages to about $4 per person per day.

Recipients can only use their EBT cards to buy food items, which means non-food items -- like soap, paper products, pet food, alcohol, cigarettes, and prepared foods -- cannot be purchased with SNAP funds.

Some farmers markets also accept EBT cards, and state programs such as Market Match in California give recipients additional funds to spend on fresh produce.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP is the country's most important anti-hunger program. Over 70 percent of participants live in households with children, and in 2014 more than 46 million Americans fed themselves with the help of SNAP.

Image credits: Seacoast Eat Local/Flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0

Who Receives SNAP Benefits?
Carolyn, a graphic designer living in Baltimore, decided to apply for SNAP when she was laid off in the spring. "It seemed like a program that was worth taking advantage of in this time of transition that I find myself in," she says. "These programs are around to help people in situations like this."

Ouida moved from the South -- where she owned a small business -- to Pennsylvania so her partner could attend school full-time, but their financial plans changed drastically when she was unable to find a job after the move. "It's like you had the rug pulled out from under you," she says. "When we found out we could apply for the SNAP benefits, it was a hard decision to do it, but when you don't have any money coming in, you have to do something."

RELATED: 6 Tips for Eating on a Very Tight Budget

Elisa is a single mother with a 12-year-old daughter diagnosed with two medical conditions that have so far required four open-heart surgeries and four spinal surgeries. She left nursing school in order to devote her time to caring for her daughter and because of the uncertainty of her daughter's health, is not able to work full-time. "[My daughter's social worker at school] said to me, 'Listen, I see you struggling. You can go on these benefits -- they apply to you and your situation,'" she says. "I've been on them for a year and a half now and they are so helpful. Because the last thing I have to stress about now is feeding my daughter and myself."

These are just three stories of the 46 million across the country, of course. But they offer a small glimpse of the realities of grocery shopping, meal planning, and cooking with a SNAP budget.

Image credits: Zsolt Biczo/Shutterstock

The First Problem? Grocery Shopping Without a Car
You might think that the main grocery shopping challenge for SNAP recipients is having a very limited budget, but for many people, the difficulties start before stepping foot in the store.

Jacqueline Stevens, a registered dietitian and SNAP-Ed educator with Healthy Northern Kennebec in Maine, has been working with SNAP recipients for the past three years, offering free classes that teach the skills needed to shop, cook, and eat healthy food on a budget. Many of the people she works with don't have cars, which makes grocery shopping much more difficult. "So they have to walk, but a lot of them can't walk because they have health problems and they don't have health insurance to help them out," she says.

Some recipients live in food deserts, she notes, so the closest grocery store is miles away and walking to it can mean risking their safety, either because they have to use busy roads with no sidewalks, or because they live in unsafe neighborhoods. And once they buy the groceries, they then have to carry them home by themselves, which limits what they can buy. "It's a big problem," says Stevens.

RELATED: How a Food Budget Got us Out of Debt, and 4 Steps to Create Your Own Budget

Carolyn doesn't have a car, so she relies on rides from friends. "My roommates and I go to the grocery together because they both have cars, but before that, I would take public transit to a grocery store and only buy as much as I could carry back," she says. Her neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Baltimore area where unrest broke out at the end of April, has no grocery stores within walking distance.

Elisa also lacks a car, but she works part-time as a caregiver, and her patient takes her to the grocery store in his car. This allows her to do a big shopping trip at the beginning of the month when the SNAP benefits come in. "I do have a great support system," she says. "I'm very blessed."

Image credits: Leela Cyd

You Have to Have a Plan for Everything You Buy
A major challenge when planning meals on a SNAP budget is the lack of flexibility; every item you buy must have a place in the weekly rotation of meals or you risk wasting it.

Leanne Brown -- the award-winning author of Good and Cheap, a free downloadable cookbook created with SNAP recipients in mind -- hears feedback about the difficulties of meal planning from current and past SNAP recipients who use her recipes, and for one reader who spent a year on SNAP while he was unemployed, the lack of flexibility was especially difficult. "He said, 'We didn't buy anything that didn't have a plan,'" she recalls. "That was not only difficult to plan, but there was this negotiation with the people he was living with, where he would have to put the groceries in the fridge and say, 'Okay ... we can have three meals a day if no one grabs the peanut butter and makes a snack for themselves.'"

RELATED: 5 Simple Habits to Help You Cook on a Budget

Ouida is the primary cook in her household and she makes a meal plan every week for what she wants to cook. Because she shops for produce on a weekly basis from local farm stands -- they don't accept SNAP, but are inexpensive enough to make it worth it -- she finds the biggest challenge is having the vegetables she needs on hand and not letting them go to waste. "You can't just decide you want, say, a salad that has watercress in it today and tomorrow I'm going to have something that has red cabbage," she says. "[Doing that], you can't use up the rest of your watercress. If you're going to buy it, you've got to figure out how to use it."

Elisa agrees. "My secret is being able to use something to its fullest extent," she says. "So I'll make, say, a roasted chicken and it's not just the chicken that I serve that night, but I'll make a chicken salad the next day for sandwiches. Then whatever is left on the bone, I use to make stock."

Image credits: David Hopler of D Square Photo & Video

Another Challenge Is Having the Time to Cook
The SNAP recipients I spoke with have one advantage over many who receive these benefits: they know how to cook. And because of their employment situations, they have more time to cook than those who work full-time hours or more for wages so low they still qualify for benefits. This is important to note because SNAP benefits are calculated with the assumption that recipients will be cooking almost everything they eat from scratch.

The amount that each household receives in SNAP benefits is calculated based on the USDA's Thrifty Food Plan, which reflects the lowest cost for a nutritious diet. "If you look at the types of food in [the Thrifty Food Plan] and what they say would be typical, it really would take a lot of time for people to do all that preparation," says Amy Headings, a registered dietitian and Director of Nutrition at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. "The tough thing is that if you're on SNAP, you're usually working a job that isn't paying great, which usually means you're working two jobs that aren't paying great." Expecting people in that situation to cook all their meals from scratch is slightly unreasonable, she says.

So, What Do Recipients Think About the SNAP Challenge?
The SNAP Challenge asks people who are not receiving SNAP benefits to try living on a food stamp budget for a week, which is roughly $4 per person per day for food. The challenge raises awareness about the difficulties of feeding yourself and your family on a SNAP budget, and over the years has been undertaken by members of Congress, governors, mayors, journalists, chefs, and -- of course -- celebrities.

RELATED: How to Eat Healthy on a Small Budget

Especially in the wake of Gwyneth Paltrow's unsuccessful attempt, I have heard the SNAP Challenge criticized for not painting the full picture of poverty, and that just having a small budget isn't reflective of the full experience of living off of SNAP benefits if, for example, you have a car to drive to the supermarket, or only work one job and have enough time to cook everything from scratch. So I was curious to know what actual SNAP recipients think about the challenge -- do they appreciate that it raises awareness? Is it too simplistic? Is it patronizing for a well-to-do person to pretend she is poor for a week?

Image credits: Steve Lovegrove/Shutterstock

Ouida points out that if she had to take the SNAP Challenge, she would probably fail. The benefits she and her partner receive are not enough to cover all of their groceries every month, even though they cook all their meals at home from scratch. "We can rarely use coupons because we don't use most processed foods," she says. "Maybe it is that I am not a good manager of money, but I don't really think so. No matter how good the managing, you can only stretch funds so far." But she appreciates that even if participants fail, the challenge raises awareness about how difficult it is to live on a food stamp budget.

Carolyn also acknowledges that it gets people thinking about some of the realities of relying on SNAP benefits, but is bothered by some of the aspects of poverty the challenge ignores. "A lot of people on SNAP are living in food deserts, so they don't have access to a grocery store to buy the kinds of things people doing the SNAP Challenge would be purchasing," she says.

Elisa welcomes anything that brings some awareness to the experience of being on SNAP. She hopes it will make people less judgmental of SNAP recipients. "It really does hurt me. Sometimes it makes me feel the shame of being on food stamps."

