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Meet Rainbow Direction -- The Fans Fighting To End LGBT Bullying In The One Direction Fandom

'The 1D boys themselves have had such an impact on my figuring out my own gender identity,' one fan tells MTV News

Any serious 1D fan can tell you that Harry sleeps naked, Liam hates spoons, Louis loves soccer and Niall plays guitar. What you might not know, though, is that within the normally tight-knit club that is 1D fandom, LGBT fans often encounter homophobia and bullying.

The group Rainbow Direction is doing amazing things to help change that. MTV News recently caught up with Kat Lewis, one of the co-founders of the group, and Lou Woodley, an out-and-proud transgender 17-year-old from Boston who is gearing up to represent Rainbow Direction at the band's upcoming Baltimore concert to find out what Rainbow Direction is all about.

Rainbow Direction

Kat Lewis with Rainbow Direction in Brussels (13 from left, back row)

Before co-founding Rainbow Direction, Kat helped launch TakeMeHomeFromNarnia, an online initiative that works to educate people about homophobic online bullying and get young people involved in causes affecting the LGBT community within the One Direction Fandom.

That group was created in response to a tweet The Wanted's Thomas Parker sent to Louis Tomlinson, in which sarcastically used the hashtags #narnia and #itgetsbetter while implying that Tomlinson was gay, causing many (including the band Wheatus, apparently) to call the tweet out as homophobic.

Kat told MTV News that she wanted to help educate people that gay rumors aren't something to defend themselves against (especially in a mean fashion), because being gay isn't shameful. Rainbow Direction started out as just one campaign among many for the group, but quickly became the most visible and globally celebrated.

"We want all fans to feel safe, welcome, and supported," the group's Tumblr Page reads. "The homophobia in the One Direction fandom often makes LGBTQ+ fans feel unwelcome and invisible in the world. ... We want to change that. We want to speak out, stand up proudly and make our selves known. Because we aren’t just one in a million! We want to show who we are and just how many of us there are, all around the globe."

Rainbow Direction shows just how many LGBTQ fans there are at every 1D concert: you can typically spot a huge showing of rainbow flags, banners and signs. The group also provides online forums for discussion amongst One Direction fans about issues facing the LGBT community (and Directioners, in particular) on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook.

"It's fun and empowering for people," Lewis said. "Fighting against bullying is a bit depressing, but having a rainbow party at a concert is fantastic and lots of fun."

Rainbow Direction originally launched in the U.K., but now, as the band begins their North American tour, groups of rainbow-clad Rainbow Direction contingents are popping up at concerts across the U.S. too. Lou plans to be among them -- he's traveling to attend 1D's Baltimore show with his mom, and says he plans to wear "so much rainbow everywhere," and get his mom to wear some, too.

"The 1D boys themselves have had such an impact on my figuring out my own gender identity and finding people through the fandom that can help me figure out things related to my gender and sexuality," Lou said. "I've learned so much in the last nine or 10 months since being in the fandom, it's like my entire life has changed. Saying that out loud, it sounds silly, but I'm serious about it."

"If I met one of them," he continued, "I'd just start sobbing and telling them how important they've been to me. ... Yes, they're a boy band, but they're also so much more than that."

Woodley told MTV News the story of how he first fell in love with 1D.

"I was staying with my cousin and she showed me the 'Best Song Ever' video and I looked at Veronica and I was like, 'Who is this beautiful woman?' And she was like, 'Oh no, that's Zayn,' so I was like 'WHO IS ZAYN?' She turned on the 'This Is Us' documentary and that was the beginning of the end. My cousin forcibly pushed me down the rabbit hole [of 1D fandom]."

"One of the most powerful things I've learned from this is that online activism can be really powerful," Kat Lewis told MTV News. "And what young people can do is really powerful. I've met so many lovely, talented and motivated people through this, and I've made very good friends who are very different from me and have very different lives from me."

She also said that the reactions they get "from people who saw a rainbow at a concert and felt so validated" make it all worth it, and that Rainbow Direction now helps many young people get more involved in other types of LGBTQ activism.

"It's empowering people from an experience of being bullied, to standing up for yourself and for others, to standing up for your principals," she told MTV News. "It's one big continuum, and it's amazing how much it's caught on."

Woodley told MTV News that he was bullied online just recently in an argument with another 1D fan over something trivial they said about Louis that escalated quickly. "It was very shocking," he said. "It started with two people disagreeing about something silly, and then they were attacking my gender. I was crying. I didn't get on the internet for a week. I had to block everyone."

"I feel like Rainbow Direction is a really positive contribution to the fandom because it reminds us that there are millions of people like us all across the world," Woodley said. "People just say wild things online all the time without thinking about who's going to see it and who's going to react in what way. So it's nice to have a a big group of people reminding everyone to be civil and respectful. We're talking about a boyband, here...it's really going to be OK. Just calm down and be respectful of other people."

In preparation for the Baltimore show, Woodley said he signed up online for the Rainbow Direction meet-up beforehand, and he's looks forward to meeting up with other Rainbow Directioners.

Lewis told MTV News that people have been asking whether TakeMeHomeFromNarnia will start Rainbow Direction-like campaigns for other fandoms, and she encouraged young people to start their own.

"Try and make a change where you are," she said. "It's not always necessary to go out and conquer the whole world to make a difference. Start small, close to home. Stick to what you know, and try to do something there that will be a positive force for change where you are." As Rainbow Direction proves, she said, "If you're in a fandom online, that's somewhere you can start to change the world."