Gay Men Hijack Proud Boys Hashtag

After President Trump made a controversial comment during the presidential debate with regards to White supremacy, #ProudBoys flooded social media, propelled by gay men sharing their experiences in posts.

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After President Trump made a controversial comment during the presidential debate with regards to White supremacy, #ProudBoys flooded social media, propelled by gay men sharing their experiences in posts.

By Triambika Dinakaran, Reporter

During the presidential debate that took place on Wednesday, Sept. 29, President Donald Trump said “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” when asked by Chris Wallace and Joe Biden to denounce a White supremacy group. 

The Proud Boys are a far-right, neo-fascist, and male-only organization. Members of the group, who call themselves “western chauvinists,” have histories of aggravated assault and contributing to the escalation of violence at political rallies, including the infamous “Unite the Right” White supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The FBI lists them as an “extremist group with ties to White nationalism.” Mr. Trump’s words prompted intense backlash on account of his failure to directly denounce White supremacy, and the use of the words “stand by,” with reference to a violent and racist group. 

“[Mr. Trump] owes America an apology or an explanation. Now.” Anti-Defamation League Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Greenblatt said in a tweet. “And, in case anyone has any doubts, the Proud Boys are a virulent strain of American right-wing extremism. They have a long track record of violence, including in Portland [on September 25th].”

Despite the backlash over Mr. Trump’s words, the Proud Boys were enthused by his statement, which they perceived as a rallying cry. The group went as far as to make merchandise using the phrase, and shared their excitement on the social media platform, Telegram, with statements like “Standing by, sir” and “We’re ready.” However, Proud Boys’ chairman, Enrique Tarrio, did not view the words as an endorsement and does not believe his organization stands for White supremacy. 

“I denounce White supremacy,” Mr. Tarrio said in an interview with WSVN-TV. “I denounce anti-Semitism. I denounce racism. I denounce fascism. I denounce communism and any other -ism that is prejudiced toward people because of their race, religion, culture, tone of skin.”

The aftermath of the debate witnessed the hashtag ProudBoys trending on several social media platforms, propelled by Proud Boys supporters. Within a week, however, the hashtag continued to trend for entirely different reasons. The Proud Boys abandoned the hashtag as a result.

“We grew up in a time when gay men had no rights, when newspapers called us poofs, when police didn’t investigate when we were murdered,” Patrick Strudwick, a journalist, said in a tweet. “We’re the real #ProudBoys.”

Gay men have hijacked the hashtag and reclaimed it, referring to themselves as the “original Proud Boys”. Instead of White supremacists, the hashtag is currently flooded with photos of gay men. The hashtag continues to gain momentum on social media platforms. 

“I love that we took over that hashtag because I loathe white supremacists,” a source that wished to remain anonymous said in a statement to Westwood Horizon. “No racist group deserves to deny human rights. Especially to African-Americans who have suffered too much by white people’s hands.”

However, Mr. Tarrio was not amused by the hashtag hijack. He believes that his organization is receiving unnecessary flack, and is being suppressed. He asserts that Proud Boys have the right to share their views, no matter how controversial. 

“One of the messages they want to send with this is that they’re trying to drown out our supporters, they’re trying to silence us,” Mr. Tarrio said in a statement to CNN. “When you’re trying to drown out other people’s thoughts, I don’t think there’s anything progressive about that. Why don’t these people just engage?”

In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News on Thursday, Oct. 8, Mr. Trump backtracked his previous statements and condemned the Proud Boys. He also claimed that he was unaware of who they were during the debate. However, his comments have failed to end the controversy.

“I’ve said it many times, let me be clear again, I condemn the KKK [Ku Klux Klan],” Mr. Trump said. “I condemn all White supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”

Regardless of Mr. Trump and Mr. Tarrio’s comments, the LGBTQ community continues to celebrate pride with the hashtag. Posts using this hashtag include personal coming out and relationship stories of members of the LGBTQ+ community. The hashtag has also trended on Reddit and Instagram.