Log Cabin Republicans have long emphasized that we are not a single-issue organization, nor are our members single-issue voters. – 10/22 statement on the LCR refusal to endorse Donald J. Trump for president.
In late September, the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), a Republican LGBT organization, invited Newt Gingrich to give a talk at their yearly “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner in Washington D.C. He argued that it was Hillary Clinton’s fault that she hadn’t made a sincere effort to “change” Muslim-majority countries with anti-LGBT legislation. Real leadership, he suggested, requires identifying the greatest threats to our democracy and finding a bipartisan “coalitional way” to combat terrorist violence, misogyny, and homophobia in other parts of the world.
According to Gingrich, one of the main forces menacing American democracy is what he calls “Islamic supremacism,” which isn’t just a pernicious ideology, but an existential danger to our most cherished freedoms. If Americans don’t band together and defeat these supremacists, then not only would they betray their lack of commitment to the principle of individual liberty, but they’d also forfeit their ability to hold meetings where this principle is defended.
Moreover, Gingrich avers, Islamic supremacism is the lifeblood of terrorists who now have the armed capacity to destroy American cities. And lest we be tempted to deem these supremacists a distant hazard, we should think of the so-called no-go zones in France and the U.K.—areas supposedly teeming with hatred for Jews, Christians, gays, and women (but which we know don’t actually exist). If the disease of Islamic supremacism has infected Europe, it’s only a matter of time before it spreads here.
Xenophobic Republican scaremongering of this kind is nothing new, especially during an election year. But what’s unprecedented is the efforts of top Republican leadership to increase votes specifically by combining fear of Islam and Muslims with growing sympathy among Americans for gay rights—something the GOP has historically suppressed. Recall, for instance, that the Republican National Committee officially confirmed its opposition to same-sex marriage a few years ago and still embraces ex-gay therapy for minors. Even the current vice presidential candidate refuses to recognize LGBT people as a minority entitled to protection against legal discrimination.
Although LCR have positioned themselves as a progressive voice of reason within a socially conservative political establishment, they too manipulate both anti-Muslim and pro-gay sentiment to propagate what they regard as traditional Republican ideals—liberty, limited government, low taxes, and strong national security. The famous queer theorist, Jasbir Puar, would describe this as a form of homonationalism.
The homonationalist project, which cuts across party lines, makes being LGBT-friendly essential to neoliberal democratic citizenship. In addition, it creates a class of sexual and racial outsiders whose alleged regressiveness enables the (typically white, typically economically advantaged) citizen’s own homophobia to be discursively projected onto an uncivilized other. Many gay people who enjoy ethnic and class privilege have themselves espoused homonationalism, endorsing neoliberal privatization, anti-immigrant laws, institutionalized racism, and imperial ventures partly designed to emancipate sexual minorities from their inherently regressive societies.
This is exactly the kind of thinking Gingrich mobilized during his speech. It’s those retrograde Muslim countries over there that are homophobic and need to be reformed from the ground up, not us. And liberals who say they support women and LGBT folk are hypocrites for not championing feminism and gay liberation in the Muslim world. Regrettably, homonationalism equally suffuses LCR’s agenda.
The Log Cabin Republicans are often portrayed as a socially liberal minority beleaguered by a prejudiced conservative community, and they try to distinguish themselves from run-of-the-mill GOP homophobes. Yet what they have in common with these homophobes is a habit of exaggerating exotic external threats. In particular, LCR have spent more than a decade invoking the threat of “Islamic extremism” while anointing their party as the true exponents of freedom and gay rights.
As the political fissures within the GOP widen in response to Donald Trump’s controversial presidential candidacy, it’s important to remember where the party’s different ideological elements still converge. In this case, the danger intended to unite LGBT voters behind the Republicans is what LCR president, Gregory T. Angelo, recently characterized as the “[c]reeping threat of radical Islamic theocracy.”
Angelo’s group has refused to endorse Trump for president, and it views his proposal of a temporary ban on Muslim immigration as excessive. Nonetheless, LCR are in many ways on the same page as their party’s elders when it comes to the world’s second largest religion. Like previous Republican public officials, they might grant that Islam is largely peaceful, and like the current GOP presidential candidate, they take advantage of increasingly favorable views of the LGBT community among Americans to commodify and profit from gay rights.
However, LCR believe that they’re uniquely insightful in treating jihadist attacks as ideologically motivated, pretend that the mainspring of LGBT homicides in the US lies somewhere overseas, and circulate the myth that “radicalized” Muslims generally target American minority groups. Gingrich’s prophesying the fall of an American city to Islamic supremacists with weapons of mass destruction is merely an extension of LCR’s frequent catastrophizing about “radical Islam.” Little wonder, then, that the former congressman was selected as the keynote speaker for the organization’s annual banquet.
