content warning: homophobic slurs, nationalism, xenophobia
What does a burly redneck Republican have in common with a flamboyant gay man?
The answer, say some, is a shared political vision. A perplexing trend has emerged across the Western world, where gay voters are supporting ultra-conservative movements. In the last two years alone, Gays for Trump mobilized in America, Germany’s AfD championed a lesbian politician, Alice Weidel, as its leader, and Marie Le Pen wielded the largest gay constituency of any party in the 2017 French elections. But why are gay men rallying for parties known for being anti-gay? What could possibly attract homos towards white nationalism? It’s a phenomenon that Jasbir Puar has dubbed “homonationalism.”
Ultimately, homonationalism is about using queer issues as a façade to justify racism. For instance, after the 2016 attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, President Trump framed his anti-Muslim rhetoric as a homonationalist defence of vulnerable queers. By pink-washing his xenophobia, Trump’s racism was rebranded with a rainbow veneer. Of course, politicians like Trump are not genuinely concerned about the LGBTQ+ community, but rather are attempting to sanitize nationalism for the 21st century. J. Lester Feder describes homonationalism as “racism dressed up in liberal drag, helping make nationalism respectable again in the West.”
Trump snatched the strategy of populist pink propaganda from his European counterparts, who have been brewing homonationalism for more than two decades. In fact, the first politician to forge an alliance between the gay community and the Right Wing was Dutch provocateur Pim Fortuyn. Before his sensationalized assassination in 2002, Fortuyn grabbed headlines for his blatant racism and crass sexuality. His shocking tactics, such as describing the taste of semen in a televised interview and defending his policies with quips like “I’m not racist. I have friends in all the colours of the rainbow… I sleep with them,” laid the foundation for the weaponization of queerness in ultra-conservative politics.
One might assume that only assimilated, masculine gay men would find acceptance within the chest-thumping, rifle-toting macho culture of the Right. You’d expect that the queerest of queers would be shunted from white supremacist rallies. Oddly, however, Fortuyn’s flamboyant, hypersexual character served as a perfect tool, and foil, for the anti-immigrant agenda. A stream of controversial quotes proved to be the perfect fodder for headlines, soon sparking support for Fortuyn’s outrageously “honest” and charismatic persona. Fortuyn’s spin-doctor, Kay van de Linde, remarked, “people felt, ‘if he’s that honest about his sex life — something I would never have the guts to discuss on television — he’s got to be honest about the other stuff too.’” Within the Dutch political arena, Fortuyn’s Islamophobia was perfectly tailored for a country that prides itself on its sexual progressiveness. His brazen sexuality encouraged supporters to feel progressive whilst rallying to ban Muslim immigration. Furthermore, Fortuyn’s queerness absolved voters of the guilt that is typically attached to supporting blatantly racist politicians. Sarah Wildman describes the rationale of his supporters, “if you’re willing to back a man who brags about sleeping with Arab boys, how much of a bigot can you really be?”
“Far-right parties have also realized that strategically dangling a few gay people acts as a sort of fundamentalist Febreze that dilutes the stench of their hatred.”
In the same way that Fortuyn deflected accusations of racism by brandishing his queerness, his supporters rallied for his anti-Muslim agenda without a trace of shame. This tactful manipulation of queerness allows white gay men like Fortuyn to claim ‘victim minority’ status and circumvent accountability. In other words, queerness can be used as a get out of jail free card to excuse racism. Under the non-threatening guise of effeminacy, Fortuyn made white supremacy more palatable to moderate voters. As Arwa Mahdawi asserts, “far-right parties have also realized that strategically dangling a few gay people acts as a sort of fundamentalist Febreze that dilutes the stench of their hatred.” Serving as a pink-washing perfume, Fortuyn’s provocative effeminacy seduced voters who might otherwise be wary of Right-Wing nationalism.
After the assassinations of Fortuyn in 2002, and Theo van Gogh (a like-minded queer provocateur) in 2004, a common frame emerged in Dutch media. The press began to sensationalize homophobic violence when committed by Muslim immigrants, while largely disregarding attacks committed by white citizens. This homonationalist framing resurfaced in April 2017, when married couple Jasper Vernes-Sewratan and Ronnie Sewratan-Vernes, were gruesomely attacked in Arnhem by a mob of eight Moroccan-Dutch immigrant men who saw them holding hands. In response to the attack, a homonationalist sense of solidarity was invoked by Dutch men across the globe. Transcending social demographics, various Dutch soccer players, celebrities, police officers and diplomats tweeted photos of themselves holding hands with their male colleagues using the viral hashtag #allemannenhandinhand (translated ‘all men hand in hand’). The symbolism of queer men publically holding hands was instrumentalized as an emblem of Dutch progressivism, and subsequently worthy of patriotic defence.
Of course, underscoring this hashtag was a white supremacist conception of who belongs to the Dutch family. Admittedly, public attacks against Dutch-Muslim women have not stirred collective solidarity and empathy as #allemannenhandinhand did. Moreover, hate crimes against gay men are perceived as a national tragedy, whereas violence against hijab-wearing women is perceived as an unfortunate consequence, or perhaps punishment, for their existence.
