TALLAHASSEE, Florida—There was no nativity scene in the rotunda of Florida’s infamously phallic capitol building on Wednesday, no crèche to commemorate Jesus Christ’s probably apocryphal birthday. Nor was there a giant menorah to balance out this Judeo-Christian holiday season. (Chabad Lubavitch of Tallahassee erected its traditional 9-foot-tall menorah earlier in the month.) Instead, a single display adorned the rotunda over Christmas week: a 6½-foot-tall Festivus pole, covered in rainbow flags to celebrate marriage equality, crowned with a shimmering midsized disco ball.
The pole is the brainchild of Chaz Stevens, the brash executive director of the Humanity Fund. Stevens—whose organization champions free speech, constitutional equality, and separation of church and state—has placed Festivus poles in the rotunda before. But whereas the previous poles were constructed out of beer cans, this year’s display is a polychromatic tribute to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. As Stevens recently told me:
I am a privileged white heterosexual male in America, a lifelong ally of the gay community—some of my best friends are very homosexual, very out and proud, I love them to death—and we all cheered when the Supreme Court ruling reaffirming the rights of same-sex couples to marry came through. We thought, Finally! It’s about goddamn time!
Right around the corner, Kim Davis and her crazy people in Kentucky say, we’re not gonna give marriage licenses. That just drove me nuts. The very day that happened, I said to myself, those little fuckers! I am going to troll the living shit out of them. I’m going to wrap my pole in gay pride and put a disco ball on the top and stick it in the bowels of the Florida rotunda.
Because Florida designated the rotunda as a limited-purpose public forum, the state is barred by the First Amendment from choosing which messages can and cannot be expressed there. In previous years, Pastafarians have erected a memorial to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the Satanic Temple has constructed a diorama depicting an angel falling into hellfire. This year, however, the Pastafarians and Satanists were nowhere to be seen: Their chief antagonist, the Florida Prayer Network, decided not to display its nativity scene, declaring that “this is not the year for that kind of debate in our rotunda.” In response, both groups also sat out the season. (“As the assertion of plurality is always primary in our holiday displays, and many of our activities, we feel that our Satanic Holiday displays work best in a forum where a Nativity is present,” the Temple explained.)
Thus, this Christmas, the Florida capitol—which represents a state that fought marriage equality tooth and nail, at great expense to taxpayers—will feature, as its full holiday display, a gay pride Festivus pole and nothing more. Stevens’ goal in erecting the pole was twofold: He wanted to exercise his free speech rights to criticize Florida’s pro-religious establishment politics—and he wanted to “troll the living shit” out of its anti-gay legislators. On both fronts, it’s safe to say the mission is very well accomplished.