Photographer Ed Freeman created the gay flag image to the right more than 10 years ago for the cover of Frontiers magazine. Since then, it has been used across countless social media posts for its highly recognizable features — four men work to raise a rainbow flag, instantly evoking Joe Rosenthal’s iconic 1945 photo of five Marines and a Navy corpsman hoisting the American flag on the Pacific island’s Mount Suribachi in the middle of one of the most ferocious battles of World War II. Almost 7,000 troops were killed in the fight — including three of the Marines in the photo — and more than 19,000 were wounded. More than 18,000 Japanese troops also died on the island. The operation at Iwo Jima lasted for more than a month. The Pulitzer Prize-winning image has been repeatedly used over the years to honor American troops, and as inspiration for other work.
Most recently, Freeman’s image resurfaced after last week’s Supreme Court victory. Freeman himself posted the picture to his Facebook account with the following message:
When I took this picture almost ten years ago, it never occurred to me that it would someday come to symbolize the victory we are celebrating today. Congratulations to all of us! Love to you all.
But many were upset at the implied comparison between the struggle for gay rights and the sacrifice on the battle field. Commenters were quick to seize on the out photographer’s celebratory post with antigay epithets and allegations that Freeman was being un-American.
“Wow, what a fucking asshole,” wrote one enraged commenter in response to Freeman’s post. “Why don’t you find your own icon to celebrate with. That one belongs to the MARINES of IWO JIMA. The ones who along with many others died so an asscrack smear like you could disrespect their memory. If you have an ounce of shame, you will take that down, apologize for being disrespectful, and create a new image that will be uniquely suited to your victory. Even then, I am pretty sure I will still have the urge to punch you in the face.”
“Im all for gay rights and equal for all but DO NOT DISRESPECT THOSE WHO SERVED, SACRIFICED, AND DIED FOR YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RIGHTS AND FREEDOM,” wrote another commenter. “Its this shit that will drive ppl to hate on you. You WANT RESPECT THEN GIVE IT TO THOSE WHO DESERVE AND EARNED IT.”
With more than 1,000 comments on the post at press time, the vast majority have been negative. Some have been outright threatening. “You need to be beat down like the trash you are,” wrote one particularly menacing viewer. “You don’t need to be a Marine you fuck.”
Some commenters came to Freeman’s defense, however. “A lot of hateful comments,” wrote one woman. “People saying ‘these guys never lifted a finger’ but if you remember don’t ask don’t tell, you’ll remember that they did and continue to do so, you just don’t want to acknowledge it.”
Other pro-LGBT commenters noted the overwhelming likelihood that LGBT troops not only fought for the United States in WWII, but were killed in the battle at Iwo Jima.
Freeman himself rose in defense of his photo, telling the Washington Post:
“The principle complaint that people have is that I am equating the gay struggle with the contribution and sacrifice of American servicemen. But there is no equal sign here. This is not meant as a sign of disrespect. For God sake, no. I totally support people in uniform. There is no comparison going on here. The comparison is going on in people’s heads, and they’re spoiling for a fight. They’re already on edge because of the gay marriage decision.”
Is this a meme malfunction, or does everyone just need to simmer down?