TIME society

Let’s Give Thanks and Stop Whining This Holiday Season

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The world has never been better

In her classic reinterpretation of Western history, The Legacy of Conquest, Patricia Nelson Limerick writes of an entrepreneurial young man in St. Louis eager to get in on the 1849 Gold Rush. He hands over $200 to a fledgling new carrier called the Pioneer Line that promises comfortable and speedy (60 days, give or take) coach service to the coast, food and drinks included.

Things don’t go as smoothly as advertised. Passengers have to walk part of the way on account of the wagons being overloaded and the ponies being spent. Many travelers die on the voyage, some early on from cholera, others later from scurvy. Once in San Francisco, the young man finds he is too late to the party, struggling to make a living taking menial jobs and distraught that his letters back home take up to six or seven months to arrive.

I can relate. On a recent flight out West, for which I also plopped about $200, we were ordered off the plane after we’d already boarded on account of some mechanical issue, then were forced to wait while United reassigned another aircraft. We made it to Phoenix a full three hours late. I don’t think any of us picked up scurvy along the ways, but things were pretty rough: The onboard Wi-Fi wasn’t working, the flight attendants ran out of Diet Coke, and the guy in front of me reclined his seat so that it nearly touched my knees. Cross-country travel remains ghastly, even when you have a book as good as Limerick’s to entertain you.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you? That’s right: Let’s stop whining already — at least for this holiday season. We’re so spoiled we can’t really relate to how bad previous generations had it.

The “good old days” are a figment of our imagination. Life — here, there, everywhere — has never been better than it is today. Our lives have certainly never been longer: Life expectancy in the U.S. is now 78.8 years, up from 47.3 years in 1900. We are also healthier by almost any imaginable measure, whether we mean that literally, by looking at health indices, or more expansively, by looking at a range of living- standard and social measures (teen pregnancy rates, smoking, air-conditioning penetration, water and air quality, take your pick).

And in the rest of the world, the news is even better. Despite all the horrors in the headlines, fewer people are dying these days in conflicts, or from natural disasters, than in the past. The world has its obvious geopolitical divides, but a nuclear Armageddon triggered by the reckless hostility of great powers doesn’t loom large as a threat, as it did not long ago. Most impressive of all, the number of people in the world living in dire poverty has been cut in half since 1990, fulfilling a key U.N. development goal that once struck many as unrealistic. With infant mortality rates plummeting and education levels rising all over, people are having fewer kids and taking better care of them. In most of the world, the new normal is to send girls to school along with their brothers, an accomplishment whose significance, development experts will tell you, cannot be overstated.

Even as Americans, we don’t have to compare ourselves to our 19th-century forefathers — or to the Pilgrims — to appreciate how life has become better. Things have improved drastically in our own lifetimes. Remember how unsafe cities were not long ago? How we used to smoke on airplanes? How our urban rivers used to catch fire? Reported violent crimes in the United States are down by half since 1993. And consider how much more humane our society has become. We still suffer from inherited racial, gender, and other biases in our society, but to a far lesser extent than in the past; the bigoted among us are finding less and less acceptance. We’ve adopted a default tolerance of others’ choices and values — think of the revolution in attitudes toward gays over the course of one generation. Americans’ ability to pursue happiness as we see fit has never been greater.

And when it comes to how we communicate, entertain, and learn from one another, we might as well live in an alternate universe to the one we inhabited as recently as the 1980s. Today more than 70 percent of homes have broadband connectivity, and more than 90 percent of American adults have a cellphone. (Remember rotary phones?) If you ever feel bored, your 1980s doppelganger should appear before you in the middle of the night—and just slap you.

And no, growing inequality is not the hallmark of our era. On the contrary, when you look at the human community as a whole, the present time will be remembered for the expansion of the global middle class, and the democratization of living and health standards that once were the privileged birthright in only the wealthiest societies. A few months back I sat through a riveting presentation by Steven Rattner on rising inequality in the U.S., but his most telling slide (arguably undercutting the rest of his talk) was his last, entitled “to end on an optimistic note,” that put the issue in a global context. It showed that most of the world’s workers (as opposed to the middle classes in the most developed countries) have seen their incomes rise in the last 30 years at a rapid clip, much like what’s happened to the super rich.

