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Mary Elizabeth Williams: Red bar logos for gay rights matter

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Updated: April 29, 2013 11:57AM

The rainbow has gone in a decidedly more monochromatic direction. If you’ve been on Facebook this week, chances are you’ve already noticed. As the black-robed Supreme Court weighed two cases involving marriage equality, users have swapped out their usual smiling-during-a-sunset profile pictures with the Human Rights Campaign’s scarlet and pink-hued equal sign logo.

The stampede began, as anything Facebook-related does, with George Takei. The actor and social media icon posted the HRC logo earlier this week with a note explaining that “For those friends wondering, this special ‘red’ equality symbol signifies that marriage equality really is all about love. Thanks to the Human Rights Campaign for this effort. Please consider changing your profile today in support — esp if you are a straight ally.”

And what Mr. Sulu says, goes. By the end of Tuesday, Facebook had all but turned red, with plain equal signs, glittery equal signs and ones tweaked to feature such legendary couples as Bert and Ernie and Peppermint Patty and Marcie. The drinking community even got in on the act, with both Smirnoff and Absolut updating their FB avatars to reflect their own twists on equality.

As political forums go, Facebook is a pretty safe space to give vent to your leanings. You are, after all, among those who reside on a list called “friends.” And posting a red logo is an effortless act. It’s not a monetary contribution to the HRC or the Trevor Project. It doesn’t involve getting on a bus and standing outside in the cold for a gathering outside the Supreme Court building. It’s not a vote. Ultimately, we all know that Antonin Scalia couldn’t care less what your avatar is. And as a friend whose Facebook image is of her with her wife and baby daughter says, “I was going to change my profile picture to the red equality sign, but realized that my current picture is what it’s all about.”

So does it matter?

My friend Ginnette, who is straight, thinks it does. She calls it “a truly spontaneous gesture of solidarity.”

Another straight friend, Stacey, acknowledges that “although I know that what happens on Facebook will do nothing to change the mind of SCOTUS,” it’s a personal affirmation — “one more reinforcement to a cause I believe in.”

My friend Pieter says simply, “A ‘yeah, me too’ is a good thing.”

And my colleague Kera, who is gay, says, “There is something so incredibly moving and overwhelming when you open your FB page, and you see friends from all over the country, indeed the world — straight, gay, left, right — taking the time to swap out their mugs for the HRC symbol in solidarity, so that your entire newsfeed is one big same-sex marriage rally.”

That’s why the gesture — which Perez Hilton refers to as “the greatest idea since stuffed crust pizza” — has weight and meaning. It’s not directed at the world. It’s not a letter to the Supreme Court. It’s a statement of love and support to the people who matter most — the ones you call your friends. It’s a sweet, simple, powerful way of showing that when you take the faces off Facebook, you’re left with a lot of big, open hearts.

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a writer for Salon, where this was posted.

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