Opinion | From Homonationalism to Homopopulism – Why are gays voting right?

Paris Pride (Photogolfer / Shutterstock.com)

Shifting geopolitical dynamics and a surge of right-wing populism have exposed notable shifts in the political behaviour of a growing number of women, LGBTQ and people of colour.

In the past three years, the Western world witnessed the coming out of a rumoured “shift” in the Liberal Democratic world order. This manifested in an array of consecutive presidential and national elections that took place in some of the world’s most prominent Liberal Democracies; namely the US, Holland, France, Germany and more recently, Italy.

As such, each case carried a unique set of circumstances and contexts that influenced their internal political climates, however, a shared hegemonic positioning within the global order along with a history of multilateral relationships, made the consequences of such electoral outcomes far-reaching and inherently global.

Such dynamics, along with similar geopolitical foundations and shared implications of prominent global events, including the War on Terror, the Global Financial Crisis, and the EU Crisis, among others, have resulted in a popular backlash against the Liberal-Internationalist status quo that emerged post-World War II. The consequential rise of populist-nationalist (right-wing) movements throughout Europe and the United States have manifested into significant electoral inroads and victories that have had, and could continue to have, radical implications for the globe and broader societal relations.

The very nature of populist-nationalist ideology embodies the politics of fear and intolerance, often in conjunction with an associated desire for the swift resolution of a perceived crisis. In this contemporary context we can observe an ever-growing backlash against what is viewed as political correctness and an increasingly “soft” and “weak” (feminine, non-heterosexual) Western nation-state. The millennial nation-state is thus framed as an embodiment of global values that seek to disrupt and erase traditional and historical national identities, more specifically through the promotion of multiculturalism, internationalism and tolerance. Prominent global events that result in widespread violence and suffering are therefore pinned on an ever increasing perceived inability of the Western nation-state to maintain control of its sovereignty and hegemonic status in the midst of rapid globalisation.

In 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (Brexit) and the US elected Donald Trump as president. Both these events acted as an electoral outlet for many people residing in the US and UK, as they represented a “resistance vote” to established Liberal-Internationalist norms. In France, Holland, Germany and Italy, populist-nationalist political parties and their leaders were followed closely by the media. The emotive and often highly publicised commentaries of Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and the newly established AFD (Alternative For Germany) closely aligned themselves with a shared “resistance” to the socio-economic and political establishment, offering radical reforms in the areas of immigration, security, multilateralism, economy, and national identity. Although many did not achieve an all-out electoral victory in their respective races, significant electoral gains occurred, positioning their entities at the heart of decision-making centres throughout the globe.

This re-emergence of right-wing populism raises questions around the implications for various interest groups and minorities residing in these societies and the globe at large. Non-citizens and immigrants remain the primary target of both state and non-state sponsored violence. However, women, LGBTQ and people of colour are being closely associated with a perceived breakdown in traditional values, and as active proponents of multiculturalism and globalisation. With specific reference to the gender and sexual dynamics in this regard, the historical rhetoric of populist-nationalist groups has positioned women in traditional roles, occupying the private space with domestic and reproductive imperatives.

LGBTQ individuals were framed as unnatural and opponents of a broader desire for morality and family values. As a result, over the past four decades a majority of women and LGBTQ individuals have actively resisted right-wing sentiments in a predominantly aligned strive for equality. The populist-nationalist rhetoric of the millennium remains closely aligned with these notions of respectability politics, and the majority of women and LGBTQ individuals remain resistant. However, shifting geo-political dynamics and a surge of right-wing populism have exposed notable shifts in the political behaviour of a growing number of women, LGBTQ and people of colour.

There is indeed an assumption that LGBTQ individuals are inherently progressive, an assumption observed through broader historical sentiment.

From the 1970s the visibility of the LGBTQ community within social justice and progressive circles has been overwhelmingly evident, particularly at the height of HIV/Aids and Equal Rights activism. This can be further supported by statistical and electoral data; however, recent studies have exposed a number of developing trends in this regard.