No one has done more to propagate the notion of a “great convergence” of living standards in the world than the charismatic Swedish development economist Hans Rosling. Go online this holiday season and check out his dynamic graphs that chart countries’ life expectancy and incomes over time since the Middle Ages. They will make you smile, and be thankful. His graphs make humanity look like a flock of birds taking flight, with the U.S. and Europe leading the way, but the others following, tentatively at first, then more assuredly.

So why, if life is better all around, do we whine and complain endlessly as if we live in the worst of times? The answer is: Our success allows us to constantly update our expectations. When my flight is three hours late and the Wi-Fi is busted, I couldn’t care less what it took to cross the country in previous centuries. We are all prima donnas that way. Even in China, young middle-class consumers whine as well, instead of counting their blessings that they didn’t suffer through Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

I’ll concede, very grudgingly, that all this whining can be a good thing. As Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, has written, we’re hard-wired to be disgruntled. It’s the only way we achieve progress. Evolution requires us to demand more and better, all the time.

Otherwise, we would have given each other high-fives when life expectancy reached 50 and a cross-country journey took just two months—and that would have been that. Still, suspend your whining for a moment this holiday season. Let’s appreciate how far we’ve come.

Andres Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column. He is a professor of journalism at Arizona State University.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

The Most Destructive Gender Binary

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Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in the United States, Brazil and Portugal and representatives in Rwanda and Burundi, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women.

We need to show the world just how much each gender depends on the other, and how men, too, benefit from full equality

It was the latest setback for women’s empowerment. But you probably haven’t heard about it.

Part of the gender equality goal set to replace one of the U.N.’s soon-to-expire Millennium Development Goals didn’t make it through. The target left on the cutting room floor? Engaging men and boys around gender equality issues.

Why, exactly, is this is a setback for women’s equality? Because the fates of the two genders are intertwined; for women to thrive, men and boys must be part of the gender equality agenda. Why, then, in 2014, are we still addressing gender issues as a binary, girls vs. boys, women vs. men? And how can we get beyond it?

We asked that big question at a conference last week in Delhi — organized by the global MenEngage alliance ( full disclosure: I’m co-chair and co-founder of the alliance). Our answer – to get beyond the binary, and to achieve the promise of empowering women — we need to show the world just how much each gender depends on the other, and how men, too, benefit from full equality.

Let’s start with violence. If you want to combat violence against women, you’ve got to understand, and address, violence against boys. Let me explain. Global data confirms that about one-third of the world’s women have experienced violence from a male partner. We have little evidence — with the possible exception of the U.S. and Norway — that any country has been able to reduce its overall rates of men’s violence against women. There are challenges with measuring violence, to be sure, but it’s far too early to claim that we have made real progress in reducing the daily threat to women and girls.

Why haven’t we moved the needle? Partly because we’ve been coming up with solutions for only half of the affected population. We know that men who witness violence growing up are nearly three times more likely to go on to use violence against female partners. Data also show that men who witness violence growing up are more likely to be depressed, contemplate suicide, and more likely to binge drink. In other words, men’s lives, too, are harmed by the violence of men. Ending violence against women must also mean ending violence against boys and men.

Unpaid care work is another area where we can see the same intertwined narrative playing out. Women do the majority of the unpaid care work in the world. And yet, studies show that when men take on those responsibilities, they’re happier, less likely to be depressed (and have better sex lives). According to one study in the U.S., we even live longer as men when we’re involved fathers. A study in Sweden finds that involved fathers are less likely to miss work, and are healthier. Not to mention all the data showing that children benefit when fathers are involved in caring for them.

Or consider this: a recent World Health Organization report confirmed that there are 800,000 deaths from suicides each year, about two-thirds of those are men. We know something about which men commit suicide: men who are socially isolated, who feel they can’t reach out for help, whose sense of identity was lost when they lost their livelihoods. Men who, in part at least, are stuck in outdated notions of manhood.

