I'm Going To Rant About Those Little Equal Sign Facebook Profile Pics Now

Sources: here and here.

I get it. The cute little red equal signs all over Facebook today are an easy target. It’s not Real Activism. It doesn’t actually help anyone. Get off your ass and Actually Do Something for the cause. Right?

Yes, nobody should fool themselves that changing their profile picture will convince the Supreme Court to disregard Charles Cooper’s embarrassing performance today, and nor will it bequeath to Justice Antonin Scalia the empathy for his fellow human beings that he is sorely lacking. (By the way, Scalia, there is a scientific answer to the question of same-sex couples raising kids, and the answer is that you’re probably full of poop.) It will not magically make religious conservatives support queer rights. It will certainly not solve the serious, life-threatening issues that the queer community faces–issues more urgent than marriage rights, issues nevertheless ignored by many mainstream LGBT organizations.

I am also, needless to say, completely sympathetic to the arguments of people who chose not to use the profile pic because it’s the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, which is an organization I no longer support, either, and have recently stopped donating to.

But I’m not so sympathetic to the argument that posting the pic “does nothing.” First of all, you don’t know that a given person who’s posted it is literally doing nothing else to promote queer rights. And second, yes, it does do something.

It’s pretty damn cynical (and not exactly kind to one’s friends) to just assume that not a single one of the people who changed their profile pictures today has done anything else to support queer rights. None of them have voted. None of them have donated any money to any organizations. None of them have contacted any representatives. None of them have ever supported a queer friend who was coming out or facing bigotry. None of them have argued with anyone about queer rights.

Does changing one’s profile picture to reflect a cause they believe in negate everything else they might have done to support that cause?

It’s as though some people see others doing something small–changing a profile picture, posting a status–and then assume that that’s all they do about that particular issue. Probably not.

On Facebook, a bunch of friends shared this status:

Lots of comments about slacktivism tossed around today. I see on my feed people who contribute financially to the cause of equality; people who bear the brunt of homophobic bigotry; people who speak out in blogs, videos, social networking, newspaper editorials, and essays; people who encourage and motivate their gay friends when the crap gets to them; people who stay in contact with their representatives in government; and those who work for their candidates, attend meetings, and keep like minded thinkers informed. But I don’t see any slacktivism, not on this feed.

On that note, it seems that the people complaining about “slacktivism” today don’t necessarily realize that many of the people posting the profile pic are themselves queer. While it’d certainly be nice if all queer people “actually did something” about homophobia, many of them don’t have that option. For many of them, simply getting through the day is resistance.

Which brings me to my second point: that posting the profile pic does do tangible good. How do I know? Because people said so. I saw tons of posts today from queer friends talking about how good it feels to see all the red profile pictures, because it tells them that there are so many people who want to support them–who aren’t perfect allies, maybe (but then, who is?), but who care how the Supreme Court rules. For one gay woman who wrote to Andrew Sullivan, it made a huge difference.

Helping a queer person feel loved and accepted matters. It matters just as much as donating to a queer rights organization or marching in a protest. Perhaps it even matters more.

And also? If you’re queer and you don’t feel this way about the profile pics at all, that’s okay too. It doesn’t have to matter to you. But it matters to many of us.

I don’t care if you’ve chosen not to change your profile picture. Seriously. I don’t care what your reasons for it were. I’m not judging you. I’m not going to look through my friends list and convince myself that everyone who didn’t change their profile picture hates gay people or whatever.

But it unquestionably felt nice to see so many red squares on my screen every time I checked Facebook today. Probably not for any “rational” reason. It just felt nice to know that all these people are paying attention to what’s going on, that they care about what the Supreme Court decides and they care in the direction of equality.

Maybe most of these people really haven’t “done anything” for queer rights other than change their profile picture. That’s actually fine with me, because not everybody needs to be an activist, and it’s enough to know that all these people are part of the majority of Americans who now support same-sex marriage.

And if you’re not part of that majority, you probably went on Facebook today and saw all the people who disagree with you and who aren’t going to take your shit anymore. Maybe you argued with someone who had changed their profile picture. Maybe we even started to convince you.

I think it’s vital to embrace all kinds of activism, from the easiest and least risky to the most difficult and dangerous. It’s important not to lose sight of the concrete goals that still need to be accomplished, and especially to discuss how the conversation about marriage equality marginalizes certain people and ignores certain issues. But it’s also important to recognize symbolic gestures for what they’re worth.

Being part of a minority–and being an activist–can be lonely, stressful, and discouraging. But today I felt supported and cared for. That matters.

