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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, June 27, 2016

entry arrow7:25 PM | The War Isn't Over

Last year, photographer Ed Freeman landed himself in hot water over a photograph he took ten years prior. That photograph, commissioned in 2005 for a cover in Frontiers, a gay magazine, did not stir controversy when it was initially published. The magazine had a small circulation, and its readers were people who could very well "read" into the image's intentions. It was also a very beautiful photograph: it featured four muscled young men of various ethnicities, some half-naked, all trying to hoist a gay pride flag -- that rainbow-themed symbol of LGBTs everywhere.

For anyone who knows history, the image is every bit a recreation of a famous older photograph, one taken on 23 February 1945 by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal who snapped a picture of five American marines trying to hoist the American flag in the heat of battle in Iwo Jima during World War II. It was a powerful image even then, a galvanising one that led the U.S. to use it for propaganda purposes (Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is a mannered account of that piece of history), and it won Rosenthal the Pulitzer Prize.

Since then, Rosenthal's photo has taken on a kind of sacred iconography -- meaning to say it touches the raw nerves of people who see it being repurposed for something else. Over the years, such sensitivity has erupted to small brawls of words. For example: Time Magazine, for a global warming issue in 2008, was criticized for publishing a cover in which the American flag was replaced with a tree.

But when the Frontiers cover came out in 2005, nobody said anything.

And it was likely because it was a time in our lives where most people were "pre-internet." The web was already around at that time, but social media -- and its predisposition to sharing -- had yet to take root. (Facebook was founded in 2004, but it would only start gaining global reach in 2008.)

In 2015, in celebration of the U.S. Supreme Court's unprecedented ruling on same-sex marriage, LGBT everywhere rejoiced by sharing a lot of things in the name of "victory" -- and this time around, Ed Freeman's ten-year-old image was whisked from the shadows of the past and into the maelstrom of things in the Instagrammable present. The picture above was shared everywhere and by everyone -- and only then did the backlash begin for Ed Freeman, and with that even some death threats.

I try to make myself understand the anger and incredulity of these folks and their insistence of keeping "pure" an iconic image. After all, it is a real image: some of those men hoisting the flag died soon after in the war. It is symbolic of real-life sacrifice, and real-life shedding of blood. I understood their pain, even if I did not quite get their anger and its underlying homophobia.

But a year hence, and so soon after Orlando, I find the image by Freeman even more appropriate to use. Because the LGBT, truth to tell, has been in a protracted war, too -- this one being fought for decades and decades, even longer than World War II. And many foot soldiers have died, have lost family, have been lobotomised, have been fired from their jobs, have been ostracised, have suffered diseased because of negligent homophobic institutions, all in the fight for equal rights. The latest victims are the 49 in Orlando whose only sin was that they wanted to be in a place where they could express their authentic selves truly. They died for that, because a gun man believed they didn't deserve that right, or that wish.

We are fighting a war. Homophobia is our Iwo Jima. And we have all the right to hoist our rainbow flag in the big battlefield of this long horrible cultural war.

[Read Ed Freeman's story over at The Washington Post.]


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