Learn more about hunger in America, find your local foodbank & take action at Feeding America.

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LBTQ Civic Leaders

Thu, 2015-06-25 14:29
Transgender has entered the mainstream of public awareness through Caitlyn Jenner. That is a good thing. But public awareness of a reality star's life as shown in the pages of Vanity Fair doesn't translate to public acceptance for those who don't live the unreal life of a reality star. Thanks to Caitlyn no one can now say they don't know (of) a transgender person. Knowledge is a first step to understanding and understanding can be a step to acceptance. But those are very huge steps and they certainly haven't been taken yet. And until they are, there is much work to be done to serve the LGBTQ community.

June is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Pride Month. We at Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) have been at the forefront in supporting women in the Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LBTQ) community through our LBTQ Giving Council and other grantees. The LBTQ Giving Council, under the umbrella of CFW, is a group that brings together a network of philanthropists and leaders to focus grantmaking and advocacy work for the LBTQ community. The LBTQ's Lavender Fund is the only grantmaking entity in Chicago that provides grants exclusively to LBTQ communities. The Lavender Fund has a special focus on women and girls' access to healthcare and information, freedom from violence and economic security. Not only does the LBTQ Giving Council provide grants and advocate for the LBTQ community, it also provides leadership development, educational programming and networking opportunities. The LBTQ Giving Council is helping develop the next generation of civic leaders not only for the LBTQ community, but also for our city.

CFW also supports the work of Chicago Women's Health Center. Founded in 1975, it is the longest-operating women's health collective in the United States. It provides women and transgender people with gynecological care, alternative insemination services, health education, acupuncture and counseling services. The Chicago Women's Health Center provides these services in a respectful and safe environment.

Another CFW grantee is Chicago House and Social Service Agency TransWorks. This grantee has developed a program that combines the established expertise of Chicago House's employment program with the TransLife Center's work in assisting those who are nonconforming to traditional gender bounds. This program's focus is to address specific barriers to entry in the workplace, particularly for transgender women of color.

Identifying the evolving needs of all gender identified women in Chicago has been part of CFW's history for nearly 30 years. Before Caitlyn, we were taking informed, but bold risks in assisting those communities that are often overlooked and underserved. Thanks, Caitlyn, maybe you'll make our real world work a little easier.

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Dear Supreme Court, Our Daughter Is Watching

Thu, 2015-06-25 12:48
Many of us are on pins and needles as we await the Supreme Court's most significant opinion in the history of LGBT rights in the United States. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the court must decide if the United States Constitution requires states to perform same-sex marriages and, if not, whether it requires states to recognize those marriages performed elsewhere. It has a choice: It can maintain some version of the status quo, in which states remain free to deny the validity of some or all same-sex relationships, or it can ensure that same-sex couples from Lubbock to Lancing can marry and enjoy the legal recognition they deserve. To fully convey what's at stake in the U.S. Supreme Court's forthcoming opinion, and to justify my obsession with it in the midst of so many other pressing issues, I share here some personal and historical context.

Growing up in a middle-class suburb of New York, I don't remember ever meeting a single person who was openly gay. There was my favorite English teacher in junior high school who was teased mercilessly -- both because he was black and suspected of being gay. Only years later did I learn he died of something unspoken: AIDS. And there were the female gym teachers who were called "dykes" and were the target of schoolchildren's cruel jokes. At sleepaway camp, which I attended for nine years, I remember our camp "song" for people we didn't like, which was sung at least weekly: "Oh so-and-so's a faggot, a faggot, a faggot... God bless him, he knows it, god bless him, he shows it...." Imagine 250 children screaming this epithet at the top of their lungs in a cafeteria. I heard it loud and clear.

By this time, I knew I was different. Mainly, I thought I was defective and horribly cursed. Nearly half of all Americans in the mid-eighties thought homosexuality was a result of one's upbringing and environment and that gay "relations" should be illegal. I was paying attention.

In 1993, during my first year of college, President Bill Clinton signed "Don't Ask Don't Tell," the disastrous compromise that alleged to end discrimination against gays and lesbians serving in the military, but instead forced over 13,000 out of military service. In June 1996, the summer before my senior year in college, the Supreme Court decided Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld a Texas anti-sodomy law, allowing the police to enter couples' homes and arrest them for being intimate. The court found no "connection between family, marriage or procreation on the one hand and homosexual activity on the other," and called the claim that "homosexuals" have a constitutional right to intimacy "at best, facetious." I wasn't surprised when, a few months later, Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes so that same-sex relationships couldn't claim federal recognition. I wasn't a lawyer then, but I was listening.

And I was gradually facing the fact that I was among that group of people whose way of loving was unaccepted. In October 1998, in the midst of the elation and fear of my own coming out, I awoke to the news that a young gay man my age, Matthew Sheppard, had been beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and left to die in Wyoming. For weeks, I could not get the image out of my head. I lived far enough away from Wyoming to tell myself I was safe. But I was watching.

Like many of my generation, I finally learned to accept and then ultimately celebrate my identity as a member of the LGBT community. In doing so, I also came to accept that I would never marry or have children.

Fast-forward 15 years: I now live in Boston with my wife and our 4-year-old daughter. My wife and I first exchanged vows in 2002 when I was in law school, before our promises had any legal meaning. In 2004, the highest court in Massachusetts became the first in the nation to declare a state constitutional right to same-sex marriage. We felt privileged to be married under Massachusetts law in 2007, quoting from the court's opinion in our ceremony. Marriage made life much easier for us. We fully integrated our finances and bought our first home together. People finally understood what we meant to one another, and we enjoyed a level of community acceptance we had never before felt. Most important, we began the process of having a child together, knowing she would be recognized in Massachusetts as both of ours (we did a second-parent adoption to safeguard legal recognition elsewhere). Yet under the Defense of Marriage Act, our marriage remained null and void to the federal government, which also happened to be my wife's employer. Our marriage also was meaningless in other states where we frequently traveled. Still, we felt thankful for what we had, knowing so many couples like us remained invisible.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decided U.S. v. Windsor and struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, providing federal recognition to valid same-sex marriages performed in so-called "marriage equality" states. That decision completed the marriage picture for those of us living in those states. Since then, my family and others in the growing number of marriage-equality states have enjoyed all the federal benefits of marriage. I finally got added to my wife's federal health care plan; our taxes are no longer a nightmare involving multiple federal returns; and we are protected in retirement. While it may seem an exaggeration to those who haven't lived it, the Windsor opinion also foundationally altered how my wife and I experience family. It sent a message that families like ours have value.

We have watched in amazement as the number of states performing same-sex marriages has exploded from roughly a dozen in 2013 to 37 in 2015. With legal recognition has come broader social acceptance: roughly 61 percent of Americans now say they support the right to same-sex marriage. And yet there are countless gay couples who, by virtue of their zip codes, have sat on the sidelines of this revolution.

Obergefell v. Hodges

The court now has an opportunity in Obergefell v. Hodges to right this historic wrong and compel all states to issue same-sex marriage licenses. If this happens, same-sex couples living in the 13 states that currently do not recognize same-sex marriages would be entitled to both state and federal recognition of their relationships and the thousands of rights associated with legal marriage. For families like mine that have enjoyed legal recognition for the past few years, it would mean we could travel freely throughout the United States without fear that a tragic accident in a non-marriage state could leave us unable to sit at our spouses' or children's hospital bedsides. Equally important, the highest court in the country would proclaim that same-sex couples across the nation are entitled to the same dignity, legal validation and celebration as all others.

Of course, the court could decide Obergefell differently. It could take a middle ground, allowing states to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses, while requiring that they recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere (the state of things in Missouri). Or the court could fully sanction state-sponsored discrimination, permitting states to neither perform nor recognize same-sex marriages (as in Michigan). If that happens, not only will same-sex couples in 13 states remain devoid of any legal recognition, but same-sex marriage could unravel in several other states where it was recently won. Many of the states that now perform same-sex marriages do so only by court orders that almost surely would be challenged.

Millions are watching.