I'm Going To Rant About Those Little Equal Sign Facebook Profile Pics Now

45 thoughts on “I'm Going To Rant About Those Little Equal Sign Facebook Profile Pics Now

  1. 1

    I saw so many of my gay friends express appreciaton for the sign of support today. And I changed my profile picture not just to show support, but also in defiance of my conservative family members and friends. I wanted them to know exactly where I stand on this.

    And now they know. I’ve gotten crape from them for it, and will get more. But you know what? That’s fine. Because of my privilege, that is the only consequence that directly affects me in this whole thing. The people I support? They have so much more at stake. And I want to let them know that I acknowledge that.

    Also, my equal sign is super-imposed over a red shaded Grumpy Cat, with the word “YES” underneath. It’s awesome.

    1. 2.1

      Alethea, I think that’s the point of this article, that even if all you can do is change your PP then that’s something! Showing your support to your friends is significant, and even if that’s all you can do that’s the point-you’re showing support and that’s great!

    2. 2.2

      Althea, as Cher, Bette Midler and Madonna are no longer fertile we the gays demand you give to them your first, second, and third born children. If Lady Gaga is still popular by the time you roll out a fourth, we may ask for that one as well.

  2. 3

    So you’re not actually ranting about the little equals sign Facebook image; it’s more that you’re ranting about people who rant about the little equals sign Facebook image. 🙂

    Anyone who assumes that people who use that image as their profile pic are doing nothing else to support gay rights is an idiot, full stop. Or at least, they’re being an idiot with regard to this particular thing. Mercifully I have not yet encountered anyone espousing such idiocy, but if I do so I won’t hesitate to inform them of such.

    One of the people I saw using the image yesterday on Facebook was one of my best friends from high school who is himself gay. Though he wasn’t out yet in high school (just teetering on the edge of it) he was part of the gay-straight alliance club that we started in 1995, and posted general appreciation for the straight allies he’s had who have supported him both then and now.

    I am also, needless to say, completely sympathetic to the arguments of people who chose not to use the profile pic because it’s the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, which is an organization I no longer support, either, and have recently stopped donating to.

    Why is that? (Not an accusation, just curiosity)

    1. 3.1

      So you’re not actually ranting about the little equals sign Facebook image; it’s more that you’re ranting about people who rant about the little equals sign Facebook image.

      Kinda both. 😛 Also, this title kind of jumped out at me and then I was amused by how people would probably see it and assume I was going to rant against the profile pics, haha.

      The HRC is notoriously weak on trans* issues and seems to represent mainly rich white gay men. Here are some great articles about the problems with the HRC, since I’m kinda all-written out at the moment:



      On a side note, I used to have an automatic monthly donation going to the HRC and they were so annoying about how they persistently called and texted and emailed me for additional money, even after I asked several times to be taken off their contact list, that that made my decision to stop donating even easier.

  3. 4

    I was on the fence, leaning towards not changing my profile pic. My friends all know that I’m firmly in the pro-equality camp; my girlfriend, a lesbian, assures me that I’m a good ally, etc.

    So changing my profile pic feels like I’m putting on a “look what a good ally I am, where’s my cookie?” show, while not accomplishing anything substantive. I pretty much feel like kind of a douche, actually.

    “But today I felt supported and cared for.”

    Some of the queer folks I know, like my girlfriend, have commented that they feel the same way. That’s a good enough argument for me. I change my mind, and my profile picture, too. Thanks.

  4. 5

    Here’s what I posted on Facebook after changing my profile pic:

    I know a judge isn’t going to be convinced by my profile picture. I konw none of you are going to be convinced by it. I know it’s kind of facile, and I know it’s slacktivism.

    BUt I thought it was cool to see dozens of equal signs on my wall, and I wanted to add another to the dozens on other people’s walls. That’s all.

  5. 7

    All I have to say ATM is this: Solidarity can’t happen when supporters are invisible, and progress doesn’t happen in a vacuum. What if no one changed their profile pict, what if no one ever said what they thought out loud for fear of it not being “enough?” What would that look like, what would that feel like? It would feel like no one gave a fuck. It would look like no one gave a fuck. It would tell the people who do give a fuck that they are alone in their fuck giving. Publicly declaring that one unilaterally gives a fuck may not be the end all, be all of activism, but hot damn, it’s a good start and a good show.

  6. 9

    Lovely. And it brings tears to my eyes, as a mom of a queer youth, to see the amazing show of support. It also does my heart a goodness to be visible as an ally, to be asked “So, what’s with the red equal signs?”, and to be able to explain it and bring another potential ally into realization and support.

    It is far from the only action I take, as a queer identified, married to a man, straight-seeming woman, and mom of a queer daughter. But it IS an action to that me matters greatly. It goes far and deeply beyond the merely symbolic.

