More than a decade ago, photographer Ed Freeman set out to capture the gay rights struggle in a photograph for the cover of Frontiers, a gay magazine. To do so, he relied on an image — the flag-raising at Iwo Jima — that has been imitated and adapted countless times since it was captured in the midst of one of America’s bloodiest battles.
The photograph was taken Feb. 23, 1945, four days into an operation that would rage for more than a month. Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal snapped the image as five Marines and a Navy corpsman raised an American flag on Mount Suribachi, the highest summit on the Pacific island. Within weeks, three of those Marines were killed in combat, putting them among the 6,821 American fatalities on Iwo Jima. An additional 19,000-plus U.S. troops were wounded, and more than 18,800 Japanese troops also died.
Rosenthal’s photograph received a Pulitzer Prize, and became the centerpiece of a multi-billion dollar war bond effort. It also inspired the Marine Corps War Memorial, the equally iconic bronze monument at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery that was erected in honor of all Marines killed in combat. In short, Rosenthal’s image became — and remains — a spiritual force.
Freeman found that out the hard way last week. More than a decade after his adaptation of the photograph was published, it circulated on social media following the Supreme Court’s decision Friday to allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
That prompted a backlash against Freeman — including a death threat he says he reported to the FBI.
“He said if he ever saw me, he’d kill me,” Freeman said in a phone interview. “I got swamped with vitriolic hate mail.”
Reaction on Twitter was mixed:
Altering the American flag colors && trying to remake the "Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima" photograph with the gay pride flag is degrading
— Taylor Paulk (@taypaulk) July 1, 2015
The gay flag remake of the flag that flew at Iwo Jima is just insulting to America and those who have died for this country
— Jacob Anthony (@LabGrappler_95) June 27, 2015
I get all that gay marriage stuff but to replace the American flag from the iconic Iwo Jima picture, just no
— Kev (@youngmadrista7) June 27, 2015
Alright, I'm glad for gay marriage but I've been seeing the flag changed to rainbow. And in specific The Iwo Jima depiction, that's not cool
— B-RyanCranston (@ryan1357nayr) June 26, 2015
Freeman, who is gay, also was blasted on Facebook after posting his gay pride Iwo Jima image along with a message saying it never occurred to him that it would “someday come to symbolize the victory we are celebrating today.”
When I took this picture almost ten years ago, it never, never occurred to me that it would someday come to symbolize the victory we are celebrating today. Congratulations to all of us! Love to you all.
Posted by Ed Freeman Photography on Friday, June 26, 2015
Many of the responses were heated.
“Im all for gay rights and equal for all but DO NOT DISRESPECT THOSE WHO SERVED, SACRIFICED, AND DIED FOR YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RIGHTS AND FREEDOM,” wrote one commentor in response. “Its this [expletive] that will drive ppl to hate on you. You WANT RESPECT THEN GIVE IT TO THOSE WHO DESERVE AND EARNED IT.”
Read more: Washington Post