What’s more, entire economies benefit when women can devote more time to the paid workforce. If women’s participation in the workforce were equal to men’s, the U.S. GDP would be nine percent larger and India’s GDP would be 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars bigger. Yet right now, that disparity is arguably the single largest driver of women’s lower wages compared to men. Globally, 77 percent of men participate in the paid workforce, compared to just 50 percent of women—a proportion that has remained virtually unchanged for 25 years.

Even when women are in the workplace, they earn on average 18 percent less than men for the same work. Few countries outside of Scandinavia have created policy incentives to encourage men to do a near-equal share of unpaid care work. We know what it has taken in Scandinavia to push us closer toward equality in terms of care work: paid paternity leave. In other words, encouraging men to do a greater share of the care work.

Guess what? A little encouragement goes a long way. Today, with paid leave and “use-it-or-lose-it” leave for fathers only, the majority of men in Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Quebec (which has policies similar to the Nordic countries) are taking leave of six weeks or more. Iceland is the global leader: fathers there take an average of 103 days of paid paternity leave.

We’re stuck in a similar gender box when it comes to empowering women to control how many children they have. In 2005, women represented 75 percent of global contraceptive users and men 25 percent. In 2014, women represent 73 percent. Hardly numbers to celebrate and proclaim equality; indeed, that change does not even pass the confidence interval. Why does it matter? Well, last time I checked, reproduction involves both women and men. Anything less than 50-50 in terms of contraceptive use cannot be called equality. By not engaging men as equal partners in contraceptive use, we hold women back. This doesn’t mean giving men control over women’s bodies; it means engaging men to assume their share of reproduction as respectful, aware and supportive partners.

In terms of HIV/AIDS, the story is similar. We have made amazing strides in rolling out HIV testing and treatment. Treatment as prevention is working in many countries. One of the key remaining obstacles in reducing HIV rates and AIDS-related mortality rates even more is the fact that in much of the world, men are far less likely than women to seek HIV testing and treatment. The result is increased risk for women and higher AIDS-related mortality among men.

The arguments could go on. From economic empowerment for women to violence prevention, the evidence consistently affirms that engaging men as partners in gender equality is more effective than only tapping women. And the data is clear that men who support gender equality, are more supportive, democratic partners and get involved in their share of the care work are happier men.

Twenty years after one of the largest events to promote women’s equality in Beijing — where Hillary Clinton made her famous proclamation that “women’s rights are human rights” — the conclusion is this: we won’t achieve full equality for women until we move beyond binary us-versus-them, women-versus-men thinking. We must commit to ending patriarchy in the lives of women and in the lives of men. As men, we must acknowledge that we have an equal stake in gender equality. In fact, let’s acknowledge this: our lives get better when we embrace it.

Gary Barker, Ph.D., is founder and International Director of Promundo, an international organization with offices in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Washington, DC, and Kigali, Rwanda, that works to engage men and boys in gender equality and ending violence against women. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Turkey

Turkish President Says Men and Women Are Not Equal

It's not the first time he's publicly said something offensive

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has caused a controversy by saying women and men are not equal—at a women’s justice summit.

“You cannot put women and men on an equal footing,” Erdogan said. “It is against nature. They were created differently. Their nature is different. Their constitution is different.”

He went on to say that feminists do not understand how the Muslim faith honors mothers: “Our religion regards motherhood very highly. Feminists don’t understand that, they reject motherhood.”

This is not the first time Erdogan has gotten attention for saying something offensive about women. In the past, he has said that women should have least three kids, and he has tried to outlaw abortion, the Associated Press reports.

He also recently caused a stir by arguing that Muslims were the first to discover the Americas.

[AP]

Read next: Vote Now: Who Should Be TIME’s Person of the Year?

TIME

U.S. Is Slowly Closing Gender Gap, But Still Lags Behind Europe

A new report by the World Economic Forum finds Nordic countries are leading the way in global gender equality

The U.S. still lags behind many other Western countries on gender equality but it’s rising in the ranks, a new report finds.

The World Economic Forum’s 9th Global Gender Gap report finds that the U.S. is now at 20th place, up three spots from the previous report. Increases in women’s economic participation and opportunity, including participation in the labor force, earned income and political empowerment helped boost the U.S.’s standing on the annual list. The country is ranked fourth in economic opportunity and participation out of the 142 countries surveyed.