The Dutch media martyrized the image of vulnerable gay men being brutalized by savage Muslims. The attackers, who smashed teeth and wielded bolt cutters, were described in political parlance as “problem youth” “kutmarokkanen,” (literally, “cunt-Moroccans”) and “Moroccan scum.”Geert Wilders seized the opportunity to call for the ‘de-Islamization’ of the Netherlands. Wilders argued that “the freedom that gay people should have — to kiss each other, to marry, to have children — is exactly what Islam is fighting against.” Months earlier, the centrist VVD party (which emerged victorious from the 2017 election) launched its campaign with a poster of two men holding hands with the text ‘being able to walk hand in hand without fear. Act Normal or Leave.’ Both the hashtag and the VVD poster demonstrate that the defense of queerness is a nationalistic project that demarcates the boundaries of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’
The assumed vulnerability of gay men is weaponized against the trope of a predatory immigrant. Data from the Anti-homogeweld in Nerland report, however, proves this racist predator-victim framing to be false. Contrary to pervasive representations, the report finds that incidents of hate crimes targeted against racialized citizens are actually more frequent than homophobic hate crimes in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the report revealed that 86 per cent of individuals who perpetrated violence against LGBTQ+ citizens were ethnically Dutch, while only 14 per cent had an immigrant background. This is roughly representative of their proportion in the Dutch population as a whole. Thus, instances of anti-violence committed by racialized, specifically Muslim, citizens are exaggerated to scapegoat Islamic immigrants for all homophobia.
“White gay people feel cheated because they were born, in principle, into a society in which they were supposed to be safe. The anomaly of their sexuality puts them in danger, unexpectedly.”
So, why are white gay men irrationally afraid of Muslims? Perhaps the oversensitive perception of threats is based on their social position. Located on the apex of both gender and racial hierarchies, the status of white gay men is solely compromised by their queerness. This precarious and infuriating location—one variable from holding absolute privilege—can fuel a hyper-defensive mentality. Writer and social critic James Baldwin argued that, “white gay people feel cheated because they were born, in principle, into a society in which they were supposed to be safe. The anomaly of their sexuality puts them in danger, unexpectedly.” Similarly, Michael Darer contends, “scrounging for privilege is the story of mainstream white gayness.” These quotes demonstrate the appeal of Wilders’ queer mongering among gay male voters, who are desperate to defend their social position. Simply put, queers are easily mongered. The void left from homophobia is fulfilled by a sense of belonging within Right-Wing rhetoric, and in some cases, within political ranks. Subsequently, white gay men are willing to “throw those with less status under the bus to cling onto their new found privilege.”
Kelvin Hopper, a queer man who has recently begun supporting far right politics, defended his views: “faced with the current threats, particularly from radical Islam, gays have realized they’ll be the first victims of these barbarians.” Thus the extreme measures of ‘de-Islamization’ called for by Wilders seem reasonable to white gay men whose compromised privileged fuels a hypersensitive perception of threats. Darer writes “the daily battle to ensure that whatever is lost to homophobia is replaced two fold by the blessings of whiteness and maleness.” Ultimately, the realpolitik alliance of queerness with the Right-Wing is centred on a promise to defend the precarious privilege of white queer men against the ‘threat’ of immigration.
Homonationalism has gone beyond propaganda; it has become institutionalized. The Dutch immigration system uses support for homosexuality as a pink litmus test to determine who is granted citizenship. Indeed, immigrants are screened, in part, based on how they respond to questions about gay men kissing. One question includes “you’re on a terrace with a colleague and at the table next to you two men are fondling and kissing. You are irritated. What do you do?” Footage of queer couples and topless women at beaches are also shown to potential immigrants to adjudicate whether they will integrate into Dutch society. Noticeably, these questions on homosexuality are not posed when screening immigrants from Canada, Australia or America. This elucidates the assumed correlation between whiteness and queer positivity, as well as the racist assumption that people of colour are intrinsically homophobic.
Tofik Dibi, a queer Dutch politician who is the son of Moroccan immigrants, says that Right-Wing politicians who sound the alarm over anti-LGBTQ+ violence “don’t give a fuck about gay rights.” He contends that, in the 2017 election, the defense of queerness was solely a tactic to legitimize anti-Muslim sentiments. In discussing the Dutch immigration system, Dibi asserts, “of all of these tests, the gay rights is the one that is used the most because they know that that’s the most difficult thing within these communities.” Ironically, homophobia was introduced through Western colonialism, the legacy of which remains entrenched in many immigrant communities. Therefore, using queerness as a pivotal marker to separate ‘medieval’ immigration applicants from the ‘enlightened’ is downright hypocritical. Through tokenizing queerness as a hallmark of Dutch identity, the immigration department can dismiss Muslim applicants with the legitimacy of claiming to protect vulnerable queers. Furthermore, this pink litmus test homogenizes diverse interpretations of Islam and polarizes 1.8 billion people on the single wedge issue of homosexuality.
The most vulnerable within this supposed clash of civilizations are queer Muslims. Indeed, their multidimensional identity is torn by the polarized rhetoric of ‘gays versus Muslims.’ Constructed as mutually exclusively minorities, organizations aimed at combating Islamophobia rarely work in tandem with those targeting homophobia.
“This is what it looks like to be called both a terrorist and a faggot.”
Subsequently, islamophobia is defined through heterosexual experiences, and homophobia through a white lens—erasing the simultaneity of these interwoven systems. Caught in the nexus of ostensibly opposed identities, queer Muslims are unable to grieve tragedies that impact the communities in which they belong. In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, queer Lebanese singer, Mashrou’ Leila, described his frustration, “there are a bunch of us who are queer who feel assaulted by that attack who can’t mourn because we’re also from Muslim families… this is what it looks like to be called both a terrorist and a faggot.”
Rather than being paranoid of Islam, we should be vigilant of the Right Wing. Of course, it is apparent that homonationalism harms Muslims, and queer Muslims especially. But if left untamed, homonationalism will also devour those it claims to protect. The opportunistic alliance between the Right-Wing and white queer men is forged on a shared desire to protect white male privilege. But as trans activist and Burundian refugee Olave Basabose warns “we all know in history when you give the far right room, the next targets are the gays.” Therefore, all privileged gays hold a responsibility to condemn and contest the pink-washed Trojan horse that is homonationalism. Ultimately, in the politics of queer mongering, the only thing to fear is queer itself.