Less than a week after the far-right group the Proud Boys were mentioned at the presidential debate, the group’s name is being taken over on Twitter by gay men.

During the debate last Tuesday, President Donald Trump did not condemn the “western chauvinist” men’s group that the Southern Poverty Law Center says is a hate group. But on social media, many men in the LGBTQ community began sharing photos of themselves and their partners to counter the group’s rhetoric.

“What if gay guys took pictures of themselves making out with each other or doing very gay things, then tagged themselves with #ProudBoys,” “Star Trek” actor George Takei, who is gay, tweeted Thursday.

Many have been posting the photos using the hashtag #ProudBoys and often sharing how long they have been with their partner.

Debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump last Tuesday whether he would condemn white supremacists and militia groups and urge them to stand down and avoid contributing to the violence. When Trump asked for a specific group, Democratic nominee Joe Biden named the Proud Boys.

“Proud Boys, stand back and stand by,” Trump said. 

Megan Squire, a professor of computer science at Elon University in North Carolina who studies online extremism, said the comment led the group’s organizers to feel “validated.”

The Proud Boys publicly deny supporting white supremacy, but the group has tolerated racism among its ranks and associated with overtly racist figures, said Amy Cooter, a Vanderbilt University senior lecturer who studies nationalism, race and ethnicity.

Founded in 2016 by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, the group has since been involved in violent confrontations, and their presence during social unrest often devolves into fights and violence.

An ongoing lawsuit filed by McInnes says the law center’s characterizations of him as a “‘hate’ figure” are “defamatory, false and misleading” as well as “purposefully deceitful.”

Not all were supportive of the push to use the hashtag and questioned whether it was effective. Some were critical of how many using it were white gay men and note how even some members of the Proud Boys are gay.

Enrique Tarrio, a Proud Boy leader, told CNN that the group was not homophobic and that he understand what using the hashtag was trying to accomplish.

“I think it’s hysterical,” Tarrio told CNN. “This isn’t something that’s offensive to us. It’s not an insult. We aren’t homophobic. We don’t care who people sleep with. People think it’s going to bother us. It doesn’t.”

Contributing: David Oliver and Joel Shannon

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