Is It Okay to Be Gay (and in the Far-Right)?
How outspoken gay figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Caolan Robertson go down with right-wingers, who – traditionally – haven't been big fans of the gays.
Milo Yiannopoulos at the Republican National Convention Cleveland Ohio, USA, 21st July 2016 (Mark Reinstein / Alamy Stock Photo)
In March of 2017, a terror attack in Westminster left 49 people injured and six dead or dying. While victims were still being driven away in ambulances, English Defence League (EDL) founder Tommy Robinson rushed to the scene with a camera crew to pace around outside the police cordon and rant about Muslims. Not long after he'd started, a younger man took over.
Pinching his thumb and forefinger together, the man raises his pinky and tells the camera: "If you import a culture, you get a culture." Barking at unimpressed spectators, he finishes: "The blood. Is on. Your. Fucking. Hands," with all the sassy-camp cadence of a RuPaul’s Drag Race queen.
That man was Caolan Robertson, a video producer with 12,000 YouTube subscribers, 41,000 Facebook followers and 35,000 Twitter followers. Robertson, who is gay, says that while "all religions are pretty bad… Islam is particularly worse". Like fellow gay right-wing figure Milo Yiannopoulos – who became a darling of the alt-right on an anti-political correctness agenda – he has taken arch-campness to a twisted place.
That two public figures on the hard-right are openly gay might surprise some people, given that poster boys of this political persuasion are usually family-oriented and Christian-leaning, like Tommy Robinson and Britain First, or dullard conspiracy theorists, like Paul Joseph Watson. Also, right-wingers – from small-C conservatives up to neo-Nazis – historically haven't been that keen on gays.
However, gay right-wingers aren't actually as uncommon as you might think.
The recent case of neo-Nazi Ethan Stables, for example, who was convicted of preparing a terrorist act after plotting to attack a Pride event in Barrow, sharply counters this idea of heteronormative masculinity, as his defence involved an assertion of his own bisexuality. Elsewhere, European hard-right politicians Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen have played to an LGB – but not T – crowd, while Germany's far-right Alternative for Deutschland party promoted lesbian Alice Weidel to its leadership.
But how do people like Yiannopoulos – a gay man who harasses trans students on campuses – fit into the UK's radical right?
Historically, brief radical right acceptance of white gay men plays against a backdrop of institutionalised homophobia. The Nazis' momentary permissiveness of the gay Storm Battalion co-founder Ernst Rohm is a blip compared to the 50,000 homosexuals imprisoned and 15,000 homosexuals killed during the Holocaust. In 1999, neo-Nazi nail-bomber David Copeland attacked gay people, Bengali Muslims and black people with equal measures of hatred. Nicky Crane may have been a violent neo-Nazi secretly enjoying gay dalliances, but when he came out in 1992 he cast his political views aside, declaring them incompatible with his sexuality.
Then came 9/11, and a shifting – at least in the radical right's eyes – of the hierarchy of minorities. Here was an opportunity to knit together different factions of the right against a common enemy: Islam.
Just as the Taliban’s treatment of women was seized upon by the Bush administration and its supporters to justify the war on terror, its treatment of queer people was used to cast all Muslims as anti-gay. In 2009, a Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies report seemingly backed up the radical right's assertions: while 58 percent of the British general public thought homosexual acts were "morally acceptable", zero percent of British Muslims agreed.
Even the liberal press focused on this statistic: "Patriotic, respectful, homophobic", read The Independent’s summation. "Muslims in Britain have zero tolerance of homosexuality, says poll," said The Guardian. Right-wing outlets, still bothered about gays in the Anglican church and the impending doom of same-sex marriage, didn’t quite know where to pitch up.
The day of the shooting at Orlando's Pulse gay club in 2016, which killed 49 people, Yiannopoulos wrote an article for Breitbart titled "The Left Chose Islam Over Gays. Now 100 People Are Dead Or Maimed". In it, he describes the actions of an extremist as representing all of Islam, using the poll to back up his claims: "This isn't about 'radical' Islam. This isn't a tiny fringe," he writes. "In Britain, a 2009 Gallup survey found that not one Muslim believed that homosexual acts were acceptable. Not one!"
Days later, Yiannopoulos addressed a small crowd in a YouTube livestream, calling for a Muslim ban on that basis. "This is not radical Islam… this is Muslims in the West," he said, ignoring the fact that the same poll found that 19 percent of German Muslims and 35 percent of French Muslims thought homosexual acts were acceptable, implying countries with a longer legacy of Muslim immigration have more LGB-tolerant Muslims.
With that, the clash of civilisations narrative was set.
Weeks later, Donald Trump – whose campaign manager at the time was Stephen Bannon, then-CEO of Breitbart – became the first ever Republican nominee for the US presidency to mention LGBT people, using them as leverage to call for a Muslim immigration ban.
As Matthew Feldman – co-director of the Centre for Fascist, Anti-fascist and Post-fascist Studies, and Professor of the History of Modern Ideas at Teeside University – puts it: "The thinking is: 'If this is another stick to beat Muslims with, we'll take it. We’ll be silent on the LGBT question, we'll just talk about their rights in the abstract.'"
Trump’s views on LGBT people have since wavered, but other British groups are unafraid to exploit professed support for LGBT rights to attack Islam.
