While racism and xenophobia are central tenets of the radical right, so is homophobia – in spite of efforts to appear as allies to the LGBTQ community.
The June 2019 Pride month celebrations worldwide also signaled the 50 year anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. While there may be a sense of progressive evolution towards more inclusivity that appears to be in direct contrast with the backward politics of the Radical Right, it is important to highlight the complex relationship between these two movements. I identify three aspects of this relationship: the LGBTQ+ community as a recurrent target of the Radical Right, as an odd ally, and as a convenient alibi for Islamophobia.
LGBTQ+ as a Recurrent Target
The historical expressions of homophobia in the political spectrum do not necessarily originate from the right since it is only recently that most politically progressive alliances on the left “came out” in support of the LGBTQ+ community. However, while the repression and persecution of (mostly male) homosexuality was not exercised by one ideological camp, it did become a systematic form of brutalization under Nazism.
The Pink Triangle is probably the most recognizable symbol of this pursuit, vividly demonstrated in Martin Sherman’s harrowing play Bent (1979) and the 1997 homonymous film. According to Richard Plant, the play uses material from the memoir of a gay ex-inmate: Heinz Heger’s The Men with the Pink Triangle (written in German in 1972). Plant argues that recognition of the agony of gay people under the Third Reich was deferred, even when the suffering of other groups similarly labeled as “contragenics” and sent for extermination had been gradually documented and acknowledged.
The Radical Right today is not a direct successor of these practices, but it maintains an unfiltered homophobia that targets the LGBTQ+ community either through physical violence or erasure and negation. For example, Golden Dawn MP’s in Greece did not shy away from identifying homosexuality with pedophilia in a Parliamentary debate for same-sex civil union legislation, while Golden Dawn members have been linked to attacks against gay people.
But it is the annual June Pride Parades that have recently become the Radical Right’s preferred arena for confrontation and airing of grievances. In Romania, the New Right (Noua Dreaptă) organized the Normality March in 2018 as a counter-demonstration during the Bucharest Pride Parade. In Spain, Francisco José Alcaraz, a VOX representative for Andalusia, talked about introducing a “Day of Hetero Pride,” while far-right extremists in Israel targeted the Jerusalem Pride Parade, calling it “LGBT terrorism” that would turn “Israel into Sodom.” The collective moral panic activated by the Pride Parades are not confined to fringe Radical Right elements, but have seeped into the everyday political discourse of established officials: Brazilian President Bolsonaro warned against Brazil becoming a “gay tourism paradise.”
It should be stressed that the Radical Right’s homophobic strategies are taking place at a time when most governments are taking small, but once-unthinkable steps of legally safeguarding LGBTQ+ rights: the Brazil Supreme Court has recently deemed homophobia and transphobia a crime and Bolsonaro maintains that the rights of the LGBTQ+ community will not be violated. In Romania, the effort to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage was defeated in a 2018 referendum. And in India, a country where key public officials continue to freely express their homophobic views, the Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality in 2018.
For the most part, the targeting of the LGBTQ+ community is often indirect, including a thinly-veiled focus on the “protection of the family” and opposition to the so-called “gender ideology.” Once the province of religious and church organizations, these “anti-gender campaigns” have become part of the social agenda of Radical Right parties, sometimes managing to resonate even more deeply than other issues.
In Hungary, where the government is set to halt funding Gender Studies programs in September 2019, a steady resistance to “gender ideology” has been simmering for years and it is no accident that Orbán’s government named 2018 as the “Year of the Family.” In the UK, UKIP’s shift to the right is evident in their opposition to an LGBT-inclusive curriculum in primary schools. And, in Poland, where gender is referred to as “Ebola from Brussels,” the defense of “family values” is advanced through the language of resistance against the imperialism of European/capitalist/colonizing values.
The translation of these regressive ideologies into policy is often a simple step back: in the USA, after a decade of progress (e.g. the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the 2015 Supreme Court overturning of same-sex marriage ban), the transgender community is facing erasure. Following the military ban for transgender service members, the Trump administration is contemplating the redefinition of gender as a biologically given and immutable characteristic; something that would bring a devastating blow to transgender civil rights that are now protected under federal law. Now, Trump’s Labor Department proposed a new rule that would allow businesses with federal contracts to discriminate against LGBTQ workers based on religious beliefs.
