Ahead of tonight’s State of the Union, the GOP’s social media team ran head-on into a problem that it won’t stop facing for the next few decades.
Eventually, the Republican Party is going to want something from the same gay community it has spent the last century intentionally degrading, humiliating, or pissing off.
In a gallingly stupid attempt to capture the vote of every 14-year-old who wears a tuxedo to school, GOP.gov announced #SNAPOfTheUnion, a hashtag that doesn’t even rhyme with the thing it’s supposed to rhyme with. It doesn’t matter what is intended to be posted to #SNAPOfTheUnion because no one will use that hashtag.
What matters is who the party used to promote it.
Louis Virtel was a Jeopardy contestant who lent his face to a series of memes last year. The one with the most traction? When he snapped his fingers in victory after answering correctly on a Daily Double. When he became a resplendent (if temporary) gay icon on social media, he wrote about it all for his employer HitFix.
“I snapped my fingers at the camera during my introduction; I snapped again with full In Living Color gusto after I responded correctly on a Daily Double. Before the closing credits, I posed like Linda Evangelista with a ladylike arm in the air,” he wrote.
“It all felt fantastic and organic, a reflection of my obsession with the show. But I hate, hate, hate that I didn’t just say ‘I’m gay’ on air.”
Since then, his social media fame burgeoned, just as his Jeopardy memes withered into the back of Google Image Search.
That was until yesterday, when Louis’s face and fingers reappeared as a promotional vehicle, without his permission, for a GOP platform that has been fighting a wildly unpopular battle against equal rights for gay Americans.
“I think the ways we represent ourselves—even in seemingly innocuous ways like a victory snap—are crucial,” Virtel told The Daily Beast. “Seeing my image stolen and plastered up on a ‘funny’ GOP post fills me with contempt.”
Virtel is now trying to get the GOP to pull his image.
“Hey, GOP! Your candidates are horrifying garbage who’ve done nothing for LGBT rights. Don’t use my image,” he tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
It’s not about the use of his image in a particularly meme, which Virtel has gotten used to. He said he initially just found the whole thing “annoying.” Then he “thought about it for a full second and it was a horrifying.”
“I’m a comic and writer who is militantly proud of being gay, expressing and owning my gayness, and the LGBT community,” he said. “The Republican Party is proud of slandering gay people; they spread harmful propaganda about the LGBT community that keeps us scared and traumatized, even as we make progress with unendingly uphill effort.”
After all, his likeness is being used on the same page that promotes the Snapchat account for “the House Republican Conference [that] is building an agenda for the people, by the people’s representatives.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy voted against civil unions for gay couples, prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and against expanding hate crime laws to include LGBT individuals.
Virtel knows exactly what kind of toll those votes can take on LGBT youth.
“I think every day about closeted gay kids who want to kill themselves because their parents are ignorant, fearful Republicans,” Virtel tweeted.
That ignorance, Virtel says, shines through for a party attempting to gloss over centuries of its own vicious rhetoric while trying to look cool on Snapchat.
“It’s no surprise to me that the regressive, out-of-touch GOP feels they need to invoke Internet memes to stay relevant,” he said. “It’s proof of their ignorance that they can’t detect which people in those memes would find them horrifying.”