A 16,000-pound Civil War cannon in midtown Mobile has long been painted the colors of the victors in the annual football game between Murphy High and McGill-Toolen.
It has also been painted pink in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
But never has the local landmark at Government and Houston streets been draped in a multi-colored rainbow. That changed on May 28, when members of Mobile’s arts and LGTBQ community obtained a permit and had the cannon painted in honor of Pride Month.
For the most part, it’s been received well in Mobile with few negative comments.
But a public backlash came on Tuesday during the Mobile City Council meeting. The owner of a local lawn care company showed up before council members and blasted city officials for allowing what he called a “disgrace.”
“It’s another sad attempt to normalize their behavior,” said Phil Arceneaux, who also bashed past LGBTQ events in Mobile including Drag Queen Story Hour during comments in which he quoted biblical verses. “I’m absolutely sickened.”
Bryan Fuenmayor, a Mobile activist who paid for the cannon’s painting, was not at the council meeting. He later told AL.com, “In my personal opinion, every time you make progress, more and more the ones who are against it will start to feel more trapped into a corner and will start lashing out harder. I think that is what we are starting to see.”
City officials did not respond to Arceneaux’s comments, but Fuenmayor and others say his comments are similar to the public backlash or added scrutiny on Pride events and displays this year.
Recent examples include:
- Five pitchers for the Tampa Bay Rays opted out from wearing a Pride Month-inspired logo on Saturday by saying it was a “faith-based decision.” The decision sparked some outrage, including criticism from St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty who tweeted about the players justification for forgoing the logo as an “absolute joke.”
- Jeff Molina, an MMA competitor, wore the UFC’s special uniform on Saturday in recognition of Pride Month. After his fight at UFC Vegas 56, Molina said he was bothered by fans critical of his choice, saying he felt they would have been a little more “open-minded.” He also revealed some of the criticism including comments from one person who claimed he was going to “burn in Hell” for wearing the rainbow colors.
- The US Marine Corps recognized the start of Pride Month by positing on Twitter a picture of a combat helmet with rainbow-colored bullets on it. Criticism and mockery followed on social media.
- Georgia Republican US Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called for the end of Pride Month.
Maigen Sullivan, co-founder and director of research and development with the Invisible Histories Project based in Birmingham, said she believes the backlash against Pride events and Drag Queen Story Hour and other events is “directly related to what is happening in legislatures across the country “
“The rhetoric coming for our political institutions allows those with harmful ideologies around LGBTQ people to feel emboldened and protected,” Sullivan said. “Our representatives have the responsibility to serve the entirety of their constituents and, particularly in this manic bipartisan time we are in, they are not.”
More than 300 bills viewed as “anti-LGBTQ” by the Human Rights Campaign were introduced in state legislative bodies this year. Alabama signed into two new laws this spring that limits medical care for transgender youths, bathroom access and restricts sex educational discussions in public schools.
The campaign for governor included anti-LGBTQ messaging. Tim James, a GOP candidate for governor, repeatedly struck out at Magic City Acceptance Academy – a one-of-its-kind LGBTQ-affirming charter school in Homewood. Security had to be added to the school during the lead-up to the Republican primary.
“It is not the first time we’ve seen actions by local, state and federal governments encourage discriminatory behavior,” said Sullivan. “For LGBTQ people, we’ve been here before. We’ve fought. We won.”
Fuenmayor said in Mobile, among city leaders, his efforts were met favorably. He said he paid for the permit to have the cannon painted. It will remain awash in rainbow colors until June 20.
The painting, overseen by the Mobile Arts Council, went off without a hitch.
“From what I’ve been told, they got one nasty comment but otherwise there were a bunch of honks in support,” said Fuenmayor, who paid a $290 fee for a 30-day permit to have the cannon painted and to have police provide traffic control along Government Street.
He said that Mobile has made some progress within the past year. Two LGBTQ liaisons were added to serve as direct links to the mayor’s office, which is a first.
Fuenmayor also said the city, for the second year in a row, is partnering with the LGBTQ community for Pride ArtWalk. That will take place on Friday in downtown Mobile.
Pride events are taking place in Baldwin County this year as well. In Fairhope, organizers are planning a Color Fairhope with Pride Festival on June 18, hosted by the Fairhope Chapter of Prism United, and held from 1-5 pm at South Beak Park near the Fairhope Pier.
The event is the first full-scale Pride Month festival in Baldwin County.
Sarah Fischer, an event organizer, said that businesses and organizations, both large and small, plan to participate.
Fischer said there have been few negative reactions, aside from social media snips. She said she believes someone is planning to speak out against the event at an upcoming Fairhope City Council meeting, but that there is a little the city can do about it: Prism United has paid to rent out the park and is not asking for additional services.
Fuenmayor and Fischer both say they hear more from supporters than anyone expressing outrage despite the recent political activity viewed as anti-LGBTQ.
“Overall, I don’t think we’re losing any previous supporters,” said Fuenmayor. “If anything, we’re gaining more and more and changing the culture.”