Europe holds 12 of the 20 top positions in the rankings, which are rated by economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. France leaped from 45th place to 16th, largely due to the number of female politicians appointed to government positions there. A record 49% of French ministers are female.

All five Nordic countries lead the way in closing the gender gap, as they have in previous years. The report finds Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden have closed the overall gender gap in their country to 80% or more, meaning women now have at least four-fifths the level of opportunity enjoyed by men.

The World Economic Forum surveyed data on 142 participating countries using information gathered by groups including the Central Intelligence Agency, the International Labour Organisation, UNESCO, and the World Health Organization.

In all some 25 countries have fully closed the educational attainment gap between men and women and 35 have done the same in health and survival. Eight countries, including the Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, France, Guyana, Latvia, Nambia, and the Philippines have closed the gap completely in both health and education. No countries have closed gaps in economic participation or political empowerment, but many have come close. Some 14 have closed more than 80% of the economic participation and opportunity gap, including the United States.

There are some important things to note when considering the data, however. The report does not take into account the level of resources available in the surveyed countries—for example, the report reads, “the Index penalizes or rewards countries based on the size of the gap between male and female enrollment rates, but not for the overall levels of education in the country.” The report also does not take into account whether or not women outperform men—the focus, the authors say, is on gender equality rather than women’s empowerment.

 

TIME feminism

What’s a Dad to Do When His Daughter Wants to Dress as Han Solo?

Courtesy of Tom Burns

… put on a Princess Leia costume, of course

Tom Burns originally wrote this piece for The Good Men Project.

Ever since my daughter was old enough to make special requests, I’ve let her pick my Halloween costumes. Having kids at Halloween is a lot of fun, and watching the sheer delight that my daughter receives from having me dress up to meet her normally very polite requests is tremendously satisfying. Over the past three years, I’ve been Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb, Wreck-It Ralph and Grunkle Stan from the fantastic kids’ show Gravity Falls. All year, my daughter had been expressing her interest in going as Hermione Granger for Halloween, so I was preparing myself to throw together a Snape or Professor Lupin costume. But then, after I showed my 7-year-old Star Wars for the first time, she turned to me and asked …

“Do you think I could be Han Solo for Halloween?”

Immediately I responded, “Yeah, why, of course you could. That would be amazing. Why couldn’t you be Han Solo?” And even though I didn’t want her response to come, it did. “Well … I’m a girl.”

Screw that. I grabbed my laptop and started showing her some really excellent examples of other girls and women cosplaying as Han Solo. She nearly shrieked when I showed her one of the members of Team Unicorn (a geek-girl pop culture group that she loves) in full Solo regalia, and then I found this extremely cool tutorial on how to make a Han Solo costume for a woman from The Stylish Geek.

My daughter’s eyes went wide. She was sold on the idea. This could happen. Then she turned and looked at me. “But what are you going to be?” She thought for a second and said, “Well, if I’m a Han Solo, you should probably be Princess Leia, I guess …” She looked at me with an implied question in her eyes. And, c’mon, if I immediately told her “YES, a girl can be Han Solo,” it would’ve been pretty hypocritical of me to say “Nope, a boy can’t be Princess Leia.” So as quickly as I could, I said, “That would be FANTASTIC. I totally should be Leia.” And that’s exactly what I did. Because that’s what dads do.

I’ll admit—my take on Princess Leia Organa isn’t 100% flattering to Carrie Fisher, but, you know, I made do with what I had. I found an incredibly cool Princess Leia hoodie at HerUniverse.com that came with the trademark Leia hair buns on the hood, which made it hard to resist. The skirt is a Red Cross nurse’s skirt from a local uniform store. And the thermal underwear and crappy sneakers? Well, it’s Michigan and it was cold and we were going to an event at the local zoo, so, yeah, I dropped the ball on that one. I need to find some better Leia boots for actual Halloween.

