By Lauren Means | Photos Courtesy Paul Lanner – Haunters Against Hate
Fall brings thoughts of pumpkin spice, warm fleece and bonfires. It also means Halloween, Trick-or-Treating and Haunted Houses! While some might not give a second thought as to if a haunted house is inclusive and supportive of the LGBT+ community, one organization, Haunters Against Hate (HAH), is bringing it front and center.
In 2016, after the Orlando Pulse massacre, the Ohio Valley Haunts Review Team lashed out and said negative, hateful and discriminatory things on social media. Paul Lanner, owner and operator of HAH, and a group of owners/managers of haunted attractions in the Ohio Valley banded together to take a stand against this hate speech and to support LGBTQ haunt actors, staff, friends and family.
A coalition of 22 haunts came together to ban this review team from their haunts because they felt hate speech wasn’t acceptable in any form in the haunt community. Paul said, “Several owners reached out to me to come up with a design, name and tagline as I work with several in creating their advertising. After the situation was addressed, I felt more needed to be done. Why not take something so negative and turn it into something positive?” He created the HAH website and haunts started asking to be a part of the community to show that they will not tolerate hate, especially towards the LGBTQ+ community.
Knowing he had the backing of many in the haunt community, he said it felt important to attend Transworld Haunt Show in St. Louis, which is the biggest haunt attraction trade show in the industry. “I had to have a presence there because I didn’t want Haunters Against Hate to be just a statement against that haunt review team,” said Paul. He reserved a booth and designed a t-shirt he could sell there in hopes of generating a profit and giving something back to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I was hoping to raise maybe $200 or so but ended up raising $2,000 that first time which floored me,” Paul explained. The first two organizations he donated to were Louisville Youth Group in Louisville, Kentucky and The Damien Center in Indianapolis, Indiana.
After that, local haunts asked if he’d be interested in having a special HAH night at their venues to promote awareness of LGBTQ issues, which he gladly accepted. Paul also decided to attend some regular horror conventions, like Days of the Dead and CreepyCon, to see how the horror crowd would react to HAH. He said, “HAH was very well received. Artists like Tim Jacobus, who created the original “Goosebumps” book cover artwork, have stepped up and he created a piece just for HAH.”
Over the past few years, Paul has created multiple designs for HAH shirts, special embroidered patches and enamel pins. But one of the biggest things he did was to create a series of coffee table books called “The Book of Haunters.” The first three volumes are 100-page hardbound books that feature haunters across the world and their stories of why they became haunters and why they stand behind HAH. “I’ve had celebrities show their support for the books. Brandon Crane, who played young Ben in the original “IT,” wrote the introduction for Volume 2 and Lori Cardille, who was the lead in George A. Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” said she will write the intro for Volume 5.” There has also been a special volume dedicated to clowns and Volume 4 is dedicated to Black, Latin, Indigenous and Asian Haunters in the community,” said Paul. He said the profits of Volume 4 were donated to Black Equity for LGBTQ people of color located in Washington, D.C.
Paul stays busy and is currently getting ready to start on Volume 5 with plans for it to be released at the end of 2020 or the start of 2021. This Volume is going to exclusively feature LGBTQ haunters across the world. “One of the amazing things is how HAH has gone beyond the U.S. I’ve had haunters from Canada, England and Germany reach out to me to be featured in the book and it’s been amazing,” said Paul. He says the great thing about these books is not only do the profits benefit LGBTQ organizations — especially focusing on youth — but it has brought together haunters to show they’re one big family too.
With COVID-19 essentially killing all conventions this year, Paul has dedicated more time to the website and online store. He started a HAH movie homage series of t-shirts that have gone over really well including “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “The Craft,” and “Hocus Pocus.” “The word of mouth has been fantastic. I’m still blown away that the HAH Facebook page now has over 10,000 likes,” he explained.
Paul said he has poured his heart and soul into this and, to date, has raised $30,000 for LGBTQ organizations all over the U.S. Recently, HAH named the Just Us program at Oasis Center in Nashville as a beneficiary and Pam Sheffer, the Director of LGBTQ+ Programming and Development at Oasis Center, wrote the preface of the Book of Haunters Volume 3.
Paul said the best way to get involved with HAH is to show your support by purchasing a t-shirt, a patch, or pin from the website as those funds go to LGBTQ organizations across the U.S. You can suggest an organization you think might benefit from HAH donations, like the Facebook page, and tell your friends about the organization because Paul said, “Word of mouth is what keeps HAH growing.”
He’s hopeful conventions will resume in 2021 so that he can speak with people face to face and continue bringing awareness to LGBTQ issues, even if wearing a mask, whereas their tagline says, “because hate is the scariest thing of all.”
For more information and to support Haunters Against Hate’s cause, visit https://www.hauntersagainsthate.com/