Gay Pride-Themed Festivus Poles Are Popping Up Across the U.S.
While the religious right continues bemoaning the War on Christmas, atheist activist Chaz Stevens is poles apart in his seasonal mission.
The Florida-based software designer and executive director of the two-man equal rights advocacy organization the Humanity Fund has launched a national campaign of “elite trolling”: erecting glittery, 6-foot-tall “rainbow gay pride”-decorated Festivus poles topped with disco balls at various city halls, public spaces, and capitol grounds across the country. One will even blare the iconically campy anthem “It’s Raining Men.”
“We’re basically trolling everybody and making a mockery of the war on Christmas while being serious about the need for separation of church and state,” he told Vocativ.
Stevens is something of an expert in using a specific type of performance art to advocate for the separation of church and state. This latest venture is an expansion on his first Festivus pole crusade, which garnered national attention from the likes of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and—naturally—FOX News in 2013. (For those unacquainted, Festivus is a nondenominational, non-commercialist holiday celebrated with an unadorned aluminum pole and rituals like the Airing of Grievances on December 23. Its mythology dates back to a 1997 Seinfeld episode.) Originally, Stevens used the pole as a form of tongue-in-cheek opposition to a Tallahassee nativity scene, and other displays of Judaism and Christianity that crop up on the property of government buildings every winter.
Inspired by Kim Davis’ opposition to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, Stevens and the fellow members of his equal rights advocacy organization the “Humanity Fund” (another nod to Seinfeld), conjured up a gay pride-themed variation of the traditional beer can pole for this holiday season. A portion of the project’s proceeds raised through a struggling Indiegogo will be donated to organizations that benefit LGBT youth.
“I’m white, heterosexual and male…That makes me extremely privileged in America,” Stevens said. “But I am a lifelong ally and friend of the gay community. So when the Supreme Court reaffirmed the right that same-sex couples have to marry, [I] rejoiced. Then, [when] Kim Davis and her redneck cronies in Kentucky flouted the law…I was inspired.”
After discussing the design specifics with his Humanity Fund cohorts, two gay friends-slash-“consultants” and spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on the project, Stevens has successfully petitioned to have these poles erected at eight government buildings or public spaces in six different states. There are three in Florida, Stevens’ home state, and one at each state capital in Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Washington. The states were chosen largely at random, as considerations included whether or not he had like-minded friends or acquaintances in the region to do the pole-hoisting when the time came. (While Stevens also specifically aimed to erect poles in several of the current GOP presidential candidates’ home states, those efforts did not pan out in the end.)
While Stevens delights in opponents accusations that he is “shoving [his] pole down their throats,” he notes his fight against “Christian privilege” has gotten serious in the past. He says he has received death and torture threats in his years promoting the celebration of Festivus, but has no intention to stop.
In fact, he intends to bring gay pride Festivus poles to all 50 states next year by commissioning fellow “heathens” from across the nation to help petition for poles in their cities, as some municipalities ban non-residents from applying for the opportunity. Typically, Stevens handles the display bids himself, writing to the public officials responsible for approving them. Aside from Arkansas, where the Secretary of State’s office denied his request on grounds that the pole was not structurally sound and could violate copyright laws, his letters have been successful in states that do not limit requests to locals.
— Annie (@AnnieTowanda) December 1, 2015
Also on tap for next winter is registering The Humanity Fund into an official 501(c) organization next year in order to help balance the out-of-pocket costs. Stevens estimates that the Fund racked up approximately $10,000 this past year for pole construction, travel, shipping the pole to volunteers in states too far to travel to, and creating Indiegogo giveaway products, as well as “hundreds of hours” spent for the cause. Despite the high price, Stevens maintains that the pole is worth it, chalking his atheist activism and allyship up to civic responsibility.
“If not me, then who?” he asked. “I don’t see anybody stepping up.”