Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pushing Back Against the Haters

Some of my best writing is inspired by the occasional convergence of news items around a common theme. I'm right in the middle of one such convergence, and I just have to share this with you all. I am getting a lot of this from my FaceBook friends, whose news links are a great way to aggregate stories from all over the web. The theme that is coming through almost on a daily basis is this: people are beginning to push back against the haters.

Story 1: A quiet, "free spirit" of a teen girl is elected to her school's homecoming court as a cruel joke. The entire town comes together to give her the royal treatment.
For the homecoming dance Saturday, businesses will buy her dinner, take her photo, fix her hair and nails, and dress her in a gown, shoes and a tiara.

For the homecoming game Friday, residents will pack the football stadium so they can cheer when she is introduced at halftime.

They will be wearing her favorite color (orange) and T-shirts with messages of support. A 68-year-old grandmother offered to be her escort.

"I am in awe, overwhelmed at the amount of support," said Jamie Kline, 35, who began a Facebook support page. "I never expected it to spread as far as it has."

From The Detroit News

Story 2: Someone sees a young Sikh woman who has an unusual amount of facial hair, which she made no attempt to hide or remove. The person posts a surreptitious photograph of the young woman on Reddit, and "wait[ed] for the abuse to flood in." The young woman's friend alerted her to the photo, and she posted a response that was so gracious and kind that the photographer posted a sincere apology.
... I've read more about the Sikh faith and it was actually really interesting. It makes a whole lot of sense to work on having a legacy and not worrying about what you look like. I made that post for stupid internet points and I was ignorant.


Story 3: Nate Phelps, a son of the "minister" who runs the Westboro Baptist Church, left his family just after midnight on his 18th birthday, and has pursued a much more loving path in his life. He has had to work hard to heal from the psychological wounds of his abusive upbringing, but now he is reaching out to help others.

Now in his 50s, Nate finds himself publicly squaring off with his father and siblings to reverse their legacy of intolerance. He lives in Calgary, where he has become a public speaker who champions LGBT rights and raises awareness about the connection between extreme religion and child abuse. He is currently writing a book about his life and is the subject of an upcoming documentary.


Story 4: Andrew DeLeon, a teen from a small town near Austin, wasn't into sports or athletics. He became accustomed to being "hated" and "rejected" by the kids in his school, but he summoned up his courage and auditioned for America's Got Talent this year. I've written about him before, and I continue to be amazed by his generous and loving attitude toward his many, many adoring fans. This young man, who is now 20, amazed everyone by singing operatic arias in an other-worldly falsetto voice. Even though Andrew didn't get past the semi-finals in the competition, his fans continue to support him. He is currently paying his dues, performing in small venues and recording songs from a makeshift studio.

Here's his Austin audition, and here's a more recent clip that he made to keep in touch with his fans. The comments on his Facebook fan page and on his YouTube video page are almost entirely positive and supportive (an amazing feat), and he routinely gets messages from depressed, rejected, and out-of-the-mainstream teens who have been inspired and encouraged by his example.

Story 5: Lady Gaga, back when she was just Stefani Germanotta, was once thrown into a trash can by a group of bullies from her school.
“I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to class. And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.”
From the New York Times

Lady Gaga went on to become an immense success as a musician and performer (to put it mildly!), but she hasn't forgotten the pain she experienced during her teens. She and her mother have founded the Born this Way Foundation, which is " is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a kinder, braver world."

Bit by bit, kind souls are pushing the pendulum back from the mean-spirited, winner-take-all attitudes that have dominated our environment for far too long. I hope to see many more such stories, and I will pass them along to you, gentle readers.


  1. The movement seems to be gaining more strength... I love the "angel" human walls that guard funerals of soldiers from hater protests (big wings attached to people's backs to help shield the families), and it looks like legislation is happening too:
    "Funeral protests: Prohibits demonstrators from picketing any military funeral two hours before or after the service, and requires those protestors be at least 300 feet away from the grieving families." (This is a blurb from August of this year; I don't know if the bill was signed yet.)

  2. Thanks for sharing the wonderful stories, Nancy!

    I'd like to add two suggestions for people who want to help us move toward a world in which differences between people evoke curiosity rather than fear and hatred:

    1. Support the Southern Poverty Law Center. Best known for its legal action against the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, the SPLC also publishes a bimonthly magazine, "Teaching Tolerance," that is distributed free to teachers around the country and provides resources for promoting passion and respect. If all children got the messages of the Teaching Tolerance program, hatred would have no future. (See info at .)

    2. If you're not already in a religious community that promotes the idea that everyone is part of the same human family, then join one. It really does help to be part of a community that shares and reinforces your values! I particularly want to tell people who think religion isn't for them because they don't believe in God that there are non-theistic choices available--religions like Ethical Culture, Unitarian Universalism, Humanist Judiasm, and Buddhism. I'm guessing that many people reading this live in the Washington, D.C. area, where there are plenty of such congregations to check out. (I've been a member of the Washington Ethical Society for 21 years and heartily recommend it, but that's just one of many possibilities that might suit you.) And for people who don't live near any nontheistic congregations, I know of a couple of online alternatives: the Ethical Society Without Walls ( and the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship (

    Sorry for going on so long, Nancy, but you really struck a chord with your post!


    1. So true, Perry. There are so many organizations that promote tolerance and kindness. I'm especially impressed when people take action on their own, but you can do great things when you work with others.


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