Donna Minkowitz writes in Slate about the emergence of a white gay male alt-right/white nationalist/neo-Nazi front using camp and sex to attract recruits. As counter-intuitive as the idea of a gay white nationalist movement may be, this development is very dangerous, making the article, IMO, a must-read for all who are fearful of white nationalism.
And, by the way, the article also includes a quote from me calling for us to use compassion as a wedge to separate the leadership of this new vector of racism and male supremacy from their potential base of support. That call, I’m guessing, requires some clarification.
The emergence of a queer white nationalism with one foot in misogynistic men’s movement ideologies and the other in white supremacy is extremely problematic, not just because it seems so, well, odd. When considering it, we should remember that the LGBTQ+ movement went from queer liberation to marriage and the military in only thirty years or so (a blink of an eye in movement time) and largely as a reaction to constant, vicious attacks from right wing evangelicals.
When a group is so under attack, an “any port in a storm” mentality often develops among some of its members. To simply scold them for it consolidates the base of our opposition and makes those vulnerable to right wing recruitment more likely to choose against us.
The rise of a white nationalist challenge to the LGBTQ+ community may be very divisive and threatens to help consolidate a broader base for overt white male supremacist activism. Moreover, this budding queer fascist front ought to be understood as miners’ canaries, warning that the toxic ideas of white nationalism are asserting themselves in near every quarter, competing with us for the support of even those we generally view as natural allies.
In race terms, it may be an indication that the appeal of “whitening,” the process by which previously excluded groups like the Irish and Italians, among others, have been included among whites in order to maintain white majorities, may be stronger than we think. Groups like “white Hispanics” and East Asians who have been subjected to model minority stereotyping may be especially susceptible to these appeals.
I have no sympathy for white nationalist queer movement leaders. People like Jack Donovan, featured in the article, require none of our compassion. Rather than try to reason with the leadership, I strongly believe that we should use compassion as a wedge between people like Donovan and the people he is trying to recruit.
And, believe me, there are plenty of potential recruits. I was recently recalling my years of working with the National LGBTQ Task Force while on the road with Tarso Ramos, Executive Director of Political Research Associates, preparing rural pro-democracy activists to fight right wing paramilitary groups. While on the road in the 1990s traveling from state to state with my white gay male (and former corporate guy) colleague, we would occasionally be consigned to what amounted to segregated housing. He would be bunked with A-List white gay men, and I would be bunked with lesbians (wonderful lesbians!). And in every community, a marginal but no less real minority of activists we encountered would complain about “P.C.” lesbians, talk sh*t about trans people, and refer to people of color by ugly, overt racist terms that are best not repeated. Queers, like everyone else, are by no means immune to bigotry.
There’s a potential base for the Jack Donovan’s of the world. But that potential base ought not be characterized in terms that foreclose on the possibility that they might choose against white nationalism and, as they do, may become the best defense against it among white gay men.
The historic context of the LGBTQ+ movement is highly instructive here. In my own youth in the 60s and 70s, I believed that I would be killed if I came out as gay, and not by strangers but by friends, maybe even family. I spent the first 20+ years of my life constantly looking over my shoulder, guarding against anti-queer violence. I spent many more years fearful of losing my job and being evicted from housing once I did come out. Such are the choices queer people of my generation had to make.
And ordinary homophobia wasn’t all we had to fear. We are a group that has been maligned and defamed in just about every imaginable way, accused of being child molesters and perverts, and subjected to sodomy laws that criminalized us even in our own bedrooms. Sodomy, by the way, is a word that says it all, doesn’t it? The religious right, the most effective social movement of the last 50 years, put us in the camp of the devil in order to use us as a political wedge and make anti-democratic arguments for everything from constitutional bans to quarantines and death.
The road for us has been a perilous one. When I use the term “any port in a storm,” I mean to emphasize the storm over the port.
A long time ago, at a meeting of a group dedicated to fighting vigilante white supremacy, the Reverend Cecil Charles Prescod, then the minister of the Highland United Church of Christ in the heart of the historically Black (now primarily white) community of Portland, Oregon responded to my proposal to use the term “humans” in our mission statement when referring to the board of directors. He reminded me that “human” is just an adjective. The subject that’s missing, he pointed out, is “being.” And, he went on, if being is what we’re going for, we might as well just say people. I’ve remember that exchange for nearly thirty years because it, however accidentally, reminded me to always keep the subject in mind when advocating for social justice. When we fail to do so, we open the door to demonization of our opposition, and demonization, in turns, opens the door to authoritarianism from the Left.
What I’m calling for is not that we forget about the adjectives. Modifiers like Asian, Black, native, Latino, white, disabled, queer, etc., matter – they have real material consequences that can be measured not just in terms of suffering, but in terms of privilege, and both suffering and privilege are powerful motivators of political action. But we should put the subject first and remember that however we are arranged relative to one another we are still, always, people first. Let’s not fall into the trap our opposition has set and allow the adjectives that defame us to be viewed as descriptors of natural, god-given categories that, when viewed as natural, justify their effects on their subjects.
Our shared humanity creates a space between those adjectives and their subjects that should be viewed as a placeholder for liberation.