Earlier this month, a spokesperson for the office of Utah Senator Mike Lee reported to Buzzfeed News that the lawmaker, along with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, will move to reintroduce the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) to Congress, in hopes of seeing it passed after two years of failure.
Despite its the seemingly innocuous title, the FADA is one of the more devastating and openly discriminatory pieces of legislation that the nation has seen in the last few years. Under the guise of protecting religious freedom, it empowers businesses to decline to serve LGBTQ customers based on the beliefs that “(1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” According to his spokesperson Conn Carroll, the bill’s supporters are optimistic in the wake of the results of the presidential election, since president-elect Donald Trump has openly spoken in support of the sort of bigotry and homophobia that the legislation is rooted in.
Though it should be a shock to absolutely no one that a man who selected for his running mate a proponent of so-called “conversion therapy” would throw himself behind such anti-gay legislation, I can’t help but wonder if the frustration and fear that this news has been generating among LGBTQ Americans has yet penetrated the placid white bubble of the so-called Gays for Trump.
Now, conservative LGBTQ Americans are not a new phenomenon. In 1977, the Log Cabin Republicans formed to oppose California Proposition 6 (also known as the Briggs Initiative), which sought to ban gay men and women (and potentially all who supported gay rights) from working in California’s public school system. Still, gay conservatives seemed to have more of a presence during the 2016 election than during any election in recent memory.
According to a Reuters poll conducted in July, 23 percent of LGBTQ respondants pledged support for Donald Trump, in spite of his choice of running mate. Speaking to two openly gay Trump supporters that same month, the Independent Journal Review received the answer that became the rallying call of Gays for Trump. According to Lucian Wintrich, a “brand strategist and artist/photographer:”
“We have a growing problem internationally with Islamic extremism. Donald Trump has for the first time called this out as an ideological problem, and placed it center stage for discussion and debate. According to an ICM Unlimited survey, a majority of Muslims in London want homosexuality banned, yet Hillary wants a 500% increase of Syrians in America. Oddly enough, we are not allowed to say ‘I really don’t want sixty-five thousand people here who, statistically, at best, want me arrested, and at worst, want me dead.’ The second you say that, people shout ‘Islamophobia!’”
The rationale given by Christopher Barron, co-founder of GOProud (an organization much like the Log Cabin Republicans, uniting conservative and libertarian gay men and women, and which dissolved in June of 2014) is nearly identical:
“Donald Trump understands the existential threat that radical Islam poses to Western civilization—and LGBT people in particular. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have sacrificed LGBT lives on the altar of political correctness, choosing instead to value protecting the feelings of Muslims over the lives of those radical Islam seeks to exterminate.”
It’s puzzling that a candidate who lists his opposition to LGBTQ Americans as a way in which he will support the religious freedoms of Christians once in office seems like an oppositional force to anti-gay religious extremism to men like Wintrich and Barron, but they are not alone in their delusion (Wintrich isn’t even the only terrible gay Lucian who pledged his vote to the Donald).
The argument that a Clinton presidency would somehow end in the executive branch announcing that “Islamic extremism” could have at it with LGBTQ Americans was frequently trotted out by pro-Trump conservatives, gay and straight alike. It most often appeared in the form of accusing Clinton of accepting money from nations whose human rights records are especially dodgy when it comes to gay rights, Saudi Arabia in particular. Much like most arguments offered by Trump and his supporters, this line of reasoning proves dodgy at best. As PolitiFact notes, it was the Clinton Foundation (which Hillary Clinton has never been the director of while in or seeking public office) that accepted donations from Saudi Arabia, not the candidate herself. Furthermore, the reported amount donated by Saudi Arabia has not grown since 2008. Furthermore, the favorite imagery invoked by Trump―of gay men being hurled from the roofs of buildings―describes executions carried out by ISIL, not by the Saudi government.
More troubling than the half-truth of the Clinton-Saudi association, however, is the logic presented by Wintrich, which both equates Syrian refugees with the entire Muslim population of London and assumes their political and social beliefs. Most telling, perhaps, is the second quote from Wintrich:
“I want to live in a country where people don’t trash cartoonists for drawing Muhammad, but embrace them for confronting a pre-enlightenment way of thinking. I want to live in a country where university students don’t attempt to defund their school newspaper because of an op-ed critiquing Black Lives Matter.”