All in all, I think my daughter and I will make a great pair for Halloween. We got nothing but smiles at the Halloween event we attended last night and even got a few laughs when I came face to face with a mom dressed as Princess Leia and said, “Well, this is embarrassing …”

But I think my big takeaway from all this will be that equality goes both ways. If I’m going to tell my daughter that she can do almost anything a man can do (excepting some very specific biological acts), then I also need to show her that a man can do almost anything a woman can do too — especially when it’s something awesome like dressing up as a character from one of the best movies ever.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Wesleyan Will Make Frats Be Co-Ed

With campus sexual assault under the microscope nationwide

Wesleyan University said Monday that campus fraternity groups will soon be required to admit both men and women, a change that followed a lawsuit by a student saying she was raped at a frat party and that came amid growing scrutiny of colleges’ efforts to combat campus sexual assault.

“With equity and inclusion in mind, we have decided that residential fraternities must become fully co-educational over the next three years,” top university officials said in an email to the university community.

“If the organizations are to continue to be recognized as offering housing and social spaces for Wesleyan students, women as well as men must be full members and well-represented in the body and leadership of the organization,” said the email from Joshua Boger and Michael S. Roth, the chair and president of the Board of Trustees, respectively.

The move comes after a student filed a lawsuit saying she was raped in 2o13 at a fraternity party, and that multiple party attendees watched. The email said the school had been considering what to do about Greek life at Wesleyan for years, and received input over the summer from students, faculty and alumni.

Other schools like Trinity College have made similar changes in recent years (though not without student protest). The Wesleyan website reads, “Greek life is small at Wes.” There are a small number of fraternities on campus, some with houses and some without. There is only one sorority and it does not have a house. The school already has other co-ed societies.

Read the email here.

TIME equality

These Are the Best and Worst States for Women’s Job Equality

Women in D.C. have a median income of $60,000

Washington, D.C., is the best place for women’s workforce equality in the U.S., according to new analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

 

MAP
Courtesy of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research

 

According to the report, women in the District have a median annual income of $60,000, which is double the median income of women in West Virginia, the state ranked lowest in women’s employment and earnings. Each state was given a letter grade based on the median annual income of women who work full time, the earnings ratio between full-time men and women, the percent of women in the labor force and the percent of women in managerial or professional occupations. In each category, the District of Columbia ranked first, with neighboring state Maryland nabbing the second highest ranking in percent of employed women and median annual income.

Among the other top-ranking states: Minnesota, Colorado, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey.

“Top ranked states are doing a better job of making use of women’s economic contributions,” Heidi Hartmann,President of IWPR, said in a release about the report, “Ensuring women have access to training and education, working to place women in top jobs.”

She adds, “While these factors impact women individually, they also contribute to overall economic growth and strong economies in these states. Public policies also make a difference and voters and candidates should pay attention to these results.”

The majority of the 14 states that received the lowest ranking were in the South: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee all joined West Virginia in receiving grades of D+ or lower. The report came out ahead of the IWPR’s 2015 report on the Status of Women in the States.

TIME equality

What Our Culture of Overwork Is Doing to Mothers

Zia Soleil—Getty Images

Just as women were catching up to men in the workplace, the rules changed again

A slew of new research suggests that equality between the sexes, the rise of which seemed to stop in the ’90s like a three-day old helium balloon, is back in the ascendant. But it also suggests women aren’t paid as much as men because of the longer hours that are now required of employees to get ahead.

In one of several papers released for an online symposium on gender balance by the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF), researchers analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which monitors attitudes in the U.S. toward various social trends. They found that after a negative turn in the late 1990s and early 2000s, attitudes toward working mothers had become more positive in recent years. In 2012 fewer people believed that working mothers were less ideal than stay-at-home mothers, had a lower chance of bonding with their children and that their preschool kids suffered for their absence.

In one of the biggest changes, only a third of the people surveyed in 2012 (down from 42% in 2000) think that the best type of family set-up is the so-called traditional one: where the father is the breadwinner and the mother is the one who turns it into little sandwiches with the crusts cut off then cleans it all up afterward.

But according to researchers at Indiana University Bloomington (IU), changes in heart about working mothers are only a subsection of the path leading to equal pay. In a little-noticed study published in April’s issue of the American Sociological Review, the authors pointed to the culture of “overwork” as one of the drivers of lower pay for women. “One reason for the stall in gender equity during the 1990s was a change in typical work weeks and remuneration patterns,” wrote Youngjoo Cha, assistant professor of sociology at IU in a companion brief for the CCF symposium. “This period saw a significant rise in ‘overwork,’ the practice of consistently working 50 hours or more a week, along with a dramatic increase in the financial incentives for working long hours.”