In February 2017, a poll conducted through the gay social networking application “Hornet” surveyed approximately 3,200 users prior to the first round of the 2017 French elections. This sample of predominately gay men at the average age of 26 provides an informed perspective on a number of areas that fall within the parameters of this subject matter.

The first finding was that gay men are mobilised and active politically, with 92% of the participants stating that they intended to vote in both rounds of the election. The second finding was that gay men are indeed shifting their ideological allegiances from traditionally voting for Left-aligned groups (33.2% of the respondents indicated that they voted for Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande in 2012) to centre and right-aligned groups. As such, 13.3% of the respondents indicated that they voted for anti-equal rights candidate Marine Le Pen in 2012, with 19.3% (one in five) respondents indicating that they intended to vote for her in 2017-a 6% growth in five years.

In line with national trends, centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron garnered 38.1% support from the respondents. The third relevant finding was that when asked to rank important issues that need addressing in French society (participants were given 8 options), Work (77%), Education (49.6%) and Security (45.1%) overwhelmingly occupied the first three positions. LGBTQ rights (36%) ranked in fifth position whilst HIV/Aids support received the lowest ranking at approximately 8.1%.

While fully acknowledging the contextual dynamics of the above poll, particularly that it exclusively surveys gay men living in France, it does point to a growing trend in Liberal Democracies. This calls to question whether perceptions of security (economic, political and social) are beginning to Trump the politics of (gender and sexual) identity.

Such data coincides with an expanding pro-LGBTQ (West) vs anti-LGBTQ (Rest) global polarisation/divide. Associated narratives have been successfully adopted by a number of politicians, surprisingly by many within the populist-nationalist (right-wing) camp. Although most remain resistant to Marriage Equality, as this resonates with their traditional and conservative support base, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Donald Trump and the AFD actively campaigned in favour of “protecting” the LGBTQ community in recent elections. In doing so, their rhetoric emanated the common “us vs them” (politics of fear) populist strategy that labelled the enemy of the LGBTQ community as “violent foreign ideologies” that seek to erode American and European (Western) values of tolerance and human rights. As a result, such sentiments have increasingly begun to resonate with certain members of the LGBTQ community, particularly following the Orlando Massacre.

This unorthodox approach by the (alt)right thus increases their support-base whilst simultaneously serving a nationalistic agenda; a well-thought and refined political strategy recently brought to light by Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower Christopher Wylie: “The gays. She loved the gays. So did Steve (Bannon). He saw us as early adopters. He figured, if you can get the gays on board, everyone else will follow. It’s why he was so into the whole Milo (Yiannopoulos) thing.”

Reported cases of homophobic and transphobic violence being perpetuated by non-citizens (immigrants) have further exemplified a possible re-alignment of LGBTQ politics in long-standing Liberal Democracies, with activist sentiments demonstrating the potential “shift” away from historically progressive solidarity and coalition-building, to prioritising security through national and cultural regulation. Such behaviour has been problematised in various academic and activist circles, particularly by Jasbir Puar (2007) in her book Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times. In doing so, Puar conceptualises what she calls “Homonationalism” – a possible collusion between (certain) sexual minorities and a (post-9/11) nationalistic state.

Whilst Puar’s critiques of citizenship, political economy and sexuality provide a ground-breaking and necessary contribution to the study of LGBTQ politics, amongst others, I would argue that we have moved to a new phase of Homonationalism. The political behaviour of gay men and lesbian women in particular, is no longer solely influenced by a post-9/11, nationalistic and neo-liberal state.

The appeal of populism (the politics of fear and intolerance) is infiltrating all segments of society to the point that it is even colluding with those that it seeks to regulate, including women, people of colour and LGBTQ. I call this Homopopulism, and it is a dangerous reality that we as a global LGBTQ community need to face.

As history has shown, populist-nationalism is no friend of the queer community, and so it is imperative that we resist succumbing to perceptions of false “security” that divert our causes away from the necessary strive for tolerance, reform and transformation.

James Lotter is an LGBTQ activist, MA & South African Research Chairs initiative: Gender Politics scholar in the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University. This article was first published by Daily Maverick

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