My wife and I haven't explicitly discussed marriage inequality with our daughter. We haven't had to. As I was washing the dinner dishes recently, my daughter came up behind me and said, "Mama, I don't want to play the game of 'family' at school anymore." I froze, knowing immediately where this was headed.

"What is the game of family?" I asked.

"You know, there's a mother and a father and a brother and a sister."

"Why don't you want to play anymore?"

"Well, I'm just not used to it." I knew immediately what those words meant coming from a 4-year-old girl who is just beginning to feel her difference. She too, is listening and watching.

Also on HuffPost:

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10 After-Dark Activities to Experience This Summer

Thu, 2015-06-25 12:09
Only when the sun goes down can you enjoy some of the best outdoor activities of the summer, and in the cooler night air no less. From stargazing parties to desert garden flashlight tours to evening turtle walks, there's a lot that can be done and enjoyed only at night. Here are 10 must-do evening activities to add to your summertime bucket list.

See: The Best Summer Vacation Spots for 2015

1. Glow diving
Fluorescent diving, or glow diving, puts a whole new spin on scuba diving. With the help of ultraviolet or black lights, the colors of the fish, corals and even manta rays are enhanced. The Manta Ray Night Dive or Snorkel with Big Island Divers in Kona, Hawaii, is sure to amaze with its diverse marine life. Charter excursions go out every evening to see the manta rays dive and play in the ocean water.

2. Go stargazing
For those who like to stay up to marvel at the stars, there are a variety of outdoor stargazing programs offered nationwide. Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has a staff naturalist who hosts an astronomy night twice a week through late-October. Using telescopes and a green laser to point out star formations in the night sky, guests learn the mythology behind the constellations and the origin of the universe.

3. Watch an after-dark light and sound show
Perhaps the coolest history lesson you'll ever see, "San Antonio - The Saga" is a 24-minute light and sound show that tells the story of San Antonio's past against the façade of the San Fernando Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in the United States. Bring a chair, get set up in the Main Plaza and prepare to be awed by this public art display that uses kaleidoscopic images and a choreographed soundtrack to depict nearly 300 years of history. Check showing dates and times on the Main Plaza's website.

4. Kayak in a bioluminescent bay
There are only a handful of places on earth where seawater emits a blue-green glow under a dark sky. And luckily, you don't have to travel far to see it. At the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Florida's Space Coast, you can paddle a kayak through the Indian River Lagoon to witness this bioluminescence first-hand. Every time a paddle cuts through the surface, dinoflagellates in the water produce the glow. The best way to experience it is with a group tour like A Day Away Kayak Tours, which offer nightly tours on the darkest evenings between June and early October.

5. Take a stand-up paddleboard night tour
Grab a board wired with LED lights and get on the water for a two-hour stand-up paddleboard tour with Precision Paddleboards in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The lights illuminate up to 40 feet around each paddleboard, lighting a path as you make your way through mangroves and over the shallow flats. Before you take off, guides teach water safety basics, as well as paddleboard technique and etiquette.

See: 6 Secrets for Scoring Summer Travel Deals

6. Sleep high up in the trees
Go on a night climb at Panola Mountain State Park in Stockbridge, Georgia, to get up close and personal with fluorescent lichen and nocturnal animals like the barred owl. Then settle into your "treeboat" (similar to a hammock) high up in the treetop canopy as part of the "ZZZ's in the Trees" program. Take in a sky full of stars before dozing off.

7. Go on an evening turtle walk
On Jekyll Island, off the coast of Georgia, you can enjoy a nightly Turtle Walk with educators at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Guided turtle walks take place evenings in June and July following a presentation on sea turtles and how visitors to the center can help protect the species. Once on the beach, visitors quietly walk in search of loggerhead sea turtles emerging from the water to prepare a nest and lay eggs in the sand.

8. Use a flashlight to uncover the secrets of the desert
Wait out daytime triple-digit temperatures and use a flashlight to help see, feel and hear the best of the desert after dark. The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix offers flashlight tours on Thursday and Saturday evenings through September 5. On this self-paced tour, visitors stop at 13 "discovery" stations and learn about the creatures who call the area home, including desert tortoises, snakes and geckos.

9. Fly through the trees on a full moon zip line tour
You don't have to venture to the Caribbean for a thrilling zip lining excursion. Situated just outside Columbus, Ohio, Hocking Hills Canopy Tours offers a "Moonshine" full moon zip line adventure tour. Two-hour tours take place two nights each month between May and October under a full moon. Participants fly across six zip lines in the minimally lit course, experiencing the best of the forest after dark. Rent a GoPro camera on-site to capture every zip through the trees.

10. Enjoy fireworks from a different perspective
Every Tuesday from mid-June through mid-August, you can kayak into the Broad Creek wildlife area for a Fireworks Paddle on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. This two-hour guided paddle with Outside Hilton Head starts out as a nature tour before kayakers park in the marsh for one of the best views of the weekly fireworks show during HarbourFest at Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina.

See: 7 Fun and Educational Summer Activities

About the author: Erin Gifford is a Washington, D.C.-based travel writer and founder of Kidventurous, an award-winning family travel resource. You can follow her on Twitter at @Kidventurous, connect with her on Facebook or get the latest tips and tricks for traveling families at

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His Soul Wrapped in the Confederate Flag

Thu, 2015-06-25 12:08
At the bond hearing, grieving loved ones forgave Dylann Roof. This was reported as news, but it was so much more than that. It was the light embracing the darkness.

And white America absorbed this forgiveness through the eyes of the 21-year-old terrorist who watched the proceedings on a video screen from his jail cell. Whatever he heard and felt is unknown, but beyond him, in the world he believed he was saving, something gave. The solidarity of whiteness -- the quiet assumption of white supremacy -- shuddered ever so slightly.

The flag, the flag....

The fate of this symbolic relic of the slave era is now the big story in the aftermath of Roof's murder of nine African Americans. He acted in such clear allegiance to the Confederate flag that politicians everywhere -- even Republican presidential candidates -- are demanding, or at least acquiescing to, its removal from public and official locations, such as in front of the South Carolina State House.

Not only that but "Walmart and Sears, two of the country's largest retailers, will remove all Confederate flag merchandise from their stores," CNN reported.

This is what atonement looks like in a consumer culture.

"The announcements," according to CNN, "are the latest indication that the flag, a symbol of the slave-holding South, has become toxic in the aftermath of a shooting last week at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina."

A few days later, Amazon and eBay also announced that they would remove Confederate flag merchandise from their sites. No longer available, CNN reported, would be such flag-decorated items as folding knives, T-shirts, blankets or (God help us) shower curtains.

Oh, Lord. The news so quickly becomes theater of the absurd. Roof's act of terror has forced mainstream America to begin consciously disassociating itself from the lethal margins of white solidarity, to wake up to what it really means. But this waking up, so far, seems limited to the symbolism of Confederate paraphernalia. All our guilt is being dumped here while the pain that Roof's act of terror has caused ebbs and slowly vanishes from the social mainstream.

In fact, an undead racism still stalks the American consciousness, and it will, once again, regroup, Confederate flag or no Confederate flag. What this moment of awareness calls for is true atonement for our history.

"I forgive you." These are the words of Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, one of Roof's victims. "You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul."

Atonement begins with cradling the pain.

"We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms," said Felicia Sanders, who was not only present in the church during the murders but is the mother of Tywanza Sanders, 26, the youngest of those killed. As we cradle the pain, we must cradle this as well: the open souls of the murder victims.

What do we value as a nation? Do we value such openness? The killer -- who was, as he entered the church, simply an unknown young man -- did not go through security clearance as he walked through the open door. He had complete freedom of movement as he entered the historic African-American church, where he was accepted simply for his humanity. Yes, such openness and acceptance are also part of who we are as a nation, but do we value these qualities? Do we have the least faith that they matter now more than ever, now that they've been so violated?

A participant at one of the vigils last week for the murder victims "noted how a church's doors are always open, especially to those in need," a Daily Beast story reported. "She wonders now how churches can square their mission of public service, charity and acceptance with security concerns."

