Why is far-right ideology taking hold in LGBT+ communities?

The way that many gay men talk about bodies and beauties may have ripened their minds for right-wing thinking

Published August 21, 2022 10:00AM (EDT)

Supporters hold up a gay pride flag for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on October 18, 2016 (George Frey/Getty Images)
Supporters hold up a gay pride flag for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on October 18, 2016 (George Frey/Getty Images)

While depictions of gay life in films and TV series typically portray LGBT+ people as politically-active progressives, there is a growing swath of LGBT+ conservatives in real-life, some of whom hold far right ideologies — a juxtaposition that often shocks those encountering it for the first time. Indeed, as my ethnographic examinations of the far-right and conspiracy theories have revealed, they do in fact exist — and my findings are corroborated by other researchers in my field. More importantly, this demographic seems to be gaining traction and momentum within certain sectors of the LGBT+ community — both in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

That might seem particularly peculiar given that many of the ideas currently being espoused by the far-right promote racial hierarchies, transphobia, and even anti-gay sentiments. Where do these ideas come from? What underlying conditions were already there for the far-right to use to their advantage? And, most importantly, is there anything that can be done about it? While conservative LGBT+ individuals have always existed, even during the reign of the Nazi party, in an age of increasingly divisive rhetoric these ideas and beliefs have been given new life.

According to a 2020 study conducted by the Williams Institute, approximately 9 million LGBT adults are registered voters, 15% of which are Republican and only 50% are Democrats. Like my recent peer reviewed journal article in Sexualities, some of the findings of this report make sense, while others seem to contradict conventional wisdom about the individuals so studied. For instance, sexual orientation is considered an insignificant part of identity for LGBT+ Republicans, yet 38% of this sample thought being an LGBT was a personal shortcoming. This recent report highlights a significant divide that has existed and persists within the LGBT+ community — whether we have moved beyond the shared experience of marginalization that gave rise to the movement, or if we have entered into a "post-gay" era.  However, gay men have played a pivotal role in promoting some of the most discussed topics in conservative politics — including an idea known as "the great replacement" theory.

It may shock readers to learn that a gay French socialite and artist named Renaud Camus coined the "Great Replacement" theory, an idea which has been promoted in far right circles. The gist of the "Great Replacement" is the idea that whites are being replaced at a rate such that they will be the minority by 2050; and moreover, that liberal politicians are attempting to accelerate this "replacement" through liberal immigration policies. Camus has been photographed proudly marching alongside Neo-Nazis, making him an even more bizarre figure than openly gay conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

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The Great Replacement theory and similar far-right ideas have also been promoted among those who constitute the intellectual dark web — a group of pseudo-intellectuals pushing conservative talking points and anti-science rhetoric. Among those promoting these ideas are Jordan Peterson; gay political commentator Dave Rubin, who if has not directly promoted Great Replacement theory has promoted transphobic and anti-lesbian rhetoric; venture capitalist Peter Thiel; and Sam Harris — all "members" of the Intellectual Dark Web.

Some of the same ideas about what constitutes beauty within the broader LGBT+ culture mirror what is espoused by far-right figures.

For those not familiar with the inner workings of the far right or alt-right, this may seem like a bizarre juxtaposition.  Yet the literature on authoritarianism gives us an idea on how one can hold seemingly contradictory beliefs at the same time. In the 1950s, philosopher and sociologist Theodor Adorno and his contemporaries sought to understand if there was something within individuals that could lead them to gravitate towards fascist ideology. Their groundbreaking study identified a number of traits that might push someone towards supporting authoritarian leadership. Of those nine traits, several stick out as important for our discussion here: the belief in rigid (especially gendered) categories; belief that hierarchies are natural and justified; and aggression towards those seeking to transgress boundaries. Some of these traits had already been cultivated by specific subsets of the gay community long before Milo Yiannopoulos, Dave Rubin, or Great Replacement theory were widely known.

Indeed, some of the same ideas about what constitutes beauty within the broader LGBT+ culture mirror what is espoused by far-right figures. This is more than just conjecture and a body of empirical research explores the threads of discrimination within LGBT+ spaces based on gender, race, age, and ability which coalesce and form hierarchies of beauty within gay culture. Most gay men come to realize early on that, within gay culture, there is premium placed on being white, young, physically fit, and attractive by Western European cultural standards. Those who deviate from those cultural expectations are treated as less than — and where one is placed within this hierarchy determines one's access to participate in queer culture. My own work has sought to look at this, and also ask why some gay men choose to date only those at the top of this hierarchy. In my research, I found these men repeated some of the same talking points as those espoused by conservative political figures. These include statements like "I'm only attracted to people of [X] race," or racialized statements in dating profiles, including the all-too-common refrains: "no fats, no femmes, no Asians" and "masc 4 masc." 