Cha’s research suggests that, along with the higher rewards offered, higher expectations for productivity have been placed on salaried workers. Because mothers, who tend to be the primary parents, feel pressure to be at home and with their children, they sometimes cannot find the extra 10 to 15 hours in their week to keep up with these expectations, nor can they reap the rewards. ‘These trends may have encouraged some couples to revert to a more traditional division of labor, by increasing the likelihood of wives’ quitting their jobs and prioritizing husbands’ careers,” writes Cha.

Moreover the “overwork” trend creates a bit of a vicious cycle, in which those who cannot keep up with the pace, but do not wish to, or cannot afford to leave full-time employment get seen as lazy or less productive. Sociologist Joan Williams refers to the new “ideal worker norm,” in which employees are expected to be available around the clock on any day of the week, whether by email or phone or in person. “Those who do not work long hours, or those who take time off from work for family responsibilities,” says Cha, “are viewed as uncommitted, not serious about their careers, and lacking in loyalty to the organization.” So they tend to get left high and dry when promotion and bonus time comes around.

“As of 2007, 17% of men, but only 7% of women were working 50 or more hours a week,” writes Cha in the report. The “overpay” that the mostly men are receiving for their “overwork” could account for as much as 10% of the pay gap since 2007.

The upshot is, that while attitudes toward mothers who work outside the home may have softened, there seems to be a keep-up or shut-up system in place at the office. This doesn’t just affect women of course, but, as even successful women can tell you, the social penalties for being an too-busy-to-parent father are much lower than those for the too-busy-to-be-parent mother.

It wasn’t all grim news on the gender front though. The gap between the views of liberals and conservatives on the role of mothers has been narrowing, for one. “In fact, during the ‘restart’ of the gender revolution in the 2000s the greatest increase in the extent of egalitarian views has occurred among conservatives,” writes David Cotter, professor and chair of sociology at Union College in New York, one of the authors of the study on attitudes toward working moms.

And from the home office, a happy bulletin. That whole when-housework-is shared-there’s-no-nooky story that made waves recently? That’s based on old data, according to another paper. When looking at data from 2006 “couples who shared domestic labor had sex at least as often, and were at least as satisfied with the frequency and quality of their sex, as couples where the woman did the bulk of the housework,” wrote Sharon Sassler, a professor in policy analysis and management at Cornell University. “It’s good news for couples, not bad, that men have more than doubled the amount of housework they do since the 1960s.”

TIME

YouTube Celebration of LGBT Athletes Signals Turning Tide in Sports

The video-sharing website will celebrate Gay Pride with a #ProudToPlay campaign, another sign that the long-held divide between two communities is eroding.

When we started Outsports.com in 1999 nobody wanted to talk about gay people in sports. Gay athletes like Corey Johnson and Esera Tuaolo were coming out in a trickle. Sports journalists didn’t want to ask questions about the subject. Straight people thought gay men couldn’t play sports; Heck, gay people thought gay men didn’t want to play sports.

Fifteen years later, that has transformed. Athletes are flooding out of the closet. The LGBT community has embraced sports, and some of our greatest sports institutions have welcomed gay athletes.

Now YouTube – the most powerful multi-media company in the world – has dedicated its entire celebration of Gay Pride to sports.

This is no accident.

Sure, sports are a hot topic with the coming out of high-profile athletes like Michael Sam, Jason Collins, Brittney Griner and Derrick Gordon. Yet YouTube’s embracing of LGBT sports is much more than a celebration of the flavor du jour. It reflects a changing tide in the sports world that just weeks or months ago many thought “impossible.”

Sports and the gay community are now forever joined at the hip.

For decades we’ve focused on what drives a wedge between the sports world and the LGBT community. Yet these two cultural powerhouses have long exemplified the same core values. Courage. Heroism. Inner strength. Good, plain fun.

