John Prosser, a teacher at Tacoma’s Jason Lee Middle School, was perusing the internet a few weeks ago when he came across something that surprised and concerned him.
A drawing he’d created almost 16 years ago was being used as the Facebook profile picture of an anti-LGBTQ religious organization which was embroiled in a viral internet fight.
The Warriors for Christ group’s use of the image — a warrior constructed of words wearing the “armor of God” — upset Prosser not only because it infringed on his copyright but also because it went against his beliefs as an LGBTQ ally. What’s more, it had become connected to a message he considered to be hateful, he said.
Prosser said he is adamant that his students stand up for social justice and not be bullies, so he knew he had to fight back.
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First, he tried to contact the WFC and filed complaints with the social media platforms on which his image was being used.
Deciding that wasn’t enough, he most recently revised his design for a T-shirt to clearly align it with the LGBTQ movement. And on Tuesday (June 27), he mailed out a cease-and-desist order to the WFC.
“I have no problem hitting the bigot where it hurts,” said Prosser, who also works part-time as a graphic designer.
The WFC’s lead pastor, Rich Penkoski, said recently his group found the image on Pinterest. Penkoski said he was unaware of any copyright issues up until Facebook removed it as the group’s profile picture, which had the Warriors for Christ logo appended to it.
The group went viral on Facebook after expressing its displeasure with a new feature Facebook offered as part of Pride Month, which celebrates LGBTQ rights and communities. Some users have had access to a “rainbow flag” button this month, which they could use to “like” a post and show solidarity with LGBTQ communities.
“A RAINBOW EMOJI WILL GET YOU INSTANTLY BANNED FROM OUR PAGE,” Warriors for Christ wrote in a June 12 post that has since been deleted.
That post backfired when LGBTQ allies flooded the page with rainbows and pro-LGBTQ comments.
A link about the uproar made its way to Prosser’s time line that same day.
“I’m looking at [the WFC] profile picture, and it’s my drawing,” he told The News Tribune last week.
Several years ago, he uploaded the image to Pinterest and tried to sell some shirts on Etsy. Many Christian groups have utilized it without permission since, Prosser said.
He said he’s been willing to work with some of them but was opposed to the Warriors of Christ using it to spread an anti-LGBTQA message.
“You can be a member of the LGBTQA+ community and be a Christian,” Prosser wrote on his website. “You can be an ally to the LGBTQA+ community and be a Christian.
“You cannot practice hate and spread anti-LGBTQA+ propaganda and be a Christian — the two are simply incompatible. Love abhors hate.”
His new shirt is rainbow colored and has a triangle (a symbol of solidarity) around the warrior.
The design was a departure from what Prosser has been working on lately — vintage-looking Tacoma landmark T-shirts — but he said it’s still art he created and a cause he cares about.
Half of his profits from the new shirt will be donated to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a civil rights rights advocacy collective, he said.
After finalizing the design for the new shirt, Prosser shared it on Instagram and tagged the Warrior for Christ account. He soon found he’d been blocked.
Penkoski said he hasn’t received any communication from Prosser, but the Tacoman said he filled out a contact form on the organization's webpage, the same form The News Tribune used to reach the pastor.
Penkoski said the WFC has deleted its copies of the image, but several were in its Facebook album until The News Tribune contacted the organization last Thursday.
It remained the group's profile picture on Twitter as of Wednesday and was only recently removed from Instagram.
According to Penkoski, the WFC Facebook page has been sent numerous threats, and he has received pornographic images in the mail in the wake of the post about the “rainbow button.”
Prosser said he did not direct anyone to threaten or troll the WFC.
“I don’t condone that, even against hate groups,” said Prosser.