Overall, the Radical Right’s reaction to Pride Parades often aims at disguising homophobia and transphobia through the pretense of child protection. Thus, they easily tap into long-standing cultural anxieties, while paying lip service to LGBTQ+ rights.
LGBTQ+ as an Odd Ally of the Radical Right
To many, it may sound like a case of cognitive dissonance, but there are members of the LGBTQ+ community who not only identify with the Radical Right, they also hold key leadership positions. AfD’s Leader Alice Weidel is openly gay and in a civil partnership and has been vocal in defending her right to separate private life from ideologies that she deems harmful: teaching homosexuality in schools or pushing for what she calls “early sexualization.” Similarly, Ilan Sadé, the openly gay leader of Medborgerlig Samling (MED-Citizens’ Coalition) in Sweden, labeled LGBTQ+ associations as “bourgeois” for refusing to accept his party’s participation in the 2018 Stockholm Pride Parade.
In fact, AfD includes a group called Alternative Homosexuals headed by Alexander Tassis, a Greek migrant who believes in “classical families,” but also carefully advocates that gay couples can provide the same values as these families if they were allowed to adopt children. The LGBT Division of the English Defence League provides another space for those who are both gay (mostly men) and fervently defend the League’s nationalism. Israel’s first openly gay cabinet minister, Amir Ohana, has stated that “being attracted to men doesn’t mean you have to believe in creating a Palestinian state.”
For some time it seemed that the flamboyant case of Milo Yiannopoulos was simply an aberrant media publicity stunt by someone who had the audacity to urge Australians to reject same-sex marriage legislation just weeks after getting married to his longtime boyfriend. But the phenomenon seems to be more widespread: the fact that there are members of the LGBTQ+ community that find a home in the Radical Right deserves more attention by researchers and cannot be easily dismissed as cases of internalized homophobia.
LGBTQ+ as a Convenient Alibi for Islamophobia
Part of the answer to the LGBTQ+ Radical Right paradox is the element of Islamophobia and anti-migrant sentiments that seem to bind the typically oppositional movements. In 2018, the LGBT Division of EDL organized the ‘Gays Against Sharia’ march in Bristol, which revealed that a fear of Muslims can easily be used to unite disparate factions. Similarly, some gay men in Germany who have turned to the far-right refer to their physical victimization by Muslims and argue that only Radical Right parties understand their agony.
Essentially, certain Radical Right groups seized upon this opportunity and managed to create a niche for the gay community that would not only expand membership, but also make them more palatable as defenders of “Western values.” Marine Le Pen has certainly tried to do this for Rassemblement National (National Rally) and Geert Wilders, the leader of PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid—Party for Freedom), also attempts to maintain this fine balance by constantly reminding people that “Islamization” will mean the end of women’s and LGBTQ rights.
Thus, in a case that we may view as a cynical rebranding exercise, the Radical Right uses the LGBTQ+ community as its alibi to hate: they do not reject all minorities, but just those that oppose national and pan-European values. This has been called ‘homonationalism’ by Jasbir K. Puar (2007): the promotion of nationalism, imperialism and even war in the name of defending LGBTQ+ rights. As Megan A. Armstrong aptly explained in a previous CARR post, these Radical Right tactics are a form of ‘pinkwashing’ that has been at least partly successful in camouflaging exclusionary policies.
The 13th World Congress of Families was held in March, 2019 in Verona, Italy and was titled: “The Wind of Change: Europe and the Global Pro-Family Movement.” It brought together US-based hate groups and local organizations with a clear goal of exchanging information and support for their anti-LGBTQ+ agenda. These events reveal that the road to LGBTQ+ rights is paved with obstacles and contradictory forces, not least within the LGBTQ+ community itself. The internationalization of these movements, as well as the shared characteristics of the complex relationship between the Radical Right and the LGBTQ+ community in different settings, require new ways of understanding how issues of identity and oppression are currently negotiated.
Dr Miranda Christou is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Assistant Professor at Sociology of Education at the University of Cyprus. See her profile here.
© Miranda Christou. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
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