Not unlike Gingrich’s speech, LCR’s rhetoric on Islam is shot through with hyperbole. Reacting to the attacks in New York, New Jersey, and Minnesota last month, Angelo argued that Americans can’t defeat “radical Islamic terror” unless they identify and name it as such. This entails avoiding the usual Democratic political correctness and accepting that, say, the June 12 Orlando shooting was ideologically motivated.
But President Obama has long asserted that individuals inspired by ISIS are driven by ideology, and Mrs. Clinton happily denounces what she labels “radical Islamism.” It’s undeniable that modern jihadism contains a religiously informed ideological component, but Angelo never explains what practical difference it makes to use his preferred terminology when crafting anti-extremist measures. His objection would have greater force if he could show that even if we gain a sophisticated understanding of the religious ideology cited in these attacks, the mere omission of the word “Islam” to mark those incidents compromises an otherwise sound counterterrorist policy.
Further, the evidence Angelo adduces to establish the Islamic orientation of the Orlando massacre is thin. For example, he says that the assailant, Omar Mateen, was indoctrinated by the “sharia teachings” of a certain local imam who demonized queer people. But Mateen’s only connection with the religious leader in question, Imam Marcus Robertson, was being enrolled in the latter’s online seminary. Whatever the broader impact of religiously sanctioned homophobia upon Mateen’s psychology, one cannot posit ideological influence simply on the basis of online enrollment. Sadly, this isn’t the first time a Republican has analyzed the role of Islam in terrorist attacks by stringing together the words “radical,” “threat,” “creeping,” and “sharia.”
Angelo has also said that “[i]t’s no secret that abroad men who are gay” are singled out for murder, and that this criminal activity has now reached the United States. That is, lethal violence against gay men has a predominantly foreign source which has made its way to our shores. This stance neglects the crisis of homegrown violence against queer folk. Forty-three years before Orlando, the deadliest attack on LGBT people took place in New Orleans, where a French Quarter gay bar was set ablaze and 32 patrons lost their lives.
Research by the FBI demonstrates that between 2005 and 2014 LGBT Americans surpassed American Jews as the most likely target of hate crimes in the country, not despite, but because of rising cultural acceptance of same-sex-loving persons. And according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), reported homicides against queer people have risen sharply since 2007, disproportionately harming transgender women and LGBT people of color. In overstating the peril posed by ‘radical Islamic theocracy’ to the American gay community, Angelo seems to have taken his cue from his party’s otherwise doubt-provoking presidential nominee.
If the safety of LGBT Americans isn’t compelling enough, LCR extend Gingrich’s appeal to feminists and anti-racist liberals, declaring (again, in the absence of any substantive proof) that a portion of “radicalized” Muslims in the US specifically target women and religious minorities. In fact, the advocacy organization has gone a step further than Gingrich, accusing Mrs. Clinton, for instance, of being willing to “throw LGBTs under the bus … to curry favor with Muslims and kowtow to immigrants who uphold [s]haria law …”
This fearmongering is an outgrowth of a trend in LCR which began in the years after the September 11th attacks. In 2005, former LCR president, Patrick Guerriero, condemned the Iranian government for executing two same-sex-loving teenagers, calling on the United States to secure the triumph of “freedom” over “radical Islamic extremism” through global military intervention. Similarly, in October 2012, a scandal erupted when then-LCR president, R. Clarke Cooper, rebuked a local chapter of the group for publishing an advertisement which accused the Obama administration of failing to protect “gay/gay-friendly American citizens” from the relentless “terror of Islamic radicalism.”
Two months later, the organization posted a full-page ad in the New York Times that urged Obama not to appoint Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense because he was “wrong on gay rights,” “wrong on Iran,” and “wrong on Israel.” The assumption underpinning the ad was that Hagel was unsuited to defend the country because he was too lenient toward Iran’s Islamic extremism and too harsh toward Israel, America’s closest ally and the supposed beacon of gay rights in the Middle East. These are just three antecedents to the coupling of Islamophobia with muscular pro-LGBT liberalism we see today.
Senior Republican leaders, for their part, only jumped on the bandwagon this past year. It’s been speculated that they’re following in the footsteps of right-wing, anti-immigrant European politicians, such as the Netherlands’ Pim Fortuyn—who held that the “achterlijke cultuur,” or backward culture of Islam, was uniquely hostile to LGBT rights—or his incendiary successor, Geert Wilders. This speculation may have some merit, but it ignores the thoroughly domestic dynamics of which figures like Trump and Gingrich have taken advantage—namely, LCR’s various articulations of the freedom/gay rights versus oppression/Islamic extremism dichotomy.
In that sense, the unsightly fragmentation of the GOP shouldn’t mislead us to the ways in which party officials and activists alike continue to cynically galvanize homonationalist impulses, awakening our most insecure, tribalistic selves. The Log Cabin Republicans may claim to explicitly reject a “politics of fear,” but fear is precisely the foundation of their politics.