It’s no surprise these are the same values drawing big companies to embrace the LGBT sports movement. While we’ve been told for years that big-name athletes coming out in sports risk losing endorsement deals, the opposite has been true.

When Collins and Griner came out, Nike embraced them. Nike has even created a gay-pride-themed campaign, #BeTrue, that helps fund the LGBT Sports Coalition, a group of people aimed at ending anti-LGBT bias in sports.

When Sam came out, endorsement offers poured in. Visa stepped up to the plate in May with a commercial featuring Sam just before the Draft.

Now YouTube is wrapping its arms around LGBT athletes with their powerful #ProudToPlay campaign. It’s not just a nod to the importance of sports in the LGBT community: It’s a bold statement of the importance of sports in our movement’s journey. Last year their campaign revolved around the theme of “love.” This year, for YouTube, sports embodies not just the struggle of LGBT athletes, but the pride of the entire community.

For the last decade, the advancement of gay rights in America has gone hand-in-hand with the transforming culture in sports. The big-time macho sports like football, basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey have long been the bellwethers for masculinity in America. Shifting the attitudes in these sports has been instrumental not just in opening the sports themselves to LGBT people, but opening minds in general.

When a high school soccer player comes out in Indiana and introduces the team to her girlfriend, her teammates celebrate victories with them both.

When an NFL draftee kisses his boyfriend on national television and is introduced by the St. Louis Rams three days later, it becomes a lot harder for people on the outskirts of the Bible belt to support Missouri’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

And when YouTube engages gay and straight athletes of the highest profile to share their support for equality, every single person on the Internet listens. Sports culture – American culture – shifts.

Fifteen years ago, sports and the LGBT community weren’t just on opposite teams, they were playing on different courts all together.

Now LGBT pioneers like Harvey Milk, politico David Mixner and Stonewall veterans like the recently deceased Storme DeLarverie have passed the ball to LGBT athletes and sports activists like Anna Aagenes, Brittney Griner, Anthony Nicodemo, Chris Mosier and so many other members of the LGBT Sports Coalition.

YouTube’s celebration of that transition, along with other companies like Nike, brings the triumphant conclusion of the entire LGBT-rights movement a whole lot closer.

Zeigler is co-founder and editor of Outsports.com.

TIME faith

Watchmen on the Wall: Pastors Prepare to Take Back America

FRCAction and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, speaks during the Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council Action, on Oct. 11, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
FRCAction and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, speaks during the Values Voter Summit, held by the Family Research Council Action, on Oct. 11, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Jose Luis Magana—AP

A group of pastors fears the United States is losing its Christian heritage, and they came to Washington to be encouraged to stand firm.

On the evening of May 21, a group of fifty pastors stood soaking wet in the Capitol rotunda, undeterred by the rainstorm outside. Beneath the giant painting Baptism of Pocahontas, David Barton, an evangelical advocate for what he believes is the besieged Christian heritage of the United States, was holding forth on the nation’s spiritual history. Pocahontas, he was saying, really wanted to be known by the Christian name Rebecca, but America’s politically correct textbooks insist on calling her Pocahontas. President James Garfield, he continued, preached one day and 34 people accepted Jesus as their savior. The Capitol building’s Statuary Hall used to be a chapel, he added, and remember, “This is a government building.”

Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) walked up and hugged Sen. Ted Cruz’s father, Rafael, who was in the group, murmuring his ‘Amens’ as Barton spoke. When he gets discouraged with the state of politics or the country, Lee said, he likes to make a late night pilgrimage though the Rotunda and look at all the paintings and statues to be reminded of America’s early religious life. “That really is what the American dream is all about,” he said. “We are a shining city on a hill but we have to resume acting like that shining city.” The group applauded, and then closed their tour with a blessing for the country: “God Bless America,” they sang, many with hands outstretched and eyes closed in prayer.

The pastors had come to the nation’s capital as part of the annual “Watchmen on the Wall” Washington briefing, a conference sponsored by the Family Research Council to connect pastors with policy makers and legislators and to encourage the pastors to advocate for those Biblical values FRC believes should be advanced in America. This year’s event, held May 21-23, marked the 11th year of the program, and more than 650 people from a total of 42 states attended, including 500 pastors and their wives. Nearly half were repeat participants, and most come from conservative or evangelical congregations.

