Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Sign Sets Fire to Social Media

 

The Supreme Court began their hearing on the constitutionality of bans against same-sex marriage — specifically the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 — on Tues., Mar. 26.

The day before, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — one of America’s largest LGBT rights organizations — uploaded the pink and red version of their logo. They requested their Facebook followers to “make their profiles red” in order to raise awareness of the ongoing Supreme Court hearings and to show support for the LGBT community. Within 24 hours, the picture went viral. Facebook data analysts published on their Facebook Data Science page the following Friday that roughly 2.7 million more people than usual changed their profile picture in the wake of the HRC’s Facebook update.

Kevin Chu, an intern at UCSD’s LGBT Resource Center, noticed that a handful of his friends were changing their profile pictures and sharing links about the Supreme Court hearings on Facebook.

“As the day went along, more and more people changed their profile pictures,” Chu said. “It’s really powerful to see people throwing in their support.”

Over the following week, the Facebook trend was adopted by celebrities and ordinary people alike, some being creative with their logos by adding in bacon strips or puppies. Variations representing an opposition to same-sex marriages cropped up as well — a pink +, X, or =/= on red accompanied with biblical quotes were passed around by supporters of traditional marriage.

But many used the term “slacktivism” — a combination of the words “slacker” and “activism” —  to criticize the equality sign trend. Blogs on the Huffington Post, International Business Times and  PC Magazine weighed in on the value of a profile picture. Many of them noted that the red profile pictures had no effect on the eventual outcome of the Supreme Court trials. However, they also noted that the trend demonstrated the widespread support of same-sex marriage.

“This whole concept of judging someone because they’re not ‘being enough of an activist’ is completely faulty,” Chu said. He jokingly referred to himself as a slacktivist since his preferred method of sharing his point of view is sharing links on Facebook.

UCSD graduate Adam Powers, who doesn’t consider himself an activist, said that he changed his profile picture to show that he stood in favor of the marriage equality movement and is willing to defend that viewpoint against others who wish to challenge it.

Powers sees the simplicity of the meme as an asset. 

“People need symbols to rally around,” Powers said. “[The equality sign] appears convenient, familiar and effective.”

Chu, who didn’t change his profile picture despite the fact that he works at the LGBTRC, said he feels unnerved by the symbol.

“[The equality sign] puts the HRC as the face and voice of the movement,” Chu said. “Considering some of the things it’s done in the past, [such as silencing transgender and undocumented people], that’s not too exciting.” 

Traffic to the HRC website increased by 600% in the 24 hours following their initial post, according to a March 26 press release by the HRC. During the protests outside the Supreme Court, the HRC requested a speaker to remove references to being undocumented and had transgender flags taken down. The HRC later apologized for both actions in a blog post.

Despite his reservations, Chu appreciated the support.

“If I was still a teenager in the closet and all my friends were changing their profile pictures, I’d feel affirmed in my identity a little bit more,” Chu said.

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