US veteran's LGBT Pride tribute: 'Not all country boys are bigots'

  • By Dhruti Shah and Sherie Ryder
  • BBC News

Image source, Cody Barlow

Image caption,

Cody Barlow's decision to use his truck to send a powerful message of support

A heterosexual Oklahoma man's rainbow-coloured tailgate tribute to Pride Month has been embraced and highlighted by the LGBT community in Oklahoma and beyond.

Using mailbox letters to write 'Not all country boys are bigots' across the back of his pick-up truck, Cody Barlow posted a photo of his creation on his Facebook and Instagram pages, adding that it was important to him because he has family and friends who are LGBT.

"Countless people have dealt with hatred and judgement simply for who they are, and/or who they love, for far too long," he wrote.

Cody, a US Navy veteran living in Hulbert, said in his post: "Obviously doing this isn't going to change the minds of those who are intolerant, but hopefully it can help drown out the hatred with love."

Image source, Cody Barlow

Image caption,

Cody Barlow wants to break down stereotypes

Expecting some negativity from his post, Cody vowed to keep the message displayed for the entire month of June to show his support, in the hope that at least one person who needs the support would get it.

"I hope everyone finds their inner strength to finally live life loud and proud without regard for the negativity of ignorant people. Happy pride month!"

Cody told the BBC he wasn't expecting his posts to gain such viral fame and he was overwhelmed by the reaction.

His post has been shared more than 80,000 times and garnered 20,000 comments, mostly showering Cody with praise for his positive attitude.

Cody says: "I never anticipated that it would go so far and reach so many people.

"It's a culmination of several years of becoming more exposed to friends, family, co-workers, people whom I've served with and others who are from the LGBTQ+ community and seeing and hearing the hatred and violence that they face."

The 28-year-old university student says he wanted to try to help people be able to express key parts of their identity and be comfortable with expressing their love and this also, in part, motivated him to go buy several rolls of brightly coloured duct tape and create the rainbow design of the Pride flag on his truck.

In his original posting, he stated: "I live in a rural area in Oklahoma, surrounded by small towns in every direction, and I'm sure this is not a very welcome message around here, but this is going to be displayed on my truck for the entire month of June in support of pride month."

Cody told the BBC that he wanted to break down any perceived stereotypes of "countryfolks as racist, homophobic and bigoted".

He said: "When I was young I didn't know too much about the LGBTQ+ community; it wasn't something we were taught about and people weren't hugely open. My family has always been open-minded and as I grew older and friends started coming out to me and I got to know more people on deployment and elsewhere, I learned a lot more about the challenges the communities face."

Cody said he wanted to be a strong ally and use any privileges he had to help people.

"I definitely plan to keep the flag on for the rest of the month but I'm open to keep it on for a bit longer. People have been asking me to come out to their Pride parades in July."

One Facebook user, Mike Arnold, a 68-year-old gay married man, wrote: "Thank you for growing up to be a really stand up guy. You must make your family very proud. You certainly do for those of us who grew up in rural areas like yours."

Image source, Sherie Ryder-News

Image caption,

The reaction to Cody's message was generally positive

Mike stressed they would be "nowhere without the love and support of our straight friends - many of whom are or are being adopted into our families".

John in Dallas appreciated the "simple act of tolerance" that meant so much to him while Joey added: "You have a friend in Colorado."

Cody's Facebook friend list has shot up to more than 5,000 people and he says at one point he was getting 1,000 requests a day from strangers keen to connect with him.

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While the majority of the reaction has been positive, there have been others who have questioned Cody's actions.

But Cody says: "These remarks have mainly been on social media. Everyone who has come up to me in person has been really positive.

"I think those who have been negative, perhaps they feel a false sense of safety by posting remarks rather than say anything face-to-face.

"But I don't let their negativity affect me. I let it roll off my back."