In 2016, a Stockton-on-Tees Pride march was organised by a group with no previous affiliations to the LGBT community, but many links to the EDL and Pegida UK, also founded by Tommy Robinson. The march was "appropriating tragedies to promote further bigotry", warned anti-Islamophobia project Tell MAMA.
The next year, Gays Against Sharia (GAS) – set up by Tommy English, known as Tommy Cook, founder of the EDL LGBT division – carried the baton. Though Tommy Robinson hijacked one of GAS's marches, rebranding it Unite Against Hate, in September of 2017 GAS held its own parade in Bristol. Footage shows English holding a rainbow flag reading "UNITED TOGETHER, TODAY AND FOREVER. HELP US STOP THE GROWTH OF AN EVIL, HATE-FILLED IDEOLOGY". Pictured helping carry this banner is Anne-Marie Waters, the lesbian who ran for candidacy of UKIP on an anti-Islam ticket.
The demonstrators had re-framed Islam as the real and sole oppressors of LGBT people, and the far-right as minorities' protectors – a narrative that's as transparent as it is cynical.
As for the Gallup analysis, Dalia Mogahed – Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding – tells VICE it has been misinterpreted: "Saying homosexual acts are morally wrong is not evidence that Muslims will hurt the LGBTQ community."
"Muslims have been part of the UK for literally hundreds of years, and unlike the Christian right do not advocate against the LGBTQ community," added Mogahed. "In a democratic society, freedom of thought and belief are central principles, including beliefs that we may not agree with. We erode our own values when we start policing thought."
Mogahed also pointed out the paradox of Yiannopoulos complaining about Muslim bigotry against LGBT people while advocating for the Muslim ban.
Luckily, Yiannopoulos isn't the threat he once was, having lost the radical right's affections, Breitbart’s employ and Robert Mercer's funding after footage surfaced of him defending pederasty. Mind you, he's still at it: his new website, Milo Inc, both damns gays and uses them as a shield to deflect accusations of Islamophobia. Two headlines read: "All The Studies Show, Gay Parents Are Not Good For Kids", and "GOOGLE Aids Indonesia’s Muslim Government In Anti-Gay Crackdown". There is, after all, a limit to how much homosexuality radical right LGBT people can appear to condone.
Caolan Robertson is more overt in his disdain for gay culture. In a video for far-right Canadian YouTube channel The Rebel Media, he attends London Pride 2017, mocks interviewees and calls the event "the most degenerate festival I've ever seen". He also mentions a 2016 ICM poll with questionable methodology which suggests that 52 percent of British Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal, quoting when the stat before asking left-wing journalist and campaigner Owen Jones, "Do you think that’s something that’s a threat to gays in our country?"
Jones replies, succinctly: "Far-right groups… try to cynically appropriate gay rights for Islamophobia."
In an another video – this time an interview with radical right vlogger, Millennial Woes – Robertson cites an unknown report alleging that "60 percent of gays in the UK admit to having over 500 partners", adding, "[Gays] have literally shit all over all of the people who fought for their rights to be able to exist by behaving like this." The only record which correlates to this is a 1978 sociological study regularly shared on Christian websites.
Robertson later left Rebel Media acrimoniously, and now works behind the camera on documentaries with fellow Rebel alumni, alt-right Canadian vlogger Lauren Southern.
Failed UKIP leader Anne-Marie Waters' beliefs about LGBT rights and Islam can be summed up by one of her tweets: "I'm a gay woman who values my freedom, believe me, Islam is out to get me." However, her new party, For Britain, makes no mention of LGBT people in its manifesto. Perhaps this is because the radical-right has little space for lesbians, who, as Patrik Hermansson of Hope Not Hate – who spent a year undercover in the alt-right – explains, "aren't even discussed" due to its boys' club chauvinism.
Hermansson understands how gay men come to be part of and celebrated by the radical right: "There's this glorifying of the male body and an idea that men are the best in every possible way. It makes sense, then, that when men are close together, in those groups, homosexuality doesn’t have to be so strange." He also cites the manosphere – made up of single men who feel "left out and oppressed by what they perceive as feminism" – as a common entry point to the radical right. Feldman agrees: "A close male bonding can go from homosociality to homoerotic to LGBT."
There's an argument to be had about the point at which fetishistic enjoyment of fascist iconography can tip into full-blown appreciation of the Nazi ideal of the Ubermensch – a strong, muscular and healthy Aryan man. Think Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising, Tom of Finland's predilection for uniformed antagonists and the gay skins culture. As Hermansson points out: "It's like the bullied turning into bullies, but it only happens to white men because they’ve got that possibility."
More pressing, though, is supposedly pro-LGBT groups leveraging a minority status to provide a get-out-of-bigotry-free-card in a cynical and manipulative attempt to gain the hard-right ethical kudos and more members. Not only can their arguments – propped up by sloppy and wilfully misinterpreted polling – be convincing, but these people also attempt to cast the left as the real oppressors of gay people. It was a Conservative government which introduced same-sex marriage to the UK, yes, but LGBT rights are more than marriage.
As that long fight showed, sexual orientation doesn't always imply a political orientation, and it's incumbent on everyone across ideological and political spectrums to continue the conversation about how the religious and socially conservative consider and treat LGBT people.
The radical right’s rebranding as well-dressed, slick and intellectual operators has worked to give the movement an undue credibility, but the gay-tolerant rendition of Islamophobia is transparently exploitative. It's only a matter of time before they get found out.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.