Controversial Pride Flag Promotes Equality and Charity Amidst Backlash
In 2001, Freeman created an image of four men holding up a pride flag in a pose similar to that of the historic Iwo Jima flag raising for the cover of Frontiers Magazine’s annual Pride issue. After the Supreme Court ruling in favor of legalizing gay marriage two weeks ago, his photo started making the rounds online and what was originally meant for a gay men’s magazine began to symbolize something else and find a new audience of supporters and detractors alike.
“I had one gay veteran write me this beautiful, elegant letter that said ‘When you raise any kind of flag, you’re raising it for something greater than yourself,’” said Freeman. He read from another message he received saying, “You took a photo that stands for an idea, and made it stand for an idea again.
Another letter of support read, “What many of the haters refuse to acknowledge are the multitude of LGBTQ men and women who have died and been killed simply for being who they are. That’s what your picture makes me think of, those that have come before us to make our voices heard and create the way for gay rights and equality.”
Freeman also shared negative comments and letters he’s received, which he keeps in the same document file on his computer, one of which read, “Go to hell asshole, you mock god, fuck you and your profiteering, you bunch of faggots are disgracing the men who put the stars and stripes on that mountaintop.” To that, Freeman said, “The only thing I’m selling is civil rights.”
Since the rediscovery of his image went viral, Freeman has decided to sell prints of the newly famous image with all proceeds going to charity. “I think if I can make a contribution as a result of this, then fine, I will,” said Freeman. “I’d be a fool not to use it for good.”
A particularly threatening message he had to report to police read, “You’re fucked, if i ever see you i will shoot you in the head for taking this picture, I hope you burn in hell with the rest of these fags.” Freeman said, “That just reminds you that the struggle is not over, just because the supreme court ruled in one direction doesn’t mean everybody’s all happy.”
“I totally understand how you could feel that way ‘You’re equating the gay liberation movement to the sacrifice the marines made at Iwo Jima,’” said Freeman. “I’m not. I’m saying thank you for that incredibly symbolic photograph, I’m going to use it to support a very different thing, at a very different time in history, and use that symbolism to inspire people to struggle and eventually triumph.”
Freeman never saw himself as a gay activist, even though he feels he’s now been thrust into that role “if only for a week,” as his photo makes the rounds online. In light of the progression that LGBTQ rights has taken since he first created the image, Freeman says the only change he would make is to represent lesbians and trans persons, a thought that never crossed his mind as he was shooting the image for a magazine whose demographic was largely gay males.
Freeman says that he grew up during a time where many states had laws against homosexuality that described sodomy or other homosexual acts as “crimes against nature too heinous to mention.” He sees all civil rights matters as a work in progress saying, “I thought we fixed this when i was 19. It’s not fixed, guess we gotta be more patient.”
Freeman is donating all proceeds from the selling of the prints to the Thrive Tribe Foundation, an organization that serves HIV-positive men and aims to educate people and reduce the HIV transmission rate. Ed Freeman’s photography site.