A pop up barbecue truck in Kentucky has caused a stir this week after launching a new T-shirt that critics are calling disrespectful and homophobic. Belle’s Smokin’ BBQ, based in Williamstown, has come under fire after its website featured a design including an appropriated version of the LGBTQ acronym, which ordinarily stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer. In the restaurant’s version, however, this original meaning was replaced with “LIBERTY, GUNS, BIBLE, TRUMP, BBQ”.
Though restaurant owner Jamie Smith claims that he has been selling the controversial shirts for several years, it was not until this week that they began to attract attention. In a message posted to Facebook on Thursday, Smith revealed the shirts’ full caption to the internet, accompanied with a caption reading, “We are going to stock up on some Swag. Hat and shirts. Let me know what yall [sic] want via text message. We are going to have our traditional Belles shirts, trucker hats. We will also have our LGBTQ shirts as well Belle’s logo on the back. For those who said (wtf).” The post has since been deleted.
Speaking to Cincinnati.com, Smith claimed that he “posted the shirt today for new swag and it just went out of hand and it got blowed up [sic.]” when it was spotted on social media. Criticism soon followed. One user wrote, “Simple BIGOTRY...sad commentary for business good luck going broke,” while the Louisville Fairness Campaign posted the picture to their own page in order to raise awareness. Speaking to the media about the incident, LFC’s executive director Chris Hartman said, "What a bad business model, to automatically isolate not just a segment of your potential customer base, but all of their family and friends."
Aside from the poor taste of taking ownership of the identity of a marginalised group, there was good reason for the slogan to generate the controversy that it did. In the months prior to the picture, as many as five local LGBTQ bars received identical flyers, inscribed with the LGBT acronym and accompanied with red, white, and blue pictures of the Statue of Liberty, a Gun, a bottle of Beer, and President Trump. The campaign was labelled as an attempt to intimidate the LGBTQ community in the aftermath of the mass shooting that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016.
Smith, on the other hand, claimed that rather than taking inspiration from the flyers, he “found the acronym on Facebook and...just added the Q.” This is despite the fact that “barbecue” starts with a “B”. The restaurant removed the offending photo and posted a semi-apology, writing, “Belle’s Smoking BBQ apologizes if we have offended any groups, organizations or individuals with our shirts. We respect all beliefs and lifestyles and want no ill will towards anyone. We know each person has their own thoughts and beliefs but we are hurt that the people who are saying, ‘stop the hate’ are the ones coming at us with the harassing messages and threatening phone calls. Again we apologize for any hurt feelings and thank our supporters who truly know us.” Smith has since posted on Facebook, encouraging customers to “Please send you’re [sic] t-shirt orders,” accompanied by the restaurant’s email address.