Roof's act of terror has opened a gaping hole in the social fabric. Can we no longer pray together?

But all such questions lead back into the depth of American history and the need for atonement and transformation. A Reuters story, addressing the segregated nature of most American churches (11 a.m. Sunday is "the most segregated hour in the nation," Martin Luther King once said), pointed out, "The story of this division began in America's earliest moments, when slaves and freed African-Americans alike were often expected to pray in the same churches as whites, but in areas cordoned off, often called 'slave galleries.'"

Imagine praying in a setting that defines you as semi-human. Now imagine Dylann Roof walking into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with a gun in his backpack. Roof was the self-defined semi-human in the church that night, his soul wrapped in a Confederate flag.

The U.S. is enslaved by its past. That's what no one has said yet. One hundred fifty years after the Civil War ended, we're thinking maybe it's time to lower the flag that symbolizes this enslavement.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at or visit his website at


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My Q and A With William Dement, a True Sleep Studies Pioneer

Thu, 2015-06-25 10:42
Dr. William C. Dement, a professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, is considered the father of sleep medicine. In answer to my questions, he spoke about his early interest in sleep studies, the scientists who inspired him and how the study of sleep has evolved over half a century. Here is a transcript of our conversation.

What led you to found the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic?

Before I came to Stanford, I was a research fellow at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and worked with patients who had narcolepsy. After I went to Stanford, in 1963, I discovered that doctors were not recognizing this illness, so I put a little want ad in the San Francisco Chronicle asking people who had symptoms suggesting narcolepsy to contact me. I got about 100 responses, at least 50 of which were patients with undiagnosed narcolepsy. I started a narcolepsy clinic in 1964 to study and treat the illness, but I had to close it a year later as unpaid patient bills piled up.

It was gratifying to participate in patient care, so I had that lingering desire. When I first started researching, you could say all you had to do to get a grant from the National Institutes of Health was sneeze. But it had become quite difficult with peer review and everyone looking for a reason to reject a grant. I had a large staff and needed additional income to pay their salaries. I thought that a clinic would produce a major source of revenue, since I was aware of the high prevalence of complaints of insomnia among the population. I couldn't have been more wrong! Insomniacs were not referred to our clinics by their physicians.

Anyway, in the early days of the Stanford Sleep Clinic, we were lucky to get five referrals a week. I accepted any invitation to speak at medical or public lectures so that I could publicize the clinic. After about a year it began to take off.

I opened the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic in the summer of 1970 with a press conference --and only one reporter came! The reporter asked me, "Do you recommend children sleeping with their parents?" It was controversial at that time, but I said that if a child is upset at night, I see no harm in the child sleeping in bed with the parents. I got a call shortly after from ABC asking me if I was "the doctor who recommends communal sleeping." I said, "What are you talking about?" It was a big deal at the time.

How did the focus shift to sleep apnea?

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is one of the most serious and one of the most prevalent sleep disorders, and it was described for the first time in 1965 in Europe. But it was completely ignored by American pulmonologists.

Rather than getting patient complaints of insomnia, we started getting patients who complained of excessive daytime sleepiness. Because we were aware of this European discovery, we were able to study patients' breathing, which had not been done prior to this. Lo and behold, they had sleep apnea.

One of our OSA patients who was a 5-year-old boy -- he was sleeping in school, totally failing in kindergarten, and snoring very loudly. My colleague Christian Guilleminault and I became aware of the boy's condition and presented the case to pediatricians. The only treatment at that time was a tracheotomy, when an incision is made in the windpipe. The pediatricians were very hesitant but finally agreed. After the boy received the tracheotomy, we saw tremendous benefits. He suddenly became a good student in school.

Sleep apnea is a major issue to take care of; it can't be neglected. Two 40-year-old men refused the tracheotomy treatment, and within months both had died of heart disease.

In 1981 Collin Sullivan, a physician in Sydney, Australia, invented the CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, a very effective treatment for OSA. It was miraculous. I have actually nominated him for a Nobel Prize twice, and I hope he gets it someday, because he deserves it.

What was the turning point when we started to pay attention to sleep on a large scale?

I made an enormous effort to get other people to start sleep clinics. My medical school classmate Elliot Weitzman was a professor of neurology at Albert Einstein Medical School. He visited us at Stanford and was impressed with what we were doing in the clinic. He went back to Montefiore and started the world's second sleep disorders clinic.

In 1975 there were five sleep disorder clinics in the U.S. I started the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which was called the Association of Sleep Disorder Centers at the time. We tried to get more publicity and awareness.

After we all began diagnosing and treating patients, it became obvious that the most important sleep disorder would be OSA, which was very dangerous if allowed to go untreated. I did a telephone follow-up study 10 years later of patients who refused the early tracheostmy treatment, and every patient who refused treatment for OSA had died of OSA complications.

OSA eventually had an extremely high prevalence (24 percent of adult males, 9 percent of adult female) and that was what stimulated a lot of people to start clinics.

How did you become interested in studying sleep?

I chose the University of Chicago for medical school. At that time I was interested in aerospace medicine, but I had no solid idea of what I wanted to do for a career. Fatefully, the University of Chicago had on faculty the only man on the planet studying human sleep, Nathaniel Kleitman.

I developed an interest in the problem of consciousness, and I thought if we could know what stops functioning when we fall asleep, those functions might be the basis of consciousness and wakefulness. That is what made me interested in sleep. After a lecture from Professor Kleitman, I knocked on his door and asked if I could work with him. He put me to work helping a graduate student named Eugene Aserinsky.

How you were able to link REM sleep with dreaming?

The electroencephalogram (EEG) had just become widely available, and we had one of the very first devices. In the course of looking at brain waves, there would be strange artifacts in the recordings, and we didn't know where they came from.

My first assignment, which was extraordinarily tedious, was to sit by the bed of someone who was sleeping and see if the subject was making any movement when these artifacts appeared in the EEG tracing. At some point I looked at the face and noticed the eyes were moving and twitching. I thought it was a wink!

But the EEG said the subject was sleeping, so Aserinsky and I dug deeper: Whenever the artifacts were present, I would turn on a flashlight and determine whether the eyes were moving or not. We finally realized that the eyeball movements were causing these artifacts.

Professor Kleitman hypothesized that maybe these eye movements were related to dreaming. In our next study we awakened subjects when we observed eye movements and asked them, "Were you just dreaming then?" The dream recall was extremely significantly higher when eye movements were present than when they were not present.

One funny thing was that Professor Kleitman was a little prudish: He didn't allow me to study women. Finally I had to get a chaperone. He wasn't that keen about a woman spending the night with me in the laboratory!

What interesting things have you found about dreaming?

It is still a bit controversial, but I believe the eye movements are related to the content of the dream. In a dream about a tennis match, you would likely see the eyes moving back and forth as they would as if you were actually watching a tennis match. In a dream about something dropping from the sky, your eye movements would be vertical.

I believe that I was the first one to report REM sleep in animals. The first animal was a cat. After that, everyone around the world started studying animals -- zebras, elephants, mice. It is safe to say that every mammal experiences REM sleep, but only monkeys have some sign they might be dreaming.

My favorite analogy is that only after REM was discovered, it became obvious that sleep was much more complicated than previously realized. The thought was that sleep was like pulling the car in the garage and turning off the ignition: no activity, no energy. I like the analogy that sleep is more like you park the car in the garage and put in the clutch and the motor keeps running.

Finally, I have found it almost miraculous that the "dream world" we live in for approximately two hours every night is perceived as real. The miraculous part is that the brain creates this real world in the absence of all sensory input plus the absence of kinesthetic feedback. If the time we spend in REM sleep is able to be drastically extended, we would truly be spending our lives in two entirely different worlds.

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These Are the Busiest Airports for the 4th of July

Thu, 2015-06-25 10:23
What's more American than apple pie? Airport security lines as far as the eye can see.