  7. 10

    Thank you for this. I when I changed my profile picture I wrote, “This is a choice. I don’t think everyone has to make the same choice. But for the people who snark at that choice and marriage equality, this is my fuck you.”

  8. 11

    I’m so glad you said something. I’m on Facebook for 30 seconds per day and would have missed the chance to show support. It’s not voting, speaking out, writing about it, talking to people against or on the fence to try to change minds… but it’s a way of saying “I’m here, I support you, I’ll do what it takes to help. You have me, too!” And I know from experience just how much a visibile show of support can uplift a person. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for reminding us that even the little actions matter.

  9. 12

    Thank you. Also #8 and probably everyone else. I’ve been an ally for a long time and pursue an “alternative” lifestyle. So seeing all the red on my feed is support for people I love and tangentially support for me. And this is the first time I really feel it. I get irritated at the posts that say “share if you…”, and I frequently DON’T change my profile picture or status for cancer, depression, etc. Yesterday, I changed my profile picture. So, even if it meant nothing to anyone else, it would mean something to me. That lots of other people changed, too, dang, that makes it solidarity. You can *SEE* it!

  10. 13

    I changed my avatar to the equal sign. I HAVE supported gay rights for as long as I have known WHAT ‘gay’ meant. I have actively stopped bullying of gays. I have voted for gay rights, I have protested for gay rights, I have attended gay marriages. I am a 50+ black female, and I have always supported Gay Rights.

  11. 14

    Memes matter. If this was all people did, yes nothing would change. But when people see how many friends and friends of friends care about this issue, it may make them them stop and think about what their positions and actions are on this issue and how they might change or improve them.

    You could make the same argument you made cut profile pics about gay-pride parades. How is a parade going to change anything? By raising awareness and keeping an issue on the front of people’s minds and the national agenda.

  12. 15

    Normally I groan at arm-chair activism like reposting or changing pics; did anyone go get Kony? This is different though. Directly. In almost all cases, you aren’t going to effect the outcome, but there are only 9 people that are going to make these rulings. Further there are a few who are solidly on one side or the other. Those remaining few are going to see the news reports of the facebook support or maybe they even have facebook or their kids or grandkids do. When they see how many people have changed their pics, they might ask themselves, “do I want to be on the wrong side of history here?”

    Changing one or two people’s minds doesn’t usually cause much difference, but when those people are on the Supreme Court they sure can!

  13. 16

    I’m groaning, and I’ll tell you why. I understand the power of cyber-activism sometimes — hell, Arab Spring and Anonymous are proof of that. However, cyber-activism should not and cannot replace canvassing, marching, rallies, lobbying Congress and other methods of face-to-face networking. THAT is where change is made. It damn sure is not going to come from a bunch of people changing their status, pictures, etc.

    I am in favor of people showing solidarity, but in times like this, with so much at stake, this is not enough.

  14. 17

    I’m not on Facebook, but I know it would make me feel better — yes, “cared for” is a good phrase — to see such a declaration of support. Especially from someone I hadn’t known 100% what they thought about gay rights; I have a number of religious friends who know I am bisexual and an atheist, but it’s not a thing we’ve talked about much. It would be a very pleasant surprise (if I were on Facebook) to see one of them displaying an equals sign.

    So part of its value could be revealing to gay people that the people in their lives support them, to an extent they may never have suspected.

    It may not be activism, but I do think it has value.

  15. 18

    It’s easy to criticize from an armchair and to spend time writing a complaint about changing one’s profile picture, when it only takes a few seconds compared to your roughly ten to twenty minutes of complaining. You’re being an idealist cynic and are constituting an equivalent annoyance to what you perceive to be annoying. Should people be more involved? Yes, but insulting them is the least effective way to encourage street activism. Please swallow your cynical pride and be positive for a moment. This is much better than nothing at all. Embrace the reality that you cannot have what you expect in people move on.

  16. 20

    A lot of people who are against gay marriage live in a vacuum. Everyone they know is against it. Seeing a whole bunch of people they just assumed were on their side aren’t may have an affect.

  17. 21

    what gets me is the opposite reaction. Just because someone does NOT share the facebook Cause-O-the-Day image, post, or whatever does not mean they do not support or care about that cause.

    The best way to get me to “not” repost something is the “99% of my friends do not care or are not brave enough to repost this” tag in images.

    1. 21.1

      Does anyone other than the tiny minority of people who create memes with that line actually think that, though?

      For instance, as I said in this post, I literally couldn’t care less if so-and-so didn’t change their profile pic. That’s just not the point.

