Belle’s Smokin’ BBQ is a food truck based in Williamstown, Kentucky, a town that also has a homophobic creationist theme park called the Ark Encounter. On Belle's website—which inexplicably features a photo of a London, England office tower—it promises “down home food done rite [sic].” And when it sparked criticism with a disrespectful LGBTQ t-shirt, its owner’s argument was that those letters are just “a simple ACRONYM.”
Last Thursday, Belle’s boss Jamie Smith posted a photo of the gray t-shirts on the joint’s Facebook page and said that he would be taking orders. “We are going to stock up on some Swag. Hat and shirts. Let me know what yall [sic] want via text message,” the now-deleted post read. "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)”
He didn’t finish that last thought, but there are those who did say ‘WTF,’ after seeing the LGBTQ T-shirts, which rewrote the acronym to read “LIBERTY, GUNS, BIBLE, TRUMP, BBQ” instead of the acronyms’ traditional meaning of “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer.” Smith told Cincinnati.com that he just “found the [pro-Trump] acronym on Facebook” and then added the ‘BBQ’ part, so it’s both nonsensical and unoriginal.
Although Smith said that he’d been selling the shirts for the past couple of years, he didn’t face any real backlash until he added the photo on social. “I posted the shirt today for new swag and it just went out of hand and it got blowed up,” he said.
It did get “blowed up,” especially after the Louisville Fairness Campaign posted a screenshot of the post on its own Facebook page. "The first thing I thought when I saw it was what a bad idea," 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."
We do not recommend that you read the comments; for every critic (“That is some of the most hillbilly shit I've ever seen”) there’s a vocal Belle’s supporter telling members of these marginalized groups to ”grow up.” Cincinnati.com reports that Belle’s lost a food festival order from a local church, but it had also gotten four new orders after it posted the picture of the shirt.
If that bastardized acronym looks familiar, it could be because a similar acronym—minus the Q—was recently used to try to intimidate Nashville’s gay community. Last October, the Stirrup Sports Bar and at least four other gay bars all received identical flyers which had the letters ‘LGBT’ printed on them, along with corresponding red, white, and blue pictures of the Statue of Liberty, a Gun, a bottle of Beer, and President Donald Trump. Each envelope also featured a red MAGA stamp on the back, and a return address that corresponded to an empty lot.
The recipients were unnerved, mostly because the illustrated gun looked like an assault rifle, which was used in the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.
“We live in a post-Pulse world in the LGBTQ community, especially in the bar scene,” Stirrup owner Melvin Brown told NBC News at the time. “To see somebody send a postcard that had a picture of the weapon used in one of the deadliest assaults in this nation’s history, and one that happened at an LGBTQ bar, and to send that image to LGBTQ bars, to me is not a coincidence.”
Belle’s did release a statement that (sort of) said it was sorry for the T-shirts. “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,” it said. “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.”
Several hours after posting a screenshot of that apology—complete with a news outlet’s own boilerplate copyright statement—Smith seemed to have changed his mind. “Please send you’re [sic] t-shirt orders,” he wrote on Facebook, adding the restaurant’s email address.
Good talk, good talk.