That he chooses to so invoke the 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting with the move by the student government to defund the official school newspaper at Wesleyan University says a lot about Wintrich and his actual concerns. Apparently, he is very comfortable to live in a nation whose president openly denigrates and threatens to disenfranchise women, people of color, trans Americans, immigrants, and the disabled. What he will not stand for are things like violent terrorism, or white people being held accountable for their opinions.
If you had not already looked them up or simply guessed, it is worth noting that both Wintrich and Barron are white. They are both traditionally and masculinely handsome. Many of the gay men who align with them politically are as well. They embody a trend within the so-called mainstream gay community, which has always valued traditional masculinity, whiteness, and homonormativity at the expense of more marginalized LGBTQ Americans. Ultimately, the rhetoric of Gays for Trump says far less about Hillary Clinton or America than it does about certain factions of the LGBTQ community in America, white gay men in particular.
Fueling the shallow Islamophobia and racism at the heart of Wintrich and Barron’s comments is a poisonous desperation to be normalized.
In the wake of the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, conservatives offered a sort of devil’s deal to the LGBTQ community: the GOP would momentarily pretend to care about us if we were willing to align with their racist and Islamophobic campaign. Pretending as if queer Muslims didn’t exist, scores of white gay men happily positioned themselves alongside Trump and other conservatives, engaging in the same sort of bigoted rhetoric of which they themselves had once been (and would continue to be) the subject all so conservatives would for once act as though the lives of LGBTQ Americans were important to their agenda. Never mind that the GOP had ignored the tens of thousands dying of AIDS in the 1980s. Never mind that the religious right had fought tooth and nail to protect the all-American privilege to discriminate on the basis of gender identity and sexuality. Never mind that the 49 who perished at Pulse were predominantly queer people of color―the sort that the white gay community makes a habit of alternatively shunning and fetishizing. Given the chance for even a morsel more of privilege, white gay men shoved their way to the front of the narrative, and fell worshipful at the feet of a racist conservative agenda.
In many ways, scrounging for privilege is the story of mainstream white gayness in America: the daily battle to ensure that whatever is lost to homophobia is replaced two fold by the blessings of whiteness and maleness. It’s why so many gay men fetishize traditional masculinity, attempting to compensate for the feminizing assumptions of homophobia by mimicking the hallmarks of the behavior that enables that sort of bigotry. It’s why men like Wintrich and Barron and Peter Thiel―as opposed to calling out the othering and dehumanization of LGBTQ Americans―craft political positions and identities that emphasize the aspects of their identities that America values: being white, being male, conforming to as many tenets of that gender identity as possible.
It’s why Lucian Wintrich sees as much danger in an ideology he claims wants him dead as he does in a movement that threatens his white privilege, that widest of moats which keeps him safe from the full experience of being marginalized and threatened by the most powerful of American structures.
Viewed through this lens, support for Trump among gay white men is by no means surprising. Misogyny and racism are rampant in the gay community. Ask gay men of color who are turned into sex objects but never treated as worthy of emotional connection. Ask women who find gay men groping them, and then claiming that this is perfectly fine behavior because you can’t rape someone you’re not sexually attracted to. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, nor does it account for the equally present transphobia, which seeks to isolate those who don’t identify as strictly cisgender.
All of these toxic currents exist for the same purpose: a hoarding and performing of privilege as a buffer against the realities of homophobia. Furthermore, this same purpose underpins the disturbingly strong support for Trump among white gay men, who then frame it all as opposition to religious extremism. It’s not new behavior, of course. It’s nearly identical to the tendency of white gay men to equate the black community with homophobia as a whole, erasing queer black Americans, and not even allowing them to speak about their own experiences with homophobia.
Ultimately, men like Thiel and Wintrich and Barron desperately hope that, by acting white enough or male enough, by cozying up to America’s current mascot of toxic whiteness and toxic masculinity, by engaging in all his favorite forms of bigotry, they’ll insulate themselves against the homophobia and anti-gay violence that goes hand-in-hand with all those other forms of oppression.
History has demonstrated time and time again that this doesn’t really work, that playing the sycophant is ultimately poor armor. If the First Amendment Defense Act is proof of anything it’s that, no matter how many others they offer up in their stead, white gay men will be on the menu as much as any when the wolves get hungry again.