Along with about a zillion other local and national media outlets, Baltimore Fishbowl was irritated, amused, and outraged when an Overlea woman announced that she’d received a mean letter from a neighbor chastising her for her “relentlessly gay” yard decorations. But shortly after the story went viral, the skeptics started piping up.
Their suspicions were largely based on the smell test: The note seemed almost too absurd, too perfectly calibrated to go viral; did any actual bigot say phrases as wonderfully evocative as “relentlessly gay”? The hoax-busting website Snopes called up the Baltimore Police, who didn’t have much else to add (other than the fact that the woman in question, Julie Baker, told them that she’d thrown away the letter).
Now, a few months after the initial virality, Baker has said that she’ll return the $43,000 she raised in donations:
A few months ago a fearful and ignorant act set off an avalanche. The avalanche was a thing of beauty, of support and of love. The snow kicked up into the sun and created a crystalline rainbow. Avalanches are relentless in their movement and breathtaking as they rumble down to the earth, shaking the ground. While thousands donated and thousands more offered support, the truth is that this project went from an artistic snow ball tossed in the face of hate to an avalanche. To deal with the debris, which includes taxes and an overabundance of resources it is with a saddened heart that all donations will be returned. If a time machine were available, it would have all ended at the original requested amount. It was never about the money but being happy in the face of intolerance. Do not for an instant think the support of spirit, art, love and monetary donations were for naught. A statement was heard across the globe, loud and clear was our avalanche. I ask you to take your donations back and give to local artists or educational nonprofit organizations.
Giving Baker the benefit of the doubt, it’s easy to understand how a regular person could be overwhelmed by the torrent of attention (and, in this case, money) that comes from being the internet’s celebrity of the day. It turns out that free money and free attention actually come at a price. We think Baker’s last suggestion is a good one — if you’ve got money to donate it, give it to local artists or educational non-profits.