  18. 22

    You said it much more eloquently and completely than I did! This was my take on it earlier today on FB:

    I’ve seen a couple of comments and memes going around, basically saying that the wall of red equality signs on FB is useless. And well, in a way, that’s correct. No amount of FB pictures is going to change the ruling that happens in the court. But for those people out there who live with this issue affecting their daily lives, who have frequently felt marginalized or unsupported by society, I know it does help to see that people care, and are willing to show that they are supportive of the issue. Saying “Good luck tomorrow” when someone has a big event doesn’t change the facts, either, but it shows that you care, and that can make a lot of difference in the lives of the people it touches. Not to mention, some people are actually unaware of what is going on in the courts, and spreading awareness, whether passively or directly, is not a bad thing. It can be an overwhelmingly positive thing, and honestly, it has been really heartening to see how many people support this issue, not just in my collection of liberal FB friends, but across the nation. And I have so little cause to say “heartening” instead of “disheartening” usually, so that in and of itself is cause for happiness. 🙂

    (For the record, I also don’t think anyone actually thinks that changing their Facebook profile picture is a suitable substitute for taking action. It’s just a show of support and solidarity. It’s a grand one. And I love it.)

  19. 23

    Thank you for this. Though the one other thing I’ve seen from a number of my queer friends (and as part of the queer community, I do get where they’re coming from), is a refusal to partake in this, because “marriage isn’t an issue we should be supporting. It’s heteronormative bullsh*t adn just detracting from the ‘real’ issues”. It makes me sad. Because it seems like they are just trying to create more anger and division. I, however, did change my profile picture, after much thought on the matter, because it made me feel really loved and cared for and warm fuzzies when I saw a nearly completely red facebook news feed, and I wanted to contribute to that warm fuzzy feeling for others, too. Honestly, I don’t think marriage is the most important queer-based issue. But it is a step in the right direction, and we can’t fix everything at once.

    1. 23.1

      Yeah, someone on Tumblr said this really well: http://missvoltairine.tumblr.com/post/46353545388/im-done-w-dealing-with-people-who-are-convinced

      Feminist Hulk also said it really well, albeit differently: https://www.facebook.com/BruteReason/posts/355417674578753

      Also, like most things, this is all wrapped up in the issue of privilege. For a middle- or upper-class person, it might be easy to dismiss marriage as frivolous, but for someone who desperately needs insurance coverage or a visa, maybe not so much.

  20. 24

    Don’t bother RANTING, my Darling. Use your voice to support or … perhaps just keep it to your personal self. The symbols we post SOCIALLY ONLINE are no more than a collective way to say (from near and far via the awesome power of the internet) that WE ARE AWARE! WE SUPPORT, AND WE LOVE our friends, sisters, and brothers. We believe in LOVE. Any observation or commentary which does not present this as a Major Reason … and understand our LACK OF HONEST REPRESENTATION IN GOVERNMENT, is (given the legal ramifications on this day and those to come in the Supreme Court) … *sigh* … Not helpful.

    1. 24.1

      These are the smartest words I’ve seen on this page yet. To assume that all those who post the squares or any comparable symbol are lazy and unwilling to ‘get off their asses’ and do something is to silently proclaim great ignorance. I too have a symbol that represents my stance, as a facebook profile picture – is that to say that I haven’t done anything further to support what I believe in. I’m an American citizen living in a foreign country and I submit my absentee ballots when voting takes place. My facebook picture is just an appendage to my voice not in lieu of.

  21. 25

    These are the smartest words I’ve seen on this page yet. To assume that all those who post the squares or any comparable symbol are lazy and unwilling to ‘get off their asses’ and do something is to silently proclaim great ignorance. I too have a symbol that represents my stance, as a facebook profile picture – is that to say that I haven’t done anything further to support what I believe in. I’m an American citizen living in a foreign country and I submit my absentee ballots when voting takes place. My facebook picture is just an appendage to my voice not in lieu of. It’s a shame to see that you are a psychology major yet you easily and quickly lump an entire population of people into one category based on a single photo they use for their facebook profile pictures.

  22. 26

    Another twitter comment, by Linda Holmes (who writes for NPR): “Changing your social media avatar in response to *any* news event is not activist; it is communicative. Understood that way, it’s effective.”

    Similar idea, although dialed back a bit. I’d say that it depends on your definition of “activist”: if trying to convince other people of your ideas is activist, then it can be, especially if your followers/friends/family are primarily in the camp opposed to whatever you support. It’s been shown again and again that people become more accepting of entire groups of others once they’re close to someone who is in that group, so realizing that someone they love is in that camp can help change their mind.

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