Axehead, a Vancouver store that sells custom handcrafted products and printing and embroidery services, has found itself at the center of a social media controversy stemming from an Instagram post that appeared to endorse the use of an anti-gay slur.
The post in question appears to have been deleted, but screenshots shared on social media show Axehead owner Randy Larson posing for a picture with two people who — according to the photo’s caption — are visitors to Axehead’s second storefront location in Whitefish, Mont., which opened about three months ago.
One of the visitors is seen wearing a red T-shirt with an image of Cuban revolutionary figure Che Guevara accompanied by printed text reading “SOCIALISM IS FOR F*GS.” Larson can be seen smiling and pointing at the front of the shirt in the Instagram post, which was apparently posted on approximately July 20 to an account for Axehead’s Whitefish location.
The T-shirt is a parody of a common shirt design featuring a similar image of Guevara but with no accompanying text, usually worn in leftist political circles. The parody version in the Instagram post was created by conservative YouTube pundit Steven Crowder, who until recently sold the shirt from his website’s online store.
Around the middle of last week, several Vancouver residents began sharing screenshots of the post on Twitter and Facebook and urging their fellow users to avoid shopping at Axehead due to the use of the anti-gay slur. Users also began leaving negative reviews on the store’s Facebook and Google Maps pages.
The earliest pushback appears to have come from Jordan Taylor, an attorney at a local Vancouver law firm, who posted one of the first critical reviews on Google Maps. Taylor also sent The Columbian a copy of a July 22 letter that he sent to Axehead, asking the company to take down the post and apologize.
Taylor told The Columbian that he has been a frequent customer at Axehead and was surprised and upset to see what appeared to be an endorsement of anti-gay language posted to one of the business’s official social media accounts.
“People can have their own political views, but using a slur, that’s where we should draw the line,” he said.
On July 23, Axehead posted a reply to Taylor’s Google review, offering what appeared to be Larson’s answer to the criticism (the reply came from the store’s Google account, but the phrasing of the text appeared to indicate that it was written by Larson).
The response stressed that it was the customer rather than Larson who was wearing the Guevara T-shirt in the Instagram post. It stated that the asterisk in the word “F*GS” on the shirt was actually a tiny image of a fig leaf, implying that the partially censored word was intended to be read as “figs” rather than an anti-gay slur.
The post also repeatedly insulted Taylor and referred to him as, among other things, a “Social Warrior” searching the internet for anything to upset his “fragile liberal heart.”
The response post fueled further social media backlash, with several users sharing screenshots of the response along with the original Instagram post. By Friday, the store had received about 10 to 20 new reviews across the two platforms, nearly all of which condemned the business for homophobia, causing a drop in its average rating on both sites.
Axehead has previously been one of the partner businesses for the annual Cruise the Couve vintage car show in Vancouver — T-shirts for the event were prominently displayed in the store’s window last week — but the event’s organizers told The Columbian on Monday that they had severed ties with the store due to its “appalling and unacceptable” behavior.
Axehead’s response to Taylor’s post was deleted at some point on Thursday or Friday. Taylor said the company later posted a more apologetic reply to his post, although that second post appears to have also been deleted.
Google Maps on Thursday began listing the store as permanently closed, although that listing appears to be inaccurate — the store’s name in Google Maps was edited on Friday to read “Axehead (not really closed).” By Monday, the listed name had been changed to a single period.
The change in listing on Google Maps appears to have resulted in some of the store’s reviews no longer being visible, and the store’s Reviews page on Facebook disappeared at some point on Friday.
The front door of the Vancouver storefront was locked on Thursday morning, but a sign posted in the window stated that the owners were working in the back room. By Monday, a new sign was in place stating that the store was closed to retail shopping due to heavy production, but that customers could call to place orders or schedule a pick up.
Reached by email, Larson stated that he would be willing to issue an emailed statement if The Columbian agreed to publish the text in its entirety. The Columbian declined to guarantee publication of a statement without having read it, and Larson did not respond to a subsequent email.
Axehead was founded approximately 10 years ago, according to the owners’ LinkedIn pages, and was originally known as Salmon Creek Outfitters.