“Offensive” T-shirt Causes Quite a Stir

One day after our city’s popular annual Rotary Festival, highlighted by the Rotary Fest Parade, an interesting article appeared on popular local news website sootoday.com posting an open letter by a woman named Heather. To summarize, Heather’s letter expressed her concern over a shirt worn by one of the young men within the Gay Pride section of the parade. The shirt had blazoned across it the phrase “haters gonna hate”. Heather specifically stated that she had no problem with the Gay Pride section being in the parade, but felt that the shirt was offensive because “messages of hatred should not ever be permitted from any party”. She felt that the shirt was likely directed at religious people as they tend to be the ones taking anti-homosexual stances. Overall, though I myself was not offended and don’t exactly agree with her, I felt like the tone of the letter was respectful and that she was not coming down on anyone in particular, but was simply expressing her opinion in a responsible way.

Others didn’t think so. At last count, within less than 24 hours of the article being published, 178 responses were posted in the comments section, the vast majority of them expressing their disapproval of Heather’s opinions. Below are some examples, copied and pasted directly (so forgive spelling, punctuation, and language):

  • really Heather??? sounds like a slogan on a t-shirt is the least of your worries…sure seems like there’s alot more deep-rooted issues troubling you. I’m also left with a struggle to deal with as well. I can’t come to terms with the fact that you wasted your time writing such useless dribble. What an absolute jackass
  • Wow Heather…you’re offended by that?! First I would suggest you give your head a good shake and then grow up ! “Christian values”….now that’s rich!
  • At next year’s parade I am going to wear a shirt that says “heathers gonna hate”…
  • Heather, thanks for writing this letter… you just proved his point. Haters gonna hate… seems to me you’re a prime example of the hater.
  • Shut up! Its didn’t hurt anyone! Quit your whining and stuck up talk!
  • Heather quit being a dingbat.
  • Heather I think you should have followed the advice that you gave your husband ‘to just let it go’. Now you have just expressed to the world how narrow minded (close-minded for that matter) you are. Quite embarassing to say the least…
  • I wonder if she feels like an ass yet.
  • Get a life Heather…your pathetic.
  • I bet you wish you didnt write to the editor now LOL!!!!!!!these are personal comments that are best served amongst you christians heather…In the real world there are others who are not of your faith and respect all persons decisions with respect to their beliefs……I think you need to get out a little more my dear……
  • Are you frikking kidding me right now?? It’s all Freedom of choice, relax!! This is almost as funny as that bored old housewife who found the picture of a penis on a Zoodle’s can way back when. Too much!!
  • It’s just a shirt. People like you truly make me sick.
  • Dear Heather, after reading maybe HALF of this article i myself was left disgusted that i had in fact wasted my time reading this…I am floored that someone whom in fact discusses in this article about christianity would have enough audacity to even think writing such crap is ACCEPTABLE! …people like you are sheltered and naive about the real problems of the world… go stress yourself out about someone significant and important.. instead of complaining go contribute to your community by volunteering instead of wasting EVERYONES TIME WITH YOUR IDIOTIC RANTS!
  • Heather..I had many thoughts come to my mind while I was reading your “opinion”. The one that stands out the most is “You mam, are an idiot of diabolical magnitude.”

In addition to these rather cruel comments, someone has designed a “Heather’s gonna hate” t-shirt which they posted and shared on Facebook to try and further ridicule this woman, as well as at least one person linking this story to their Facebook wall with the description “HATERS GUNNA HATE!!! Repost this to see how many people agree!!! Appauled by HEATHER!!!”

After taking the time to read every comment, and follow this story as closely as I can, I am a little disappointed, to say the least. Though some who disagreed with Heather were able to express their thoughts respectfully, a significant majority did not. Instead, the very people who called this woman idiotic, intolerant, and hateful were themselves acting in this way. I find it very unfortunate that people with differing beliefs are unable to share them in ways that are thoughtful and courteous. I also find it disturbing that individuals feel the need to launch attacks online against someone simply for sharing differing beliefs.

As a Christian myself, I do look to the Bible as the ultimate authority on life, religion, and morality. However, I am still able to live peacefully and respectfully with those who do not share this view, even if we may strongly disagree. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and have the right to free speech. This is good and healthy. But it is wrong when strong convictions are stated without love or respect for others. All people are valuable and worthy of dignity and honour, no matter how different from us they may be.

I felt it would be responsible to try and speak with the individual who wore the “haters gonna hate” shirt to see what he had to say about all this. His name is Theodore Syrette, and as it turns out, I went to high school with him and we actually were in the same grade together (I didn’t recognize him from the picture). In our conversation, which took place online, he told me of how in high school he was regularly bullied and ostracized for being gay and struggled with depression, identity issues, and substance abuse as a result. He went on to share:

“I let people wear me down and made me rethink of everything that I believed in and also made me forget about my goals and dreams. I managed to cope through this by involving myself in community theatre. When I was on stage I was able to be a persona that wasn’t me, that didn’t need to worry about what people thought about me while walking down the street. I didn’t need to worry about hurtful remarks, getting egged, pushed or punched. I was able to just be me and all the positiveness that was inside of me. It has taken a long time in order for me to get over all the hurt and not let anyone hinder me from being a successful and well accomplished individual.”

Teddy, as he is called by friends, is currently a student at Sault College studying Social Services in the Native Specialization Program. He went on to say “As a person I have my own values that are dear to me and I have walked a long hard path to understand who I am and what I can offer to the community. I am capable of this now, because I don’t let strangers dictate to me what I should do or how I should do it. Hurtful comments do not effect me as they once did, but only make me a stronger leader when faced with adversity.”

I also asked Teddy what his intentions were in wearing that particular shirt. He responded by saying that “the shirt wasn’t planned to provoke anyone or worn out of maliciousness of any kind. I really was just looking for a shirt to add to my purple outfit.”

In reference to the initial letter that sparked the controversy and the opinions stated by Heather, Teddy states “I’m not the one to ask, because it is only based on assumption”. He shared with me that he has read the comments on the article and that reading them “made me feel bad for her. It brought me back to when I was bullied.” He also told me that he has reached out to the author of the letter and expressed apologies for any hurt she has experienced, as well as placing an invitation to meet with her and discuss what has transpired over the last day. In one final attempt to put all of this behind, he is writing a statement for sootoday.com to publicly post in hopes that everyone can move on.

In the end, this fiasco has shown me that our world still has a long way to go in terms of being able to have people of differing beliefs co-exist. Even those who fight for tolerance and free speech are, at times, not good at allowing it for others. My hope is that we can learn to be more respectful of one another and learn to speak in ways that are thoughtful and respectful, and be able to dialogue and debate in ways that demonstrate value to each person. We don’t have to agree, but we do need to be kind. Hopefully something as small as a slogan on a t-shirt can become a valuable learning lesson for everyone involved.

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2 Comments on ““Offensive” T-shirt Causes Quite a Stir

  1. Very nice, well reasoned and balanced response to the whole situation. I believe both parties are in fact fighting for the same thing (less hatred in the world) Truthfully, I have felt appalled at the reactions from readers and even though I disagree with Heather I feel she expressed her thoughts respectfully and would like to start seeing other people do the same. Thanks for giving us a balanced perspective Jeremy.

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