Red Conquers Facebook

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Yesterday night, I was chilling with my friend Jake, and he noticed my new facebook profile picture and asked what it meant.  If you haven’t seen already, Facebook has recently been awash in red equal signs.  The Supreme Court is hearing the case against gay marriage in California this week, and some of those who support gay marriage have changed their profile picture to a pink equal sign on a red background.  I told Jake this, and his first reaction was to laugh.  ‘What, is this supposed to make a difference?  Is the supreme court going to suddenly notice all the new profile pictures, and base their decision on that?’

Surprisingly enough, and perhaps it’s just because I’m queer, but the red sign movement actually means quite a bit to me.  I don’t think it’s going to change anything, I don’t think homophobes are going to look at all the people who’ve changed their profile pic and suddenly see the light, but to me, the red signs were a sign of support, not a sign of change.

This may be a bit pity-partyish, but sometimes it’s hard to be queer and go through life everyday not quite sure what type of reaction you are going to receive.  That horrible pause when you need to decide if correcting someone on your sexuality is worth the judgement.  People don’t tend to wear signs on their foreheads saying ‘I am 0%/45%/98% okay if you were queer’.  I may be proud and out, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt every time a friendship, or even a casual first meeting, suddenly becomes a bit more awkward (or completely destroyed) if they find out I’m queer.  Sure, you can say ‘Well, if they aren’t okay with it, they aren’t worth your time’, but honestly, simplifying a person to one belief is just a coping mechanism, and doesn’t really stop the hurt.  What if I was enjoying the conversation with them?  What if they would have been a great video game buddy?  As ashamed as I am, sometimes I try not to bring up my sexual preferences if I’m afraid I’ll lose a possible friend.

Now, enough with the whining, the point of this blog is to comment on why I love that my news feed has been flooded with red.  Suddenly there is a sign on everyone’s forehead saying ‘I am 100% okay with you being queer’.  Sometimes you read so much in the news about hate and homophobia and violence that you forget the people surrounding you, the people important to you, are probably perfectly okay with it, or just don’t care.  Sometimes someone who you would have never have openly admitted being queer to has changed their profile picture, and you realize maybe there is a bit more acceptance in your life than you knew.  My childhood friend Julie is very religious, and although I doubted she hated gay people (she is one of the sweetest and most loving people I have ever met), I was afraid her religion was going to decide for her if homosexuality was okay.  And then she posted this:love

I honestly almost cried.

So yes, I don’t think the profile pictures are going to bring about social change.  I don’t think everyone feels the same way I do about feeling supported by them, and some people don’t need the support.  But as a queer who needs to convince herself everyday that it’s ‘okay to be gay’ (or bisexual in my case), the fact that the Supreme Court even needs to comment on gay marriage in California reminds me that not everyone agrees, and there are plenty of people who will hate me based on my sexual preferences alone.  So during this tipping point, when I am constantly reminded people despise my sexuality enough that they are willing to legislate against it, I honestly appreciate that there are people in my life who are willing to remind me that they are on my side, even if it’s just with a profile picture.

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About A Lewis

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Posted on March 28, 2013, in Commentary, Gender/Sexuality, Growing Up, Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. As always, you are pretty damn good at putting into words the things I think. In the past, I have always simply felt a sense of satisfaction after reading your posts that didn’t require me to comment, because even in the comment discussions you’ve had, people articulate my arguments for me.

    I think you are completely right in the text in this article. I changed my profile picture not because I thought it would make a difference in the supreme court case, but because I wanted to express my personal solidarity with anyone and everyone else that has a stake in the case.

    I do, however, have a problem with the picture you posted at the top of your article. It is the same problem I have with the ones that have Bert and Ernie, or Mario and Luigi on them.

    My problem is that these images depict two friends/allies/siblings that are NOT lovers making out as a response to gay marriage equality. This seems to imply that if gay marriage is legalized, then straight friends will spontaneously become gay and make out. This is bad for a number of reasons:
    1) It seems to confirm the fears of many of the right-wing opponents arguing against gay marriage
    2) That is simply not how being gay works. These are not closeted individuals, they are straight individuals, and implying that they can become gay implies that gay people can become straight. We should be fighting AGAINST that idea
    3) The ideas in points 1 and 2 are bullshit, and they shouldn’t be supported.

    I do think there would be appropriate things to put on the image. I like the ones with bacon (associating one unanimously good thing with your cause is always good). I like the ones with Ellen DeGeneres or Rachel Maddow.

    As an inexperienced writer of my thoughts, I have no idea how to end a rant, so I’m just gonna leave it there.

    • I guess I could argue briefly against my point by asking “Why do Liberty and Equality have to be straight individuals? Isn’t that already being heteronormative?” Yes. Yes, I suppose it is, but my argument against the other figures like Bert and Ernie holds

      • I was so lost until I realized the Bert and Ernie thing was something that was *actually* going around facebook, and you weren’t just coming up with your own examples. I can see your point regarding using characters that are canonically straight (or asexual)*, because it’d be just as bad to have two gay characters portrayed as straight.

        I personally don’t mind Lady Liberty and Blind Justice kissing because they are in fact symbols/statues rather than actual people/fictional characters, and I think it’s an interesting detournment of such notable symbols of America. I’m glad you realized what you were saying was heteronormative, because Lady Liberty and Blind Justice have been drawn paired with men in political cartoons, and thus I don’t think it’s any worse to have them paired with a woman for this particular political statement, especially since they don’t actually have a sexuality.

        * https://www.facebook.com/note.php?created&&note_id=10150290119497855&id=13759741267

  2. I definitely understand why you like this profile picture trend–it is great to see people being queer-friendly, especially when you otherwise weren’t sure if they would be.

