That’s exactly what happened over the weekend, when the term started trending on Twitter — not in relation to the violent far-right “Western chauvinist” group, but instead to accompany photos of gay men who decided they wanted to irritate the bigots and display their own pride.
Google searches for the term “Proud Boys” skyrocketed after last week’s U.S. presidential debate. In a question about whether he would tell white supremacist groups to “stand down,” U.S. President Donald Trump said, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.” He did condemn the group two days later.
His mention of the Proud Boys raised their profile both in the U.S. and abroad, Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told CBC News.
“This is the best thing that could have happened to Proud Boys and the white supremacist movement in probably half a century,” Farber said.
“What if gay guys took pictures of themselves making out with each other or doing very gay things, then tagged themselves with #ProudBoys,” he wrote. “I bet it would mess them up real bad.”
One of the accounts that took part was the official Twitter account representing the Canadian Forces stationed in the U.S. They posted a photo of Master Seaman Francis Legare kissing his partner Corey Vautour in Victoria in 2016, after returning from more than eight months at sea. The photo, by Corporal Brent Kenny, for Reuters, made history for being the first public same-sex kiss by a returning member of the Royal Canadian Navy.
Capt. Kirk Sullivan, who runs the Twitter account, decided to join in on the hashtag reclamation after seeing similar posts on Sunday morning, he told HuffPost Canada.
“If you look at our past, we didn’t always treat people fairly equally. I think it’s important to acknowledge that,” Sullivan said. “It’s important to let people know, both internally within our organization and externally, what we stand for, and who we stand for and who we are.”
Sullivan, who’s originally from Newfoundland and now works in Washington, D.C., said he hopes LGBTQ people who see the photo understand that it represents the values the Canadian Armed Forces have now, even if they weren’t necessarily the values of the past.
“We defend everybody,” he said.
His post got the approval of “Schitt’s Creek” star Dan Levy, who responded with one of the most powerful signs of approval that exists in the year 2020: the thumbs up emoji followed by the heart emoji.