TW: photo with F slur, other uses censored
At the 200 block of North Richmond Street in Appleton, Wis., a digital billboard at the side of a locally owned business flashed “Now those f*****s” as part of a string of messages to the local government in attempts to show disgust in a recent project.
In the week of April 12, the sign continued to include the homophobic slur in phrases such as “Where did the f*****s … Put My Head?” … “I’m Joe McCarthey (sic)” and “I was right.”
Local musician Carson Blake (they/them) had seen photos of the sign making its rounds on social media, and actually ended up having a close encounter with the owner of the building the sign is on.
They were surprised at first to see the sign because it 1) involves one’s right to free speech; and 2) could be a hate crime if it incites violence.
“I feel like I know more than the average bear but nothing super personally,” Blake said. “I had gone into town to get my haircut and to and to go to Dr. Jekyll’s because they were fundraising for trans things specifically, like raising money for a name change fund.
“I had all my queer stuff on and while I had time, I’ll go down and get a picture of the sign myself,” they continued. “But beforehand I was hungry, and I saw online that he was at Copper Rock doing an interview.”
Once Blake walked into Copper Rock, they described the businessman as a “Davy Crockett wannabe,” sporting a cowboy hat and long, silver hair. He called attention to himself after Blake walked in by announcing he was the “guy with the sign.”
“He was definitely eyeing me up,” Blake said. “I’ve got my social justice scooter with my rainbow flag and Black Lives Matter sign, and I’m in my team pride rainbow shirt – you know, just gaying it up in my rainbow mask.”
Blake thought they were in a safe enough space to discuss the slur and the sign with the man, so they proceeded to converse for a few minutes.
“I wasn’t going to coddle him; he was being civil,” they explained. “I want to set the stereotype that queer people are not always out to get you. … If he wants to explain himself, or maybe get some learning in on, you know, then maybe I can say something.”
He told Blake a mix of things: first that he didn’t realize it was a slur, but then said he knew the origins of the word and asked if they did.
He then tried to tell them he put the sign up because he wanted to call the government out for moving a statue. Blake thinks it was more or less memorializing a confederate, and they moved it to a history museum.
“What he told me was he was trying to call out the government by using a quote because of the statue,” Blake added.
A lady came in shortly after their conversation began and told Carson they don’t need to explain anything to the business owner.
“If you both know where it comes from, they don’t owe you any explanation,” they recalled the woman saying.
“For the readers if they don’t know the origin of the F slur: In England, people were burning folks at the stake for being against God,” Blake explained. “For homosexuals, they weren’t even worth their own pyre and were burned with a pile of sticks.”
After a few minutes, Blake decided to leave.
“When he was implying he knew the history of a potentially harmful and derogatory word and still didn’t understand why it was so harmful to people, that’s when I started getting emotional,” they said. “How can you sit there and defend yourself like this with all the information you say you have?”
Soon after Blake’s conversation with the man, a peaceful protest had been scheduled to take place that weekend to demonstrate the hatred and bigotry behind the f slur.
“I know a lot of activists in Appleton,” they said. “Once it started making its rounds, I thought, ‘It’s almost summer – I know what people are itching to do, and that’s calling out people when they’re being mean.”
By the time they went to the protest, the owner had changed what it said a few times. And at one point during the demonstration, the sign changed to say a phrase that used the acronym “LGBQ,” excluding the T.
“I don’t know if that was ignorance or intentional,” they said. “Is he genuinely sorry, is he being sarcastic or just wanting attention?”
People were lined up on public property with rainbow attire – flags, signs, all the good stuff – some were playing queer music. Some cars would honk, and jerks in their trucks would deliberately smoke them out.
The city ordered a sign to be delivered by the city that said, “Hate has no home here” and other positive, reassuring messages.
Blake thought the peaceful demonstration was not to call out the homophobic slur but to send a message to other LGBTQ folks that they do not condone the hateful use of the term.
“Their goals were making sure the queer and LGBTQ community felt loved and accepted and make up for the harm that was originally caused,” they said. “It was a demonstration for the community itself to show we don’t feel that way about them; that they’re welcome here. We want this bigotry to stop and we’re not going to stand for that.
“Just to feel the togetherness was really impactful.”
To read more about the peaceful protest from April 17, take a look at this article from the Appleton Post Crescent.