What the mom behind the viral rainbow Christmas lights wants people to know.

Here's hoping we see many more supportive holiday displays.

Lexi Magnussen left the Mormon Church in 2012 because she disagreed with its views on homosexuality.

Then, a few months ago, her new neighbors moved in.

Shortly after, the mom of the neighboring family came over to introduce herself to Lexi and her husband, who were standing on their front lawn.


Lexi and her family. Photo via Lexi Magnussen, used with permission.

The woman, like Lexi and her husband, happened to be Mormon, which Lexi says is why she thinks the woman reached out, hoping they'd have something in common.

Their conversation started out pleasant enough, but then took a rather uncomfortable — and homophobic — turn.

"Basically she told us she moved here to get her children away from the gays," Lexi recalls in a private Facebook message. According to Lexi, the last straw for her neighbor was when a girl rejected her son asking her to the prom because the girl already had a girlfriend. She just couldn't understand a school that promoted "the gay agenda," her neighbor told her.

Lexi says she tried to keep her cool and reminded her neighbor that their kids were going to be exposed to LGBTQ people no matter where they went, and she was glad for it.

Photo by Lexi Magnussen. Used with permission.

"[Kids] know not to be horrible to each other based on who they are or how they were born," Lexi explains.

Needless to say, the conversation ended quickly, and from that day on, Lexi says her new neighbor acted like her family didn't exist.

The painful situation hung in Lexi's mind for months, until the presidential election results came in. With Christmas coming up, Lexi decided to act.

Like many people nationwide, she was devastated by the election, not only because she didn't like the outcome but because of the onslaught of hate crimes targeting marginalized groups that followed. With her conversation with her neighbor in mind, Lexi knew she wanted to do something to publicly show her support for the LGBTQ community.

So she grabbed 10,000 rainbow lights and got to work on her front yard:

Photo by Lexi Magnussen. Used with permission.

"I love Christmas lights [and] realized my front hedges would be the perfect place for a rainbow flag of lights," Lexi explains of the decorations.

Lexi's neighbor has yet to comment on her vivid display, she says, but the rest of her neighbors love it, as do the 14,000 other people who've liked her post on Facebook. Despite the initial disappointing exchange with her neighbor, however, Lexi says she's open to furthering the conversation between them.

It doesn't take a monumental action to make a big difference, especially to the people you see every day — your neighbors.

The Magnussens' bright response to hate is just one of many people have carried out in recent months. One artist in Arkansas covered up hateful graffiti with a loving message and has made it her mission to keep doing it. A group of Michigan neighbors decked out all their houses with rainbow flags in response to a bigoted letter one neighbor received.

The messages these displays send aren't so much a rebuke to people — like Lexi's neighbor — who don't believe in them as much as they are an affirmation to those who are targeted by hate speech and hate crimes. I see you, I love you, I am here for you, these artistic displays of solidarity say to those who need to hear them.

Making a difference and rejecting bigotry can start with a kind word and the willingness to listen to the problems people in your community are facing. If we can protect each other on a local level, that's a huge step in the right direction.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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