The words Proud Boys took on a whole new meaning this weekend as gay men flooded
with messages of love and acceptance using the hashtag #ProudBoys. The celebration of LGBTQI pride was a clear attempt to drown out voices of the far-right group with the same name, which made headlines after getting mentioned by President Donald Trump during last week's first presidential debate.
"Let's replace the hashtag with images of love, positivity and true PRIDE," tweeted Carlos G. Smith, an openly gay member of Florida's House of Representatives.
Many tweets attached to the trending hashtag showed photos of couples who had been together years or decades -- at their weddings, posing with their children, marching in pride parades or just looking happily in love.
"My husband and I with our newborn daughter. Now she's in kindergarten. We're truly #proudboys," Joseph Bissell-Maynard tweeted.
Wrote Joel Flint, "Twenty years together. Proud to be gay! Not proud of hate."
The hashtag takeover appears to have originated with Star Trek star George Takei, who wondered aloud Thursday what would happen if gay men tagged themselves as #ProudBoys on social media.
"What if gay guys took pictures of themselves making out with each other or doing very gay things, then tagged themselves with #ProudBoys? I bet it would mess them up real bad," Takei tweeted.
The Proud Boys referenced in the debate are "self-described 'western chauvinists' who adamantly deny any connection to the racist 'alt-right,' insisting they are simply a fraternal group spreading an 'anti-political correctness' and 'anti-white guilt' agenda," according to civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center. The SLPC maintains, however, that the group, founded in 2016, affiliates with extremists and is known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic rhetoric.
During a debate exchange between Trump and moderator Chris Wallace about white supremacists, Trump told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by." Following the debate, members of the group celebrated Trump's reaction, using "stand back" and "stand by" in their logo and posting videos from the debate with the caption "God. Family. Brotherhood."
At least one of the many tweets from gay men using the #ProudBoys hashtag referenced Trump's debate words. "We will never stand back and stand by! Together for 25 years with two amazing children," Dan Ort-Patrick wrote.
Twitter suspended the accounts of Proud Boys, and its founder Gavin McInnes, in 2018 for violating its terms of service on inciting violence. Proud Boys reacted angrily to the weekend's Twitter campaign on another social media platform, Parler, Forbes reported.
But back on Twitter, it was all love and rainbows, with Takei expressing gratitude for the enthusiastic response to his idea.
"Brad and I are #ProudBoys, legally married for 12 years now," he tweeted Sunday along with a photo of him and his partner. "And we're proud of all of the gay folks who have stepped up to reclaim our pride in this campaign. Our community and allies answered hate with love, and what could be better than that."
The status of the second presidential debate, scheduled for Oct. 15, remains unclear given the president's COVID-19 diagnosis.