When Renaud Camus penned the "Great Replacement" theory, he may have merely been expressing opinions which white gay men were using as justifications for holding racist ideologies long before he published his book. Indeed, numerous social media accounts exist that are devoted to exposing racism on gay dating apps — for instance, GrindrWhileBlack, which posts screenshots on both Twitter and Instagram page

While the gay and LGBT+ community may seem like an odd place for the seeds of right-wing extremism to take root and sprout, the culture that has been built post-Stonewall is one that has been increasingly commodified and, as such, increasingly exclusive.

An additional mechanism that has allowed far-right ideology to seep into the gay community comes, ironically, from the successes of the gay rights movement in promoting gay marriage. The term post-gay was used initially by Paul Burston, a British News Journalist, who, when interviewed, said he "meant it tongue-in-cheek, not in the way it has been taken recently." The term was later used by several high-profile figures, including an interview with James Collard in Out magazine who used the term to divorce himself from political ideology. In a post-gay era, brought on by the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, they argue that one's sexuality is distinct from one's politics. This was the position of the first elected gay alderman in St. Louis in 2009 when I interviewed him in my role as news reporter, and a sentiment that persists throughout the Democratic and Republican parties. This sentiment, however, has exposed the far-right tendencies that have existed within gay culture.

With far-right extremism on the rise, the spread of these ideas and rhetoric represents a growing threat to the larger LGBT+ community. On the ground, this has played out in a variety of surprising ways — from promotion of QAnon by LGBT+ persons, gay men openly using racial slurs on dating apps, and the general adoption of authoritarian positions which marginalize those at the bottom of the LGBT+ world. In 2016, I witnessed how toxic this had become when lesbian protestors in London gathered to disrupt the London Pride parade and promote transphobic messaging. Here in the United States, we've had parallel developments with gay men promoting ideas that naturalize hierarchies of beauty—claiming that their beauty standards are not socially constructed but natural, and even a product of human evolution.

Outside of these ideas embedded within LGBT+ culture, we have also seen the emergence of formal LGBT+ organizations that support conservative politicians — some formal, some conjoined and made visible through hashtags on social media. These include groups like Gays For Trump and Twinks4Trump — a pseudo-movement started by a Gateway Pundit contributor — in addition to the ones that have existed for decades (i.e. Log Cabin Republicans). In interviews that I have conducted with conservative gay figures, they reiterate that they want to be seen as equal to — not distinct from — their straight counterparts. Many of these men also felt rejection from the larger LGBT+ community, leading them to seek acceptance from others. Feeling rejected, these men found a warm embrace from conservative ideologues — such as when gay influencer Christian Walker, son of former football player and politician Herschel Walker, took to Twitter denouncing Gay Pride festivals; or, former Breitbart employee Milo Yiannopoulos' sensationalized behavior, some of which was directed at the larger LGBT+ community. Such behaviors seem to be the product of trying to appease conservative leaders, even if that means denouncing others like themselves.

In my ethnographic work on gay culture I've met many men who delayed coming out, myself included, because of the "body fascism" or "toxic masculinity" that exists in the gay community. Even if you reject my premise that LGBT+ culture has tendencies which provide fertile ground for far-right ideologies to take hold, surely we can all agree that hiding one's identify because of perceived rejection of one's community is reason enough to change these behaviors. Moreover, in the early epidemic phase of a new virus, monkeypox, that is affecting MSM communities, gay men seem to be clinging onto the hyper-individualism which has proved so harmful to limiting the spread of other diseases like HIV/AIDS and COVID-19. If the LGBT+ community is to survive and thrive, perhaps we need to reconsider the places, spaces, and rhetoric our community draws upon. COVID has given us a remarkable opportunity to reimagine what community looks like and to unravel the root causes of so many problems the LGBT+ community has grappled with for decades.

By Christopher T. Conner

Christopher T. Conner is Teaching Assistant Professor of Sociology at The University of Missouri, Columbia. He has published work on the Philosophy of Social Science, LGBTQ+ culture, Technology, and Misinformation/Disinformation. His work has been featured in a variety of outlets including YOUNG: Journal of Nordic Youth CultureThe Sociological QuarterlyDeviant BehaviorSymbolic Interaction, and Sexualities. He has also co-edited numerous anthologies including "The Gayborhood: From Sexual Liberation to Cosmopolitan Spectacle," "Forgotten Founders and Other Neglected Social Theorists," and "Studies in Symbolic Interaction: Subcultures."

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Analysis Far-right Great Replacement Theory Homophobia Lgbtq Issues Rhetoric