    There are some issues with it, though, beyond the general objection that changing a profile picture is unlikely to create a significant change. The Human Rights Campaign (of which the equals sign is the logo) has an unfortunate tendency to prioritize marriage equality to the exclusion of other queer issues, particularly trans* ones–for example, there’s a post you may have seen going around Tumblr about the HRC asking people to take down a trans* flag they were holding at a protest outside the supreme court, because according to the HRC, “marriage equality is not a transgender issue.” So, many trans* people and allies are unwilling to support such an organization.

    In general, I try my best to be a supporter of all queer/trans* people, and while I certainly support marriage equality, it bothers me that it gets such a disproportionate amount of attention compared to other issues, particularly ones like violence against queer/trans* people and their rates of homelessness, mental health issues, and suicide, all of which, honestly, seem like a much bigger deal to me than marriage inequality.

    • Personally, I think people focus on the marriage issue because it has a solution. Violence is bad, homelessness is bad, mental health issues are bad, but they are not necessarily things with clean resolutions. The marriage issue is one of the most obvious signs of homophobia in America, and it is one of the only black and white issues of either ‘Americans have equal rights’ or ‘Americans do not have equal rights’. I’m not saying this makes it more important, but I can understand its visibility.

      In terms of the HRC, I’m still battling internally with leaving my symbol up or taking it down. On the one hand, the HRC is terrible regarding the trans* community, both now and in the past. On the other hand the symbol doesn’t tend to be associated with the HRC unless you already knew about the organization, and the HRC isn’t getting more fame for it. I would not financially support the HRC, and I feel a bit dirty appropriating their symbol, but it’s a movement that has caught on so well that currently I support it (which can be a very slippery slope, and I fully admit I still don’t know how I feel about my actions).

      • Good points. I guess my main worry with using the symbol is that, to trans* people who do know about the HRC, these profile pictures could send exactly the wrong message–“I care enough about certain rights that I’m ok with this organization that intentionally ignores your rights.”

  3. I have some very close trans friends who have brought up Emma’s points, but I nonetheless still am posting my red with Bert and Ernie on Facebook ( https://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc6/8195_10200852058452577_1582997788_n.jpg ). For me it’s about solidarity, not about HRC. The logo may have originated in an organization that has some very antagonistic and oppressive views on a number of important issues, but the fact that a large number of people who are using it have to be explained where the logo even comes from demonstrates that this symbol has moved beyond its origins. When I post my red symbol this week I am not stating that I support HRC; I am stating that I stand in solidarity with all others who support marriage equality for all.

    That said, I support Emma in full that marriage inequality is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems with this society. There is so much more that needs to be addressed in a much deeper way than what a Facebook solidarity symbol is capable of.

    • This is a really lovely discussion, and I’m really glad you are really listening to Emma’s points. I think most of what I said to her agrees with what you said here (unfortunately I read and commented on hers before I saw your comment). Thanks so much for commenting, I really appreciate multiple perspectives.

  4. I really don’t know enough about the HRC to say whether or not I agree with their methods or priorities, or whether the red equals is a symbol that denotes support of gay marriage, or the HRC as well. After all, this was the first I’ve heard of that particular organisation (probably due to the fact I live in Australia), but I do think that symbols like that can make a difference. Of course, that sort of thing isn’t going to influence the Supreme Court, but it is a very effective way to tell people your views on a topic without words needing to be exchanged. This can make things much easier for those who aren’t confident enough people to ask others about what they think, or who don’t know how to bring the topic up. As someone who generally isn’t a confident person, but who nonetheless feels strongly about things like marriage equality, I feel that a symbol allows people to express a view where otherwise they might remain silent.
    As for there being broader social issues than marriage equality, of course, that’s the case. However, having legislation and legal precedent to back up the fact that gay people deserve exactly the same rights as everyone else counts for something. It might not change the minds of homophobes, but it can change the minds of those who aren’t sure to see that the law supports and indeed affirms equality instead of denying it, and this can lead to a more accepting society in general, which may help reduce things like mental health issues and suicide.
    There is even some very tentative evidence to support the idea that legislation can change public opinion, even if only in some circumstances (http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/4148043?uid=3737536&uid=2&uid=4&sid=21101834808313)
    Hope I haven’t gone on for too long, there…

  5. I really enjoyed everything you had to say, such as your outside perspective living in Australia, and your input as a self-identified shy person and how the symbol allows you to express your support in a non-confrontational way (especially since I am most definitely neither of those things). The fact that legislation might have some impact on public opinion is also fascinating, and I appreciate the article to back it up. Thanks so much for contributing, and please never feel like you are talking for too long, I love hearing what you have to say!

  6. I really appreciate your thoughts here, but I still disagree and will still continue to refuse to change my profile picture to a red equal sign for equality, just as I have and will for any other cause. There is a huge and marked difference between Julie’s facebook post, and changing your facebook profile image. One involves serious thought, effort to state and clarify, and the bravery and dedication to open up. One involves 3 clicks. And honestly, there are many, many people who are willing to set their pic to a red equal sign while still not able to appreciate a queer anywhere but from a distance. A profile pic does not give me confidence in a friend’s acceptance, and in fact if unaccompanied by any evidence of more significant effort can give me concern that said “support” is the most they can or are willing to offer towards any push for equality.

    For what it’s worth, I accept you for whatever sexual orientation you may be.

    • So they shouldn’t show support unless they cross some type of support threshold as an ally? How do we define when we consider it enough effort towards the queer cause? I do agree that there is always more that can be done.

      • I think dunvi’s point might be not so much that people *shouldn’t* change their profile pictures (though more active, thought-out things like the status post are better), but that someone doing so doesn’t really tell you you’ll get any useful level of support from them.

      • Okay, I can accept that point.

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