In defence (sort of) of gay conservatives

Simon Copland examines the reality of queer politics, and why being queer doesn’t automatically mean you’re left-wing.

Man withdrawing a wooden card painted as the gay pride flag from his suit pocket, close up of his hand.

Originally published in SBS Sexuality, 26 October 2016

Following an interview with two gay men at a Trump rally, the idea of queer conservatives has bewildered – and apparently angered –  quite a few in the past week; the men in question have apparently received multiple death threats since the video appeared.

Gay conservatives have also recently been a topic of debate in Australia. Recently, commenter Mia Freedman took aim at Josh Manuatu, the gay advisor to Eric Abetz, arguing he must suffer from ‘internalised homophobia’.

There is often an assumption that to be queer is to be progressive, with bewilderment at anyone who breaks this mould.

I am not conservative, and my sexuality is integral to my politics. At the same time, the idea that sexuality should automatically link to left-wing views is patently ridiculous. I therefore feel a need to defend these queer conservatives.

The assumption that all queers must inherently be ‘progressive’ is based – at least in our modern perception – on the history of conservative forces blocking and resisting moves for equality and sexual liberation. The problem with this is multi-layered. 

The attacks on Manuatu have been based on the idea of him having a ‘cognitive dissonance’ in being gay and at the same time working for someone who doesn’t believe in ‘his rights’.

This ignores the history of so-called progressive organisations in opposing queer rights. Why do we attack Manuatu, for example, when we are quick to excuse Penny Wong, who also has a history of opposing marriage equality?

Furthermore, the argument ignores the fact that being queer does not automatically mean agreeing with the agenda of mainstream queer organisations. As Manuatu explains, he actually agrees with his boss that the Marriage Act should not change—a position that may be confusing to some, but that can also be entirely consistent with his existence.

Even if queer people do agree with issues such as marriage equality, that does not mean they consider them important above all else. The two Trump supporters stated they were “tired of the bulls–t Government”, and that Trump would “bring more jobs to the country.” This is an expression of the economic anxieties facing many in the United States—anxieties that are rightfully considered to be more important than the identity-based issues that dominate much of queer politics. On these issues, Trump clearly presents an appealing alternative. I can see, therefore, why some would overlook his multitude of anti-minority statements if it meant an opportunity to restore some economic security. Whether it’s creating economic security, or holding onto existing wealth and power, there are a range of issues queers may find more important than queer ‘equality’.

This leads us to the bigger – and broader – reality of queer politics. In past decades, mainstream queer campaigning has become more identity focused, presenting a narrow view of equality based on the capacity for all of us to be able to express our sexual identity however we want. This can be seen as a good thing, as it allows for a breadth of diversity within the queer community (making the confusion around queer conservatives quite ironic).

On the flip side, however, it is a form of politics that has become completely divorced from other issues, in particular with economics and class. As is the case with other issues of minority oppression, the left has been unable to develop an effective narrative that explains how sexual and gender oppression are inherently connected with poverty and economic insecurity.

In divorcing ourselves from economics, it therefore makes sense we see a queer population that is seemingly increasingly diverging in its political views (although these splits have always existed). Sexual and gender identity are not a strong enough bind to create a coherent economic or political philosophy.

This is why the reactions to the Trump supporters, and Josh Manuatu, are so misguided, and frankly gross. If we want people to be left-wing we can’t simply assume their sexual or gender identity will be enough. We actually need to make a coherent case. Saying people are suffering from ‘internalised homophobia’, or sending them death threats is not going to achieve that. 

This article was originally published on SBS News. Click here to view the original. © All rights reserved.

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