The Fourth of July is simultaneously one of the most popular and one of the most expensive weekends to travel. Airfare is only about 4 percent cheaper this year, but travelers will still be out in full force. So Hopper decided to analyze what this year's Fourth of July travel patterns will look like by calculating which airports will have the biggest influx of travelers arriving and departing.

(Click on the Fourth of July map for the interactive version!)

Airport traffic, indicated by the size of each colored dot, is determined by the total number of passengers flying from and to that airport. Routes are shaded by the number of passengers flying that route. So airports that start redder and finish bluer have relatively more people departing than arriving; airports that start bluer and finish red have more people arriving than departing.

New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. far outweigh the competition when it comes to passenger traffic. In numbers, here are the busiest destinations for the Fourth of July, based on the number of airfare searches Hopper saw:

Are you headed to or from any of these airports? May want to get there early and prepare yourself for (very) packed airplanes.

This article originally appeared on, home of the mobile app that tells you when to buy and fly and where you should be going.

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Supreme Court Decision Upholds Obamacare, a Huge Victory for American Families

Thu, 2015-06-25 09:24
Once again, the Supreme Court has rejected a partisan attempt to undermine the health protections provided by the Affordable Care Act, which I like to call Obamacare. As a result of today's decision in King v. Burwell, 19,000 people in my district, 232,000 people in Illinois and 6.4 million Americans in 34 states across the country can go to bed tonight knowing that they will wake up tomorrow insured and able to take care of their family's medical needs.

Opponents of Obamacare have tried since its passage to repeal, dismantle and erode this landmark bill. In King v. Burwell, they cherry-picked one phrase in an attempt to argue that Congress did not mean to provide tax credits to all eligible households. In Illinois, one of the states that would have been affected by an adverse ruling, 78 percent of those who have enrolled in GetCovered Illinois receive premium tax credits worth, on average, $210 per month. Today's Supreme Court decision means that they can continue to receive assistance. The Supreme Court quite rightfully rejected the tortured argument before it and, instead, looked at the entire law and relied on clear congressional intent.

Today's decision is a huge victory. Now it is time that the Republicans in Congress and their allies stop their constant assaults on a law that is clearly working. People across Illinois and the country are healthier -- and lives are being saved because of Obamacare. Parents know that their children can never be turned down because they were born with a disability and can never outlive their benefits. Women know that they cannot be charged higher premiums because of their gender, and that maternity coverage will always be included. And all Americans know that they can get preventive services without cost sharing, so that they can catch any problems when they are treatable.

The U.S. Supreme Court has now acted twice to uphold Obamacare. It is time to end the baseless lawsuits and ceaseless attacks and votes in Congress. It's time to let the law work.

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This Program Is Empowering Young Latinas With L.O.V.E.

Thu, 2015-06-25 06:44

A silver necklace that reads “Love” lies flat across Claudia Espinosa’s chest. It's a constant reminder of what matters to her most -- the mentoring program she founded to empower young New York City girls called Latinas On The Verge of Excellence, or L.O.V.E.

“Today is about choosing the major that you love,” Espinosa, 36, announces. She’s addressing the six mentors and seven mentees attending L.O.V.E.'s weekly session at The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem.

It’s a Friday afternoon near the end of the school year. But the high school students who had been rowdily anticipating the weekend just moments earlier become completely focused when Espinosa speaks. Everyone begins discussing the difference between a major and a concentration when a mentee abruptly asks what happens if she’s not sure what she wants to study in college.

“When you go to school, you’re never wasting your money or time,” Espinosa responds, reassuring the student that many people are undecided when they enroll. “Everything you learn will help you!”

Claudia Espinosa speaks to the L.O.V.E. mentees and mentors at The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem.

Espinosa created L.O.V.E. three years ago to mentor young Latinas. Since then, she’s implemented the program in three New York City schools, working closely with the Young Women's Leadership Network in low-income, majority minority communities in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

This fall, Espinosa expects to expand the program to a total of seven schools, including its first in the Bronx.

“L.O.V.E. is like a machine, making sure that young girls can fulfill their potential -- and by potential, I mean their biggest dreams,” Espinosa told The Huffington Post.

Though the program has grown in a short period of time, Espinosa’s journey really began 15 years ago, when she moved alone from Cali, Colombia, to the U.S. to follow her lifelong dream of becoming an FBI agent. She studied English for two years and became a personal trainer -- a job that still keeps her afloat financially and helped fund her bachelor's and master's degrees in forensic psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. But by the time graduation came around, Espinosa realized the FBI was not for her.

While she contemplated her future, Espinosa worked as a counselor at Life Is Precious, a suicide prevention program for Latinas. The experience would, in her words, “change everything.”

“[I was] working one-on-one with the girls, 13, 14, 15, up to 17 years old,” Espinosa said. “Girls came in referred from the hospitals saying, ‘Yeah, I don’t want to live anymore.'”

Espinosa (right) speaks with a mentee at The Young Women’s Leadership School of East Harlem.

Hispanic girls in high school are more likely than their non-Hispanic peers to have attempted suicide. According to a 2012 report by the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, 13.5 percent of young Hispanic female students said they attempted suicide, compared to 8.8 percent of black, non-Hispanic girls and 7.9 percent white, non-Hispanic girls.

Working as a suicide counselor took an emotional toll on Espinosa. “The girls would vent with me, but I would take that and have dreams or nightmares with it every night," she said. "So I quit the job. But then I said, ‘I have to do something.'”

Espinosa went back to school, enrolling in a master's program in public administration at New York University, where she worked with faculty to develop the pilot program and curriculum for L.O.V.E.

The program was originally designed to pair 10 to 25 students per high school with female college mentors from NYU, Columbia University and the City University of New York. Ideally, college mentors share interests with their mentees and communicate regularly to help guide them from ninth grade to graduation. During after-school L.O.V.E. meet-ups, they listen to guest speakers or discuss study tips, college applications, domestic violence and other topics.

While the program was initially intended to target Latinas, L.O.V.E. is open to young girls of all backgrounds. In fact, most of the East Harlem mentees are black, including Lauren Drumgold.

The 18-year-old will enter Bates College as a biology major this fall and was recently honored alongside two other seniors at a special L.O.V.E. graduation ceremony. Drumgold, who hopes to become a veterinarian, said she first started getting excited about attending college and studying abroad during a L.O.V.E. mentoring session.

Lauren Drumgold, 18, at a L.O.V.E meet-up.

“The first year I did it, there was a lady who came and she was a life coach. We had to envision ourselves a few years from
now in college,” Drumgold said. “In my school, we talk about college, but you don’t always see yourself there. And at that moment, I was able to see myself on a college campus or across the world studying what I love.”

The L.O.V.E. program can be equally eye-opening for the young women who volunteer their time. Amanda De La Torre, 26, is one of the program’s newest mentors and recently earned a master's in higher education and student affairs at NYU.

“You can talk about it and write about what people are struggling with and barriers to higher education," said De La Torre, who is Mexican-American and mentors a 15-year-old of Ghanaian descent. "But you don’t see that unless you’re actually in the classroom and involved with them.”

“[Barriers can be] little things, like 'What does a major mean?' Not even knowing the terminology is one -- especially for students whose parents immigrated here and are first-generation college students," De La Torre added. "So we talk about female empowerment, fitness, things that maybe you’re not exposed to in your house but you can gain that knowledge here.”

A mentee reviews a handout on college majors and concentrations.

Describing the struggles that young girls and Latinas specifically face, Espinosa says that many young women encounter cultural pressure that prevents them from reaching their goals.

“I think that there are a lot of expectations for women, and by expectations I mean roles that you should fulfill,” Espinosa said. “You should, yes, finish school, but perhaps later on you should get married, and then you should have a couple of kids, and then you should take care of your family."

"I mean, if you think about the Latino community, that’s what I grew up seeing," she added. "That [outlook] is what I think is still pretty prevalent here.”

Amanda de la Torre, 26, listens as her mentee Angela Opoku, 15, speaks to the group.

