Patrick Saunders: When rainbows have bigots seeing red

The idea was simple. Run by the intersection of 10th and Piedmont to see how the rainbow crosswalks were coming, do a Facebook Live showing Georgia Voice readers the progress so far and answer any questions people had about it.

The install started early that Saturday morning, so the work crew only had one side of the intersection done and were making progress on the next one by the time I arrived. I noticed immediately that there was a huge interest, with tons of people quickly joining in to view and share the live feed and ask questions. After about a half-hour, I thanked everyone and ended it.

Then the torrent of negative comments came.

One person after the other calling the crosswalks “sick” or “disgusting,” talking about how wrong it was to glorify what they considered to be sin, and how we were all going to Hell. And that was the key here: the flood of anti-LGBT abuse was all rooted in these people’s interpretation of scripture. This was a religion thing.

I got back home and watched the comments pile up as I was about to get out of my car, attempting to moderate it as best as possible, but after reviewing the entire thread and starting back at the top, there would be another hundred or so comments. I sat in my car for nearly an hour as wave after wave of comments came through from across the country, banning people from our page if they said anything homophobic or threatening.

As I write this, it’s five days later and people are still lashing out on the thread. Over 100 users were banned and the video has generated over 2,300 shares, 4,200 comments and 270,000 views. And counting.

Just two days prior to the install, when we reported that it was to take place that weekend, a debate broke out among those in the LGBT community on our Facebook page about whether and why the crosswalks were needed.

Make no mistake, the backlash that followed showed why we need them. This was a national effort to spew hatred against the LGBT community, and it was all focused on one intersection in Atlanta, Georgia, because the city had the gall to recognize us.

Could the money have gone to a worthy local LGBT cause instead, as many asked? Actually, no. This was a publicly funded project (occurring entirely separately from the 2015 privately funded temporary crosswalks), so if not to the crosswalks, the city would have allocated the money to a different Department of Public Works project.

This controversy also brought to mind the fact that a certain segment of the right side of the political spectrum likes to lob the term “snowflake” at those on the left for being overly sensitive or fragile. The term appeared numerous times in the crosswalks video thread. These people spent the better part of their 4th of July weekend on a gay newspaper’s Facebook page bitching and moaning about a crosswalk. Now, who exactly has the more delicate sensibilities here?

Unfortunately, the uproar also brought out the worst in some of those within the LGBT community. It’s troubling how many used misogyny as a weapon in reaction to anti-LGBT comments. To those that did, you’re doing absolutely nothing to help the situation. And your comments were flagged just as quickly as the anti-gay ones.

We’ll see if the anti-LGBT bigots continue to stir up controversy. That’s out of our control. What is in our control is deciding whether or not we want to continue the infighting in our community about the crosswalks.

They are here to stay. Let’s move on to bigger fights.