Watchmen on the Wall is FRC’s network of 28,000 pastors nationwide. A “Watchman” pastor is one who has committed to watch what goes on in the culture, pray for wisdom to engage the culture and sound the alarm of perceived cultural transgressions from the pulpit. The group gets its name from a passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah: “I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest.”

This year’s briefing focused on defending the idea that marriage only should exist between a man and woman and on countering what many conservative Christians believe are widespread attacks on Christian religious liberty. “There is an all-out assault on Biblical marriage, with judges overturning the will of the vast majority of voters in some states […] Religious organizations and Christian-owned businesses are being forced to provide insurance plans that cover abortions and abortion-inducing drugs or face fines and punishment…and the list goes on,” FRC president Tony Perkins wrote in a welcome letter to attendees. “It would appear that lawlessness has been unleashed upon our country and culture as we witness an unprecedented and outrageous abuse of power by governing authorities.”

The conference brought together 46 speakers, including Duck Dynasty’s Al Robertson, Sen. Ted Cruz’s father Rafael, Franklin Graham, Tony Evans, Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI). Pastors pay $199 to attend, and FRC pays an additional $800 per pastor, bringing this year’s total cost to near half a million dollars. But all of that is worth it, organizers say, to guide Americans toward what the FRC says is the correct Biblical path. “The cure is to be found in a return to the God of the Bible,” explained Perkins. “Now, more than ever, America’s Bible-preaching pastors must serve as the spiritual catalysts for this radical return to God, first in the Church and then as the leaders on the front lines of our communities in this struggle for the heart and soul of America.”

The conference walks the line between prophetic ministry and political engagement. Watchmen provides pastors with a Voter Impact Toolkit, created by FRC, Focus on the Family, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, designed to get like-minded believers to the ballot box. FRC also provides pastors with a Culture Impact manual, with policy goals including action steps like, “Do not misuse civil rights laws to protect homosexual conduct and gender identity disorder.”

The pastors, for their part, say they are grateful for these practical resources and for the encouragement the event gives them to press on with their goals. Jack Hibbs, founder and pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, Calif., has been involved with the Watchmen movement since the beginning. He worries the United States has become a nation of intolerance for Christians, especially when it comes to changing public opinion about sexuality. His church helped to file a referendum to repeal California’s AB1266, commonly called the transgender bathroom law. “As pastors, we need to stand up for what’s right,” he says. “I’m not here to make this a Christian nation, but I believe that freedom should be for everybody.”

J.C. Church, pastor of Victory in Truth Ministries in northeastern Ohio, helped to develop Awake88, a pastoral network throughout all of Ohio’s 88 counties, and is reaching out to the state’s Latino community. Church, like others in the Watchmen leadership, see Latino evangelicals as key allies in their fight, especially given their shared views on the nature of the family. “There is an absolute undeniable attack and a hostility toward Christianity, we have a double standard, tolerance is supposed to be a two-way street,” he says. “We believe that anything that threatens the biblical definition of family, faith, and freedom, are the things that we are finding that pastors will meet and work together on.”

The Watchmen views may be unpopular as the country increasingly supports marriage equality and believes religion is losing its public influence, but that’s all the more reason the Watchmen are gearing up for a fight, the pastors say. For many of them, the battle goes beyond politics: it is spiritual warfare. As senior FRC fellow E.W. Jackson preached to the gathering, the ACLU and the Foundation for the Freedom from Religion, in trying to stop Christian prayer at public events, represent a movement “not simply [of] human beings who disagree with us—it is demonic power moving to shut down the power of God.” Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) reminded the group that their place in the country is still significant. “The foundation of the American dream is the Judeo-Christian foundation,” he said. “But if our pastors don’t ignite our pews we may lose this unique anointing we have as a country.”

FRC hopes to grow the Watchmen to 40,000 pastors by 2015, just as the battle for the White House begins to heat up. “They may call us racists, Uncle Toms and what they will, but Jesus said, ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you,’” Jackson said. “You have read the back of the Book like I have—you know that we win.” The auditorium leapt to its feet in applause.

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