With L.O.V.E., however, she hopes that will change. “You’re kind of the pillar of the family as a woman,” she said. “So that’s really engrained. ... And as an individual, you have your own goals and dreams and passions. That, to me, is what the important part is.”

Espinosa hopes to eventually open high schools that are entirely dedicated to supporting young girls and helping them achieve their dreams.

“I think what I see is myself,” Espinosa said. “I moved here by myself and I’ve been doing it alone. So that’s why when someone tells me, ‘No, it’s too hard, I can’t,’ I don’t agree with it. Because even if you are in the hardest situation, you can change that and go for whatever it is that you want to do. That’s the message that I want to convey.”

Mentees and mentors talk during an after-school L.O.V.E. meet-up.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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Chicago Board Of Education Borrowing $1 Billion

Wed, 2015-06-24 21:56

CHICAGO, June 24 (Reuters) - The Chicago Board of Education on Wednesday approved two sets of borrowings that total $1.13 billion and that are aimed at boosting the financially troubled school district's cash flow.

The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will privately place $200 million of tax anticipation notes, which mature on Sept. 30, with J.P. Morgan Securities at an interest rate of 74 percent of LIBOR plus the "applicable margin," according to board documents. The notes will be paid with revenue from the school system's 2014 property tax revenue.

The board also approved the issuance of up to $935 million of notes in anticipation of the receipt of the district's 2015 property tax revenue.

The nation's third largest public school district faces a $634 million state-mandated payment due June 30 to its pension fund. A bill to delay that payment for 40 days failed to get enough votes on Tuesday in the Democrat-controlled Illinois House. However, House Speaker Michael Madigan said his chamber will try again next week.

Bill proponents said the delay until Aug. 10 would give CPS time to get a permanent solution to escalating pension costs that are consuming money needed for educational purposes. House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said the measure grew out of an agreement between Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.

The school system is facing a $1.1 billion deficit in its upcoming fiscal 2016 budget that has been delayed due to a state budget impasse, although Rauner signed a school funding bill into law on Wednesday.

The district's new fiscal year begins on July 1, a day after its contract with the Chicago Teachers Union expires. (Reporting By Karen Pierog; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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Obama May Have To Lean On Democratic Governors To Resell His Health Care Law

Wed, 2015-06-24 16:01
WASHINGTON -- If the Supreme Court strikes down Obamacare subsidies in two-thirds of the country, President Barack Obama won't be the only leader offering to assist states that want to undo the damage.

Officials in states that created their own health insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act -- thereby shielding their residents from the possible consequences of the lawsuit currently pending before the high court -- are standing by to help their counterparts in other states get marketplaces up and running that would allow subsidies in those states to flow again.

"If, for any reason, the court rules for the plaintiffs in this case, I'm going to be communicating with my fellow governors about exploring together what we might do," Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) told The Huffington Post. "I would be open to exploring any and all possibilities."

The Supreme Court could issue a ruling as soon as Thursday in King v. Burwell, a lawsuit brought by conservative and libertarian activists that alleges the Affordable Care Act doesn't permit subsidies for residents of any state where the federal government, and not the state itself, operates the health insurance exchange. If the challenge prevails, 6.4 million people in 34 states will lose the tax credits that help pay for their health coverage, and an even greater number of people are expected to become uninsured, because such a decision would roil the insurance markets in those states.

Kentucky is one of 16 states, plus the District of Columbia, that established health insurance exchanges under the law, so it wouldn't be affected by a ruling that erases subsidies elsewhere. Kentucky's marketplace, called Kynect, enjoyed a much smoother launch than the markets in most other states, and has experienced far fewer problems than the federal system using, which had an infamously rocky rollout in 2013. Kynect has proven popular with residents of the Bluegrass State.

"Ours is a national model," Beshear said. "We know how to do this, and there may be some scenarios where we can work together [with other states]."

Beshear said he hasn't talked with other governors about opportunities for Kentucky to collaborate with them in advance of the ruling. "I don't hear that discussed yet," he said, "because, for the most part, no one wants to discuss scenarios that are opposite of where they hope the court will come out."

The most important factor in each of the states with federally run exchange marketplaces will be whether leaders there have the political will to embark on the costly and risky mission of creating a new exchange. Every one of those states, except Delaware, has a Republican governor, legislature or both, which makes it highly uncertain that the necessary momentum would exist in many places. In states like Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin, the Republican governors have made it clear that they won't seek a state exchange, and 11 states have already enacted laws making it harder to set up those marketplaces.

But given the turmoil that would result if the high court rules to eliminate subsidies, some other states may decide to act. Ten states using federal exchanges have asked the Supreme Court not to block subsidies for their residents, and seven states using the federal exchanges are doing so in formal "partnerships" with federal authorities.

Obama and his lieutenants have stressed that they wouldn't be able to undo a Supreme Court decision eliminating subsidies in federal exchange states without additional legislation -- and the distance between Democrats and Republicans on how to respond to such a ruling is vast. But Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell has said the administration will do what it can to help states seeking to get new exchanges online.

That's where states like Kentucky could come in. In addition to providing general guidance to leaders in other states looking to set up their own health insurance exchanges, Kentucky could, for example, lease out its enrollment technology or partner with other states on certain functions of the marketplace, like customer service. "Obviously, it would be easier today to know how to do this than it was two, three years ago," Beshear said.

Connecticut already took advantage of the success of its Obamacare portal, Access Health CT, by charging Maryland for its technology last year after the disastrous rollout of Maryland Health Connection in 2013. Connecticut is also reportedly in talks with the state-run exchanges in Rhode Island and Vermont about moneymaking and money-saving partnerships.

"We've been trying to help out other states," Connecticut Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman (D) told HuffPost. "We can hook up with another state and we can go in together and get a call center together. We can bring up their technology through our technology and we can work together that way. And then they will be recognized as an exchange."

The federal government has signaled its flexibility in advance of the court's ruling. New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon, all of which established exchanges but encountered significant problems, have already ceded the enrollment process to while continuing to perform other exchange functions, and Hawaii is poised to join them next year. The Department of Health and Human Services also quickly offered conditional approval this month to Delaware's and Pennsylvania's plans to set up marketplaces for 2016, and it did the same for Arkansas' proposal to do so the following year. But other states are essentially just waiting for the Supreme Court decision.

Collaboration between states that already operate exchanges and those hoping to do so could hasten the establishment of new exchanges, and provide opportunities for each state to spend less than they would going it alone. State-run exchanges have already been through two Obamacare enrollment periods, during which they have refined their activities and worked out many of their technical glitches.

"We know from the first go-around that starting this from scratch is very difficult, and at this stage of the game, there is no reason anyone should start from scratch," said Alan Weil, an expert on state health policy and editor-in-chief of the journal Health Affairs.

State leaders who want to create some form of exchange that would restore the subsidies if the Supreme Court takes them away have several ways of going about it, according to a brief published in March by the National Academy for State Health Policy.

The first option would be to set up a full state-run marketplace like those in Connecticut, Kentucky and 12 other jurisdictions. This would be the most expensive and most difficult route for states, because it would require building the entire regulatory and technological infrastructure to manage their new marketplaces.

Alternatively, states could copy Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada and Oregon by taking on some responsibilities for overseeing this part of the health insurance market but directing residents to the federal system to actually sign up for insurance. A third option would be to pay other states for the use of at least parts of their existing exchanges, akin to Maryland's deal with Connecticut. Some experts argue that states could take a similar tack and pay to use the federal system. Or multiple states could band together into a regional exchange, which is allowed under the Affordable Care Act.

None of these approaches would be easy, even with help from other states that have exchanges in place, Weil said. The technology that checks eligibility for subsidies and manages enrollments could easily be transferred to other states, and states could collaborate to handle features like customer support, but a new exchange would still take a lot of work to set up. For example, said Weil, states would continue to regulate insurance within their own borders and would have to integrate a newly created exchange with their Medicaid programs.

"This is sort of the transplant analogy, which is, you can take someone's heart and put it in, but it's all the connections that matter," Weil said.

