Gay men on Twitter have used the Proud Boys hashtag to share sweet tales, drowning out the far-right group that saw renewed attention last week after President Donald Trump told them to “stand back and stand by” during a presidential debate.
The group, which denies connection to the “alt right” but is described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was thrust into the spotlight during last week’s debate.
After Trump refused to condemn white supremacy when asked by moderator Chris Wallace if he was willing to do so, Joe Biden specifically mentioned Proud Boys as one of the groups he wanted Trump to condemn.
“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by” was the president’s response instead.
Shortly after the debate, however, Star Trek actor George Takei proposed a way to turn the group’s name on its head, and hijack the hashtag in a way that would focus on love instead of hate.
“What if gay guys took pictures of themselves making out with each other or doing very gay things, then tagged themselves with #ProudBoys,” Takei wrote on Twitter. “I bet it would mess them up real bad. #ReclaimingMyShine.”
The actor kicked things off with a photo of him and his husband Brad that used the hashtag.
“We’re proud of all the gay folks who have stepped up to reclaim our pride in this campaign,” he wrote. “Our community and allies answered hate with love, and what could be better than that.”
Soon, others followed suit and shared photos proudly showing off their relationships, too, including Queer Eye star Bobby Berk.
“Look at these cute lil #ProudBoys (#retweet and make this hashtag about love, not hate),” he wrote alongside a photo of him holding hands with husband Dewey Do.
Some couples posed with photos of their children, while others showcased milestone moments, like proposals and romantic vacations.
“Loving life with my partner of 27 years. We are #ProudBoys,” one man wrote.
Matt Dechaine, who shared a photo with his husband, told CNN that he found the #ProudBoys hashtag “so uplifting.”
“It feels like the movement for positive change for all is gathering momentum all the time and I'm glad to be a small part of it," he said. "By coming together rooted in respect and love for each other, the world can be so much better!"
Despite the support for the reclaiming of the hashtag, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio told CNN he found the trend “hysterical” and did not believe it accomplished what it set out to accomplish.
“This isn’t something that’s offensive to us. It’s not an insult. We aren’t homophobic. We don’t care who people sleep with. People think it’s going to bother us. It doesn’t,” he said. “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. … 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?”
Proud Boys was founded in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, and has been known to spread white nationalist memes, spew anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric and maintain affiliations with known extremists, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
New York Times reporter Mike Baker noted on Twitter shortly after the debate that, in response to Trump's comment, Proud Boys members were ″ecstatic,″ as they interpreted his remark as supportive and not a denunciation.
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