I've been fascinated with the growing trend of LGBT+ conservatism ever since Caitlyn Jenner spectacularly supported Donald Trump earlier this year, saying that the perceivably misogynistic candidate (who in May threw his support behind North Carolina’s anti-transgender law) would be “very good for women's issues.”
Despite being hesitant to reiterate the Trump endorsement since, Jenner has previously shown support for the likes of ex-candidate Marco Rubio who, when asked whether he supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), said, “I’m not for any special protections based on orientation.”
She has also said that, while not 'outwardly' supporting Trump's campaign, she would, “help the entire Republican Party do better when it comes to LGBT issues,” despite the recent presentation of the Republican Party's most anti-LGBTI platform in decades. Sure, it might sound counter-intuitive, but Jenner isn't alone. Not by a long shot. The LGBTrump: Gays for Trump Facebook group currently has 4,000 active members – a small-but-vocal group invigorated by the likes of infamous “homocon” (homosexual conservative) Milo Yiannopoulos, who was recently banned from Twitter for his bizarre tirade against Muslims.
“I think the reason people are surprised about a gay conservative is because we have a slightly outdated idea of what conservatism is now,” Yiannopoulos, an avid Trump supporter, said during an interview on the Ruben Report last year.
“One thing we can say for sure is that people on both sides of the political spectrum are moving toward a sort of centre-right Libertarianism.”
While it's certainly understandable that a person's sexuality and political leanings mightn't always align into a perfect “equal” sign – and that one's being gay in no way obliges them to a career in activism – it's curious that an increasing number of gay voters and politicians are publicly divorcing themselves from their LGBTQIA+ communities and backing parties which continue to enforce alienating policies on people just like them.
In a recent op-ed for Huffington Post – I am a gay conservative, and I think it's time you meet me - political writer Chad Felix Greene argued that he found the right-wing far more tolerant than the left, and that while his sexuality informed his political beliefs, he was not “bound by” it.
“In nearly all of my interactions, I am most often defended and supported by those on the right while attacked and vilified by those on the left,” he writes.
“The conservatives, Christians and Republicans I spend my days chatting with, standing side-by-side with and fighting for our mutual goals with are remarkably kind and generous people. They do not deserve to be labeled as 'bigots' or accused of causing tragedy with ‘hate’ simply for disagreeing with currently popular liberal views or policies.”
Focusing closer to home, Jonathan Pavetto, an openly gay Liberal candidate in the Queensland seat of Kennedy, recently sparked a sense of unease in the broader LGBTI community when he publicly vowed to back his working-class electorate on the matter of marriage equality.
“What sort of man are you? Gay and voting against two men marrying? You should be ashamed, mate,” wrote marriage equality advocate Dino De Felice on Pavetto's Facebook page.
“If the role of a Member of the House of Representatives in the Federal Parliament isn't to reflect the views of a local constituency, what is the role?” Pavetto responded, clearly stuck between a rock (his conservative political leanings) and a hard place (his sexuality).
While Pavetto's seat was ultimately won by Bob Katter, it's possible that his views represent the re-emergence of a sociopolitical right-leaning centrism born from, somewhat ironically, the growing achievements of the international equality movement. A study conducted in the UK last year found that 26% of British LGBT people supported the Conservative and Unionist Party – a 5% increase from the previous election in 2010. The most notable change between the two elections was...you guessed it – the 2013 legalisation of same-sex marriage.
It's not restricted to politics, either. You only have to look at the online controversy surrounding Karl Stefanovic's recent morning television tirade on “trannies” (for which he promptly apologised), to find glossy-haired members of the Australian LGB community expressing their vocal indifference to the derogatory term and open apologism to the right's commentary – encouraging those offended to simply “laugh it off”.
“Are we all precious petals now and can't handle a joke?” Benjamin David, who joins the conservative right in labelling parts of the Safe School Program as “Marxism”, wrote on Facebook.
“I'm a gay man who was bullied in high school, so I think I understand,” he continued.
“This constant boy-who-cried-wolf faux outrage distracts from real homophobia and makes the LGBTI community seem like a delicate flower which needs to be treated differently, while furiously demanding to be treated the same.”
In a growing number of ways, Australians who identify as lesbian or gay are being perceived as “normal” - perhaps for the first time in history. While painful memories of schoolyard bullying and misunderstood childhoods surely haunt them, the need to further marginalise themselves as part of the broader equality/activist crowd is quite simply no longer there. They fit neatly into society and therefore flow with like-minded groups – inspired more-so by economic and foreign policies than social justice.
According to Kingsley Millett, an openly gay health and vitality coach from Sydney who has previously voted Liberal, it boils down to the fact that “one size or party doesn't fit all.”
“I struggle with the concept that all gay people are Labor supporters. Our sexuality might define us, but we come from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds,” he says.
“I'm a Liberal when it comes to economic and foreign policies, but as an openly gay man I'm a humanitarian on social issues, which often conflicts with Liberal thinking, as well as a supporter of Greens environmental policies.”
For Chloe, a trans sex-worker from Sydney who was raised in a strict conservative house-hold, the shift is understandable.
“Imagine you are a gay man growing up in an upper middle class conservative family. You've grown up with a set of beliefs and values which you believe to be true and you have no reason to believe otherwise; your family says so, your church says so, your school friends say so,” she says.
“So what do you do? Well you could try to take shelter in social justice circles. But their values and beliefs are completely at odds to yours. They would never accept you. So it's much easier to be gay and conservative – if you can just get your fellow conservatives to tolerate your homosexuality.”
Whichever way you twist it – there are currently more openly gay Liberal MPs (Tim Wilson, Trevor Evans and Trent Zimmerman) than there are Labor or Independent. And with marriage equality the final hurdle for some, many in the community are looking not to the past, but to the future – where they're no longer shackled by oppression or defined by their marginalisation, but free instead to embrace their white-collar upbringings. And while the hesitance of those like Zimmerman, Evans, Wilson and Pavetto to be defined by their sexuality is surely a positive reflection of national progress – their allegiance to a party that insists on complicating the pursuit of marriage equality while providing a political platform for homophobic rhetoric via the likes of George Christensen (who this year likened the Safe Schools program to paedophile grooming) is hypocritical at worst, and unsettling at best.