And regardless of what states decide if the Supreme Court rules against subsidies in federal exchanges, residents are likely to lose their subsidies this year unless the court takes the unusual step of delaying the effective date of its decision. Governors and legislators in each state will have to debate what action, if any, to take, and only then could they begin the process of actually building any form of health insurance exchange. The odds of all those things happening before the end of the year appear slim.

Read more on the latest Obamacare Supreme Court case below:

This Is What The Latest Obamacare Supreme Court Case Is All About

The Supreme Court Case That Could Gut Obamacare, Explained In 2 Minutes

Republicans' Post-Supreme-Court Plan For Obamacare: Just Repeal It

Two-Thirds Of People Who Would Be Affected By Obamacare Ruling Live In Republican Districts

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Removal of the Confederate Flag

Wed, 2015-06-24 15:22

Why has it taken so long to remove the Confederate Flag in the United States? It represents a dark period in America and it should be removed from all public places, especially in the southern part of the United States. President Obama stated that the flag should be placed in a museum. This comes days after the Charleston, S.C. shooting that took the lives of nine innocent people.

The domestic terrorist act carried out by Dylann Roof represents a long history of killing in America tied to racism and injustice. Removing the flag could signal the beginning of change in the south and in American history because thousands of people, black and white alike, are becoming increasingly tired of the senseless violence associated with racism.

We, as a people, have made some strides in the area of dealing with extreme racism in America, but more needs to be done in order to send a strong message throughout the nation. This type of behavior will not be tolerated or accepted on any level. However, there will be major opposition in regards to successfully removing the flag because for some the flag represents everything wrong with the United States. While for others, the flag represents everything right in the United States.

The Confederate Flag has been challenged a few times, but the efforts never really picked up any real momentum. Why does it always take a tragedy to address some of the real core issues in America? Everybody knows that the flag issue should have been dealt with many decades ago, but lawmakers were reluctant to take on this enormous fight that could potentially jeopardize their political careers. Select GOP Presidential candidates are returning donations made by some of the racist groups in America. If the shooting tragedy did not occur in Charleston, then the candidates would have kept the donations.

How hypocritical are we when it comes down to politics? If you know that racism is not right, then why support the process in any form or fashion? Leaders should be more than willing to stand for what's right, especially when you are running for President of the United States. Letting go of the past is very important and the removal of the Confederate Flag would serve as a major victory for the entire country. We, as a country. have missed so many opportunities for a serious dialogue concerning race relations in America. However, it's never too late to take on this topic because the next generation is depending on our success to move the country forward.

You never know what kind of action could lead to real change in the world. Unfortunately, thousands of people sacrificed their lives to make America the great country that it is today. The Confederate Flag will always be a part of American History, but we must work harder and harder everyday to never repeat our past mistakes.

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Nas Shares Passionate Instagram Post About Racial Inequality

Wed, 2015-06-24 15:06
Rapper Nas has recorded music addressing social issues that affect the black community, so it’s no surprise that the veteran lyricist has chimed in on the current state of race relations in America.

On Monday, the 41-year-old highlighted the country’s ongoing battle with racial inequality on Instagram.

“This is BIGGER than BLACK and WHITE. This is about America selling a false dream,” he wrote, for his 1.1 million followers to see. “Now we've obviously progressed since the inception of this nation but we took our eye off the ball and it feels as though things are moving backwards. As a black man, I find it difficult to understand that our biggest export (our American culture) comes from us.”

The New York-native went on to add: “I don't have all the answers nor do I believe anyone does, but we need to have conversations around how to improve as a nation. How do we show any ounce of progress that keeps hope alive. This is too big of a problem to be solved overnight but there needs to be some questions answered to get things back on the track of righteousness.”

America has spent so much time, money & resources fighting wars abroad and completely fell asleep at the wheel of the war brewing within our cities, neighborhoods & blocks. We are supposed to stand for freedom & equal opportunity. That's supposed to mean MORE than just words but the actions of late just don't speak to what we are supposed to stand for. This is BIGGER than BLACK and WHITE. This is about America selling a false dream. Now we've obviously progressed since the inception of this nation but we took our eye off the ball and it feels as though things are moving backwards. As a black man, I find it difficult to understand that our biggest export (our American culture) comes from us. The people in the streets... The way the world dresses, talks, what they listen to, what they watch... That all comes from us. How can we be the ones responsible for America's biggest export & fear for our lives like we shouldn't belong here. I don't have all the answers nor do I believe anyone does, but we need to have conversations around how to improve as a nation. How do we show any ounce of progress that keeps hope alive. This is too big of a problem to be solved overnight but there needs to be some questions answered to get things back on the track of righteousness. Amazing people died for this country. We owe it to the past, present & future to come together and move this country in the right direction. This is my home just like it is anyone else's. RIP CRISPUS ATTUCKS. FIRST MAN TO DIE IN AMERICA's FREEDOM WAR & HE WAS BLACK! GOD BLESS EVERY OUNCE OF INNOCENT BLOOD SHED FOR THIS NATION & MY FAMILY.

A photo posted by Nasir Jones (@nas) on Jun 22, 2015 at 3:18pm PDT

Recently, Nas has been very vocal about his social views. After last week's church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, the rapper told Vibe that, "Racism is rotting America." Back in January, he told GQ how police misconduct exposes America's weakness to the world.

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Where to Find Your Favorite Foreign Cuisine in the States

Wed, 2015-06-24 15:00
Chances are that if you ask Americans what kind of foreign food they've tried locally, the answer will most often be Chinese, Thai or Indian food. While there is certainly nothing wrong with these cuisines, chains in the U.S. tend to highly Americanize their recipes, leaving the search for authentic dishes somewhat challenging. Though it can be tough, there are restaurants across the U.S. who pride themselves on offering the real deal. So if you get the opportunity to venture out to one of these cities, don't miss your chance to dine on delicacies you didn't even know you were craving.

Fufu at Mataheko in New York City, New York

Picture of Fufu via Buzz Ghana

Fufu is a dish most commonly eaten in West African countries-primarily Ghana, and the Caribbean. The sticky food is given its doughy consistency by combining boiling water and flour derived from starchy plants like cassava, yams and plantains. Once the flour and water is pounded together, fufu is served in a large ball and often accompanied by soups or sauces. It's meant to be eaten as a finger food; you rip it apart and either dip it in something or use it to pick up other food. You can get your hands on some real fufu at Mataheko in Queens. The restaurant is known for its mix of Ghanaian, Senegalese and Nigerian food and they serve six different types of fufu dishes.

Lomo Saltado at Taste of Peru in Chicago, Illinois

Picture of Lomo Saltado via Shutterstock 

Though Lomo Saltado is a traditional stir-fry like Peruvian dish, its origins are partly Chinese. The meal is an amalgam of marinated sirloin strips, tomatoes, onions, parsley and other typical Asian stir fry items, as well as Peruvian potatoes, rice and spices. So how did this cross-cultural dish come to be, you ask? Peru went through an economic and agricultural boom in the mid to late 1800s during which Chinese immigrants were brought to the country to work on farms and cotton plantations as well as build railroads. While this part of Peruvian history isn't the prettiest, today, those with Asian heritage make up 3 to 5 percent of the country's population- the biggest population (proportionately) of any Latin American country. To celebrate the integration of Chinese and Peruvian culture, you can try Lomo Saltado at the Taste of Peru in Chicago.

Jalebi at Sagar Sweets in San Jose, California

 Picture of Jalebi via Shutterstock 

Jalebi is basically the Middle Eastern/South East Asian/East African/Philippine version of funnel cake. Made of deep fried wheat flour and served (warm or cold) in a circle or pretzel shape, jalebi is soaked in a sugary syrup and then covered in crystallized sugar. The dish is a very popular festival or holiday treat and usually makes an appearance during Ramadan and Diwali celebrations. Luckily, those looking to try jalebi in the U.S. need just to pop in to Sagar Sweets in San Jose. While the restaurant serves many, many traditional Pakistani and Indian dishes, they have rave reviews for their jalebi in particular and it doesn't hurt that they have roughly 2o other types of regional sweets as well.

