From Donald Trump, to Marine Le Pen, to the Israeli government, the far-right is rebranding itself as uniquely equipped to protect LGBTQ communities from homophobia — so long as it is coming from Muslims.
On June 13, 2016, Donald Trump gave a speech in response to the mass shooting at an Orlando LGBTQ nightclub the previous night, in which Omar Mateen murdered 49 people before being killed by police.
“I refuse to allow America to become a place where gay people, Christian people, Jewish people are targets of persecution and intimation [sic] by radical Islamic preachers of hate and violence,” Trump said. “Ask yourself who is really the friend of women and the LGBT community, Donald Trump with actions or Hillary Clinton with her words?”
A number of things jump out from these statements: the assumption that Muslims cannot be victims of religious extremism (a blind spot that extends well beyond Trump); the gall of calling himself a friend of women and the LGBT community when he serially assaults the former and would go on to fill his cabinet with haters of both; and the hypocrisy of listing the groups he believes to be threatened by “radical Islamic preachers of hate and violence,” when he has never acknowledged that all those communities are far more threatened by radical white preachers of hate and violence, whom he has emboldened.
But Trump’s speech also contained an idea that has been rolling around for more than a decade, and is now more popular than ever: that the far-right, for all its omnidirectional bigotry, is somehow uniquely equipped to protect LGBTQ communities from homophobia — so long as, that is, the homophobia is coming from Muslims.
Geert Wilders, the ultra-nationalist who threatened an upset in the Netherlands’ national elections last March, has long girded his Islamophobic and anti-immigrant policy proposals in an apparent concern for gay rights. France’s Marine Le Pen insisted during her recent presidential campaign that her far-right Front National was the only party that could defend LGBTQs from Islamist violence.
In the U.K., the fascist English Defence League launched an “LGBT Division” several years ago, under the same rubric of protecting gay rights through hatred of Muslims. A few days ago, with the national elections approaching, UKIP — the far-right party that helped steer the U.K. out of Europe and risks annihilation because, among other things, its once beyond-the-pale ideas have become so mainstream — launched its new manifesto, which touts its “protection” of the queer community.
And then there’s Israel, where the country’s superficial tolerance of (some) queers is a staple of the hasbara (Israel’s official state PR) crowd’s “villa in the jungle” trope. This phenomenon is more nuanced in Israel, and significantly more entrenched — a broad spectrum of groups takes this line, not all of them as far to the right as those listed above — but the underlying assertion is the same: ignore the rampant discrimination we display elsewhere, because we protect LGBTQs, above all from the encroaching Muslims that wish them harm. This is not to deny the real struggles faced by many queers in the Middle East, but these arguments are never deployed to raise up LGBTQ communities — only to repress Muslim ones.
Indeed, the insincerity of all these groups’ and individuals’ stated regard for queer rights is as clear as day: Wilders, Le Pen, Trump, the EDL and UKIP are no allies of the LGBTQ community. And neither, when you scratch below the surface, is Israel: for all the high-profile, government-sponsored pride parades, the Knesset struggles to pass a single piece of LGBTQ rights legislation; incitement against gays is a recurrent theme in public discourse; and the army, which boasts of its LGBTQ inclusivity, is the same one that blackmails gay Palestinians under occupation to act as informants. It’s not queer liberation if one ethnicity routinely weaponizes the sexual orientation of another.
On queerness and whiteness
The far-right’s attempt to occupy queer liberation for the sake of Islamophobia and border control is about more than pinkwashing and rank hypocrisy. Its messaging also makes a subtle, but damaging, suggestion to LGBTQs: that it is possible and beneficial to be accepted into a defiantly conservative and heteronormative framework that has always been our chief oppressor. It’s an offer to jump from the “them” group into a narrow, reactionary “us” group, and it makes this project doubly pernicious: not only does it presume, whip up and then seek to exploit LGBTQ fears of violence from specific communities, it also preys on the very real queer experience of exclusion.
While these overtures insult the intelligence of a great many LGBTQ people, they haven’t failed entirely. And that signals another problem that is still consistently swept under the carpet: racism in the LGBTQ community. From overt bigotry to chronic erasure, people of color are subjected to the same prejudices in queer communities that they are everywhere else. When the LGBTQ community replicates the inequalities found in broader society and fails to address racism at both an organizational and individual level, it gives disingenuous, manipulative far-right actors the room in which to operate.
This issue also points to the most insidious characteristic of the far-right’s LGBTQ-protection-via-Islamophobia campaign — the effacement of queer Muslims, by positioning LGBTQ life and Islam as zero-sum opposites. This is not to ignore the voices of LGBTQ Muslims that do struggle for acceptance, and the complexities they have to navigate. But as with the discourse surrounding Israel and LGBTQ freedoms, the far-right’s queer outreach has nothing to do with liberating LGBTQ Muslims, or any other queer communities — it’s simply about persecuting Muslims as a whole.
And that’s the heart of the matter: Trump, Le Pen, the EDL and their deplorable ilk are not (deceitfully) proposing to protect the rights of all queer people. The invitation to join their ranks is not aimed at Muslim queers, or black queers, or any queer people of color at all. It’s aimed at white LGBTQ people, and is offered not because they’re queer, but because they’re white — which, through the Islamophobic lens of these far-right opportunists, is enough to rhetorically excuse them from their queerness.
This is why, to paraphrase the wonderful Flavia Dzodan, queer liberation will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit. That’s not a catchy banner slogan, but a call to publicly reject the far-right’s attempts to beautify its Islamophobia with the language of queer liberation; to actively fight racism and erasure of people of color in LGBTQ spaces and beyond; and — alongside battling homophobia and transphobia wherever it is found — to embrace as our own the struggles of all those threatened by bigotry. It’s the only liberation worthy of the name.