Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 10.22.54 AMPhotographer Ed Freeman created the gay flag image to the right more than 10 years ago for the cover of Frontiers magazine. Since then, it has been used across countless social media posts for its highly recognizable features — four men work to raise a rainbow flag, instantly evoking Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1945 photo at Iwo Jima (left).

Most recently, Freeman’s image resurfaced after last week’s Supreme Court victory. Freeman himself posted the picture to his Facebook account with the following message:

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.

But many were upset at the implied comparison between the struggle for gay rights and the sacrifice on the battle field.

“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 commenter in response to Freeman’s post. “Its this shit that will drive ppl to hate on you. You WANT RESPECT THEN GIVE IT TO THOSE WHO DESERVE AND EARNED IT.”

Reaction on Twitter was similar:

But then again, the same person soon after Tweeted:

One threat was so troubling, Freeman reported it to the FBI. “He said if he ever saw me, he’d kill me,” he told the Washington Post. “I got swamped with vitriolic hate mail.”

“The principle complaint that people have is that I am equating the gay struggle with the contribution and sacrifice of American servicemen,” Freeman said. “But there is no equal sign here. This is not meant as a sign of disrespect. For God sake, no. I totally support people in uniform. There is no comparison going on here. The comparison is going on in people’s heads, and they’re spoiling for a fight. They’re already on edge because of  the gay marriage decision.”

He added that before social media, his photo would only have been seen by people who wanted to see it, not by “straight people from small towns in Idaho.”

Is this a meme malfunction, or does everyone just need to simmer down?

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