Feijoada at Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse, Boston, Massachusetts

Picture of Feijoada via Shutterstock 

Feijoada is a popular Brazilian stew comprised of fresh beef, pork and beans. While the stew can also be found in other places with Portuguese heritage like Mozambique, Macau and Angola, the exact recipe will vary. In Brazil, ingredients typically include salted beef or pork, bacon, sausage, black beans and vegetables like cabbage, kale, potatoes, carrots, okra or pumpkin, depending on the region. Often served with sides of rice and oranges, the dish is a national staple no matter what part of Brazil one explores. If you already have a taste for it, or are looking to try it, I've been told on good authority that Fogo de Chão Brazilian Steakhouse in Boston is the place to find it. While the upscale Brazilian steakhouse is a chain, hear me out as the founders of the restaurant grew up on a farm in southern Brazil, received formal training in the churrasco grilling tradition, and opened their first two locations in Porto Alegre and São Paulo which happened to be frequented by the likes of Brazilian politicians, businessmen and celebrities.

Knafeh at Blue Fig Cafe in Moorestown, New Jersey

Picture of Knafeh via Shutterstock

Dating back to the Ottoman Empire, the Levantine cheese pastry known as knafeh is a dessert specialty that can be found in just about every eastern Mediterranean country. While the choice of dough can vary, the dish is always topped with a sweet syrup and most often garnished with crushed pistachios and a bit of rose water or orange blossom syrup. You can treat yourself to the popular pastry at the Blue Fig Cafe in Moorestown. The Mediterranean grill serves a variety of authentic Greek, Turkish, Lebanese and Egyptian food including a version of knafeh made with honey and rose water.

Mofongo at Banana Cafe & Piano Bar in Washington, D.C.

Picture of Mofongo via Gozamos

Mofongo is an Afro-Puerto Rican dish most commonly made with fried green plantains, garlic, olive oil and chicharrón-pork cracklings. The cuisine has clear ties to fufu and is made in a similar way using a mortar and pestle. Along with broth, the ingredients are mashed together in a pilón, a wooden mortar, before being served with vegetables, meats or seafood. Here in the states, you can  find satisfying mofongo at the Banana Cafe & Piano bar in D.C. The restaurant serves a mixture of Puerto Rican, Cuban and Tex Mex cuisine and has live music every night. Come hungry as their mofongo is paired with pork, rice, black beans and vegetables and is topped with a ginger mango sauce.

About the Writer

Chelsea Stuart is a recent graduate of Boston's Emerson College. When she's not reeling from wanderlust (she lived on a ship for four months and visited 15 countries with the study abroad program Semester at Sea), she's planning her next trip, reading, writing, thrifting, drinking an absurd amount of coffee and Netflix bingeing like any good Millennial. Her next feat includes a move to NYC - with her cat Chance at her side, to pursue a career in publishing.

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9 Harrowing Images That Capture The Lasting Impact Of Sexual Assault

Wed, 2015-06-24 14:44
Survivors of assault and abuse are sharing their experiences on a powerful new Tumblr, Lasting Impact.

(Story continues below.)

Founder Alison, who asked that her last name remain private, created Lasting Impact to raise awareness about the long-lasting impact that incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, and emotional and physical abuse have on those who experience them. The project is also a place for survivors to share stories of healing.

"As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, I struggled for many years with mental health issues that impacted almost every aspect of my daily life and left me feeling confused and alone," Alison told The Huffington Post. "It wasn't until I began to connect with other survivors that I came to realize that this is a common and valid response to trauma, and it was only then that I truly began to heal."

The Tumblr entries come from survivors who write in to share how their experiences affected and changed them. Some also share how they have healed from their traumas and found hope for the future.

"Survivors often face a myriad of psychological, emotional, social, and physical challenges following an assault, and I wanted to expand the conversation about sexual assault and domestic violence to include the complex, long-term toll trauma takes on an individual," Alison told HuffPost.

Alison also hopes that the Tumblr will be a positive place for survivors.

"While the campaign focuses primarily on the challenges faced by survivors, it also shows that we all have an incredible capacity for courage, resilience, and growth," she told HuffPost. "Survivors' stories do not have to begin and end with fear, violation, and despair. It is my hope that when survivors read these stories, they recognize that their experiences are valid and understand that no matter what they are feeling, they are never alone."

See more powerful images from Lasting Impact below.

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.

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My Depression Is Not an Accessory

Wed, 2015-06-24 12:53
Largely among teens and young adults, there seems to be this false idea of what depression actually is. I've often heard the narrative of depression being embodied by two rebellious, black-clad lovers curled up on the hood of a car, cigarette smoke trailing figures around them. The pair whisper to each other, "I'm depressed," which is somehow supposed to make the situation all the more deeper and "cool." These beautified pictures of mental illness don't serve to show the excruciating monotony of depression, but instead dress it up as a way to achieve a deep personality.

Views on mental illness have shifted from utter rejection to flat out romanticizing disorders such as depression and anxiety, sometimes in attempts to add a desired aura of mystery. After battling depression for five years, I have yet to find anything about it that is really all that exciting. There are the days when it physically hurts to roll out of bed or when even the thought of having to interact with other people sets off an insatiable rage within me. Depression has become increasingly trivialized to the point where if anyone is having a bad day they can simply exclaim, "I'm so depressed," and they will be met with comforting nods of approval. Not only do statements such as, "I'm so depressed," or, "I swear I'm bipolar," diminish the reality of mental illness, but they also reduce the experiences of true victims to "just emotions." Depression isn't a mask you can slip on at your leisure to validate negative feelings. Depression is an annoying, looming cloud, restricting me from seeing past the bad days. Depression, at its base, is a disorder -- not a personality trait.

While others tend to reduce depression, there is an increasing trend of contorting depression into a form of beautiful sadness, often credited to sites such as Tumblr. A quick scroll through a number of Tumblr blogs can find enough material to convince one that people really want to have depression. For those that are actually suffering, this can be beyond frustrating. People actually want to be like this? Indeed, this demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of the nature of the illness and adds nothing but pain to the minds of those already battling it.

In my earlier days dealing with the illness, I remember confessing to one of my friends that I had depression. "Oh, wow," she said, "now you're really interesting." It hadn't occurred to me that some people now viewed me as a dark, tortured soul instead of a young man scrambling to hold onto whatever life I had left. My so-called friends had fallen victim to a culture of glamorization. Some treat depression as an accessory anyone can don as a way to fill out their character and up their interest factor. And this presents a major problem.

Everyone has days where simple tasks seem Herculean and the blues hit hard. But when these feelings persist and interfere with daily life, then it could be categorized as clinical depression. Even with generally accepted definitions, the experience often differs between individuals. Personally, it began with a constant feeling of numbness, a boredom I didn't care enough to shake. Everything seemed to meld together into a single shade of gray. What followed were countless Google searches of whether or not it was normal to want to die and how painful suicide was. At that point, the physical effects began to manifest: the enlarged appetite, constant lethargy, and disturbed sleep patterns. I was no longer a person, but a shell wandering around waiting to crack. Not once did I feel deep, beautiful, or the recipient of some gracious cosmic gift that would score me some personality points. Now in better management of my depression, I have the ability to recoup after relapses and forge ahead past those wanting to romanticize my pain.

Despite the hurt it has caused, depression has afforded me the chance to look deeper within myself. I have learned to take joy in the simplicity of accomplishments -- be it throwing myself out of bed or having a heart-to-heart with an understanding friend -- and that those spare good days are treasures not to be wasted. Depression is not a tag to wear when you want to feel cool or trendy or a "beautiful sadness" that begs to be cherished. Depression hurts. Depression is an ugly, overwhelming monster that seeks to take you apart bit by bit and leave no pieces for scraps. Yet I am proof that this monster can be tamed, if only we work to abolish stigmas attached to it.

Understand the reality of mental illness, relish the joy in your life and work to spread that happiness to everyone you interact with. Cherish the peace that you have. And we will work to do the same.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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