Michael Morones, an 11-year-old from North Carolina, loves “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” a kid’s TV show with a cult adult following.
Michael, whose interest is supported by his parents, would wear various merchandise from the show when he went to school. That is, until a few weeks ago, because Michael is now in the hospital after merciless bullying over his love for the show and his perceived sexuality drove him to attempt suicide.
While recent reports say he is now able to breath on his own, Michael has remained unconscious since the night he attempted suicide by hanging in late January. When he does wake up, he may have some form of brain damage because of the length of time his brain went without oxygen. The extent of his injuries will only be known in the months and years to come.
We couldn’t blame Michael’s parents for wanting justice, for advocating that his bullies be brought before the light of day and made to account for what they pushed Michael to do. Yet Michael’s parents aren’t doing that. Instead, they want to honor Michael by following in his example and living the values they say are the reason Michael likes the program in the first place.
His parents told ABC:
“It teaches the most basic moral values to a lot of complex thoughts,” said Michael’s step-father, Shannon Suttle.
Fans of the show, like Michael, try to live the motto that friendship is magic.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say you need to go after bullies and hold them responsible,” said Tiffany. “But you know, I don’t think that’s what Mike would want. I would rather teach people how to do right than turn around than punish, because punishment doesn’t always work.”
Instead of seeking justice by punishing the perpetrators of this bullying, Michael’s family has set-up a non-profit called the Michael Morones Foundation, which is designed to try to tackle bullying — and they’re not in this fight alone.
Fans of the show, a good proportion of which are boys and adult men, who are known collectively as “bronies,” are hearing Michael’s story as it travels across the Internet, and they’re choosing to do something positive.
Some have donated money directly to the family in order to pay for Michael’s medical care. With support coming from as far away as Ireland, Australia and all across the globe, the Michael Morones Recovery Fund has received more than $69,000. That drive has also inspired bronies and the show’s fans to create various art projects and YouTube videos, music and more, all in support of Michael and the anti-bullying cause.
The story has even prompted one Texas tattoo artist, Tony Wayne of Imperial Tattoo, to offer $20 My Little Pony tattoos to anyone who wants them, with a portion of that money going to Michael’s recovery fund and some of it going to the Stomp out Bullying drive, which Michael’s family also supports.
“We’ve done 25-30 of them since last week and more are booked this week,” said store owner Tony Wayne. “They’re regular guys, tattooed mean lookin’ guys.”
Wayne says as soon as he saw Michael Morones’ story, he knew he had to help.
“Tattoos are about freedom of expression. Michael should have been free to like My Little Pony if he wanted to,” Wayne said. “I knew other kids would be being bullied and this was the only way I could think to help.”
All of this cannot erase what has happened to Michael, obviously. Yet when Michael wakes up hopefully he will see a world that does care about him, that has reached across thousands of miles in order to enfold him in his hospital bed, surrounded as he is by his favorite My Little Ponies, and communicate to him the sense of belonging that should always have been his.
In the meantime, pressure continues to grow on Wake County Public Schools, the district under which Michael was a pupil, after it emerged that there have been past instances of children attempting suicide because of apparent bullying. Nevertheless, the district has a strict anti-bullying policy, and North Carolina in fact has a sexual orientation-inclusive anti-bullying policy, so all facets of this bullying should have been reported to teachers and should have been dealt with. Whether that happened and how effectively the matter was dealt with are questions that will need answering in due course, and until more is known about the circumstances that led to this tragedy, comment on the specifics of this case has to stop there.
What this story does emphasize, however, is that there is still real harm in the way we limit children by their perceived gender, and how crossing the lines of gender expectation by liking something that is perceived as being only for the opposite sex carries substantial risk of ridicule and outright harassment, for kids and adults. Until we make a serious commitment to educating kids out of rigid gender conformity, this kind of awful event, where a child sees no other course but to take his own life, could and probably will happen again.
Yet the examples of true solidarity and friendship that have emerged as people react to Michael’s story also needs to be highlighted, because they are important too. By Michael’s parents refusing to dwell on blame but instead seeking some kind of positive outcome for their child, they provided room for genuine outpourings of kindness. That’s something that to Michael’s family, in this difficult time, must be invaluable.