In March, Facebook went red for marriage equality as millions of people around the world changed their profile pictures in unity to the Human Rights Campaign logo. No one at HRC, myself included, imagined the response would become as big as it did.
Youth loom large in our work. All of us at HRC want to create a more welcoming world, and as the Supreme Court started to hear arguments about marriage equality, we wanted to send a message of hope to young people who might not feel accepted, or realize that there is a visible community of people out there who are supportive. That's when I had an idea for a campaign that could harness the power of Facebook. We changed our logo to the color of love, red, and asked people to join us, and change our profile photos together.
For many, this act marked the first time they had come out as a straight ally, or in some cases, the first time they had come out as a member of the LGBT community.
Since then, we've heard so many stories, but one really sticks out for me. One day, we got a message from a gay soldier who had come out to his mother and unfortunately, it wasn't the positive experience he was hoping for. It wasn't until he saw that his mother had also changed her profile picture to the HRC logo that he felt accepted by her. It's incredibly powerful to know that something so simple could provide such a strong feeling of support.
I know countless others experienced the same surprise that I did of seeing people flip their photos they never expected to in their News Feeds flip. For those people, this was the first step to becoming a straight ally, and now it's our job as advocates to help bring these individuals up the ladder of engagement so that the next time they receive an email from us, asking them to contact their legislator, they might do so. Or by the next time they vote, they are educated about these issues. Small steps add up.
Being at HRC has allowed me the good fortune to work on many issues I'm passionate about, while backed by an organization that is constantly innovating its education and outreach to have the most impact. We've had some incredible moments over the years – passing hate crime legislation, the first federal law that included LGBT people; the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and the November 2012 elections when for the first time, marriage equality was successful at the ballot box – but I also love meeting people who, when they hear I work at HRC, are so excited to share their own coming out story or tell me that they have our bumper sticker on their car. It's a wonderful reminder that this organization and movement are about real people and our work has a direct impact on their lives.
Because of this wonderful community of advocates, I knew that our core supporters would likely participate in our profile photo campaign, but as we started to hear reports that people across the country had changed their photos along with companies, politicians and even celebrities, I knew this had extended well beyond our network. It was a tidal wave of support. Even Grumpy Cat changed her photo.
There were only a handful of people in the office that day, as everyone else was outside the Supreme Court. Each time we saw someone change their photo, we jumped up to shout it out to the rest of the group. We were thrilled to see the campaign expand, but the creative variations other people and organizations dreamed up were especially touching.
A few weeks later, Facebook produced a map of the U.S. that featured areas of the country where individuals had changed their profile pictures. I think virtually every county in the U.S. had one or many more than one person changing their profile picture to the logo which to me, speaks volumes about where we are going as a nation in terms of acceptance and equality.
But again, we face an historic moment. The Supreme Court decisions will have a powerful impact on the LGBT community and thousands of lives. That's why we're asking, yet again, for people to take this opportunity to show their support for marriage equality and hopefully, celebrate with us.
Anastasia Khoo is the marketing director for the Human Rights Campaign.