Luis Macias knew he had struck internet gold when the first symptoms of virality hit the meme that he had uploaded of Mike Pence standing alongside a muscular gay man in a rolled-up shirt.
“Mike Pence – blast from the gay past,” reads Macias’ caption on the meme that’s since been shared tens of thousands of times. The man pictured next to Pence is actually former gay porn actor Brad Patton.
Macias, 33, says he didn’t create the meme, but his Facebook page became the epicenter for meme’s viral spread across the internet this week. More than 20,000 shares came from his account alone.
Though the meme is a joke, Macia says he hopes that by spreading it far and wide on the internet it’ll draw serious attention to Pence’s bigotry against the LGBTQ community. Because there’s a harsh reality behind the cheap laugh.
“This election really hits close to home,” Macias told me. “I’m gay. I was undocumented. I’m a minority. So the Trump-Pence win really makes me want to take action.”
The image, which shows a gay man who looks like a younger Mike Pence, has clearly resonated with a lot of people in the LGBT community who are worried about having an anti-gay crusader one heartbeat away from the presidency.
“Pence is so dangerous to homosexuals in this country,” said Mike Borses, an illustrator who was one of the first to find and repost the meme on Friday, starting it on its journey to virality.
Borses says many Americans don’t realize how dangerous Pence is, but “this meme offers a way to get people to look into his relationship with gay people.”
But like all things viral, the meme took on a life of its own and has been interpreted differently by different people.
One tweet of the meme, which has been shared 4,500 times, claims the photo is of Pence with his former gay lover in a bathhouse.
Another tweet, shared 1,600 times, claims the photo is proof that the young gay Pence is aging beautifully.
But Borses and Macias said their original intent was to call attention to Pence’s anti-gay history, and just how wildly out of touch he is with most of mainstream America.
Not everyone is laughing. Some members of the LGBT community think the meme is homophobic and and ultimately makes fun of gay men. Borses, however, says racy comedy is a powerful tool and that in the current political climate it sometimes it takes inflammatory language to get noticed.
“Using satire to highlight the use of hearsay and innuendo to connect with your constituents with dog whistle signaling is not gay bashing,” Borses told me. “It’s a bold act of defiance against a society that in many quarters wants to see us expunged from their culture and refuses to protect our rights to employment or housing.”
“Mike Pence once supported the use of federal funding to treat people ‘seeking to change their sexual behavior,’ Macias said. The issue is personal to Macias because his parents are very religious and didn’t accept him after he came out.
(As governor of Indiana Pence advocated for using taxpayer dollars to fund “gay conversion therapy,” a dangerous practice that has been discredited by every mainstream medical and mental health organization. For decades.)
But who is responsible for making the meme? Turns out it was created in October by a twenty-seven-year-old New Yorker named Daniel Thomas.
“I saw that Brad Patton looked weirdly similar to Pence and did the side by side, it only took few minutes,” Thomas told me.
He says the meme was meant to be a joke that riffed on other Republicans who had strong anti-LGBT positions and then ended up gay scandals.
“This just worked perfect,” Thomas said.
“The Trump campaign was full of lies and delusion anyway, so why not create one of my own,” he claimed.