Mykey O'Halloran had finally saved enough money to buy a small beach house on Australia's Phillip Island — and he'd settled on a color scheme he thought was perfect for it.
As a proud gay hairdresser whose Unicorn Manes salon specializes in rainbow-hued designs, O'Halloran has crafted hair to resemble tacos, cheeseburgers and fries. So he figured it made sense to give the beige, three-bedroom and attached guest bungalow rainbow stripes from top to bottom.
But after he moved into the house in February, a few of his neighbors in the island community, population 7,071, didn't agree.
The evening of March 16, O'Halloran said, he heard somebody banging on his door. When he opened it, five angry men confronted him over his plan to paint his house with bright rainbow colors, he said.
"They'd heard about it through a conversation with the painter who was painting my kitchen," said O'Halloran, 29. "They told me, 'Don't do it. Paint your house and see what happens, because next time we meet, it won't be so nice.'"
"One of them said I would make his house drop in value by $20,000 if I painted my house in 'stupid' colors," he added.
The men shouted homophobic slurs, said O'Halloran, and one of them threatened to kill him if he went ahead with his rainbow project.
"I froze up inside and thought I was about to be seriously injured," he said.
O'Halloran said he told the men he didn't feel comfortable talking to them and shut the door. Then he phoned the police. One man was charged a few days later with unlawful assault and making threats to kill, according to a statement from Victoria Police.
O'Halloran decided to share his story about the unsettling experience on Facebook and other social media.
"I cried myself to sleep last night after feeling so invaded, homophobically attacked and threatened in my very own home," he wrote.
O'Halloran also wrote that he was not going to allow anyone to bully him out of his island getaway. He would proceed with his plan to paint the house as a big rainbow.
Hundreds of people who read his post agreed, and they volunteered to help him paint it.
"For every rat bag like him, the island has a thousand others who welcome you," one neighbor commented.
"You paint your house whatever colors you want to! I'm so sorry this happened to you!" commented a woman from Pennsylvania.
Within days, O'Halloran had a small army of volunteers lined up, and the Dulux paint company had donated 12 gallons of house paint in rainbow hues, he said.
On April 18, more than 100 people — including several children, a few home renovators and a couple of police officers — came to O'Halloran's house and spent seven hours painting the home's siding, deck and fence in stripes of blue, green, yellow, orange, purple and pink. One donor had eight surveillance cameras installed at O'Halloran's house in case anyone threatens him again.
Hundreds of others chipped in about $7,750 for a fundraiser O'Halloran organized recently with local businesses to benefit the local community group Phillip Island Community and Learning Centre.
"The positive response filled my heart with love and made me feel supported and not alone," O'Halloran said. "People were dropping by to shake my hand, say hello and welcome me to the neighborhood."
Linda Wilson, a counselor who lives on the island and facilitates a "Rainbow Connect" support group for the LGBTQ community, was among those who picked up a paintbrush.
"When I heard about what had happened to Mykey, I felt it was important that I be involved and show solidarity and support for him," said Wilson, 47.
"There was a lot of openheartedness there on the day [the house was painted], and someone volunteered their time with a barbecue to feed all who attended," she added.
"When I heard about the awful reaction [Mykey] had faced, I threw myself into it wholeheartedly," said Denni Slorach, 42, who runs a print shop in Grantville, Australia, about 25 miles from Phillip Island. She designed a rainbow house logo and stickers in support of the event.
"The day came from love and joy in life, and the finished house will be uniquely Mykey — a representation of his rainbow soul," she said. "So many people said they thought it would look awful, but now that they've seen it, they're pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out."
O'Halloran couldn't contain his delight when the last bright coat of paint had dried. He and others in the community are hoping to put on the island's first pride parade.
"I know in my heart that I'm a good person, and I deserve inclusion and acceptance for how I wish to live my life," he said.
"My message now is don't let anyone else dull your sparkle, and always stay true to yourself."