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Radical right attempts to appeal to the LGBTQ+ community

Xander Kirke, Russell Foster

6 mins - 28 de Julio de 2022, 11:25

The far-right have long been hostile to the LGBTQ+ community. Anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, or knows a person who does, will be all too familiar with the threats posed by far-right activism, rhetoric, and violence, on a daily basis. The past few decades have seen successive Conservative and Labour governments incrementally decriminalising LGBTQ+ identities and gradually removing barriers to equality, with LGBTQ+ people in the UK and the parts of the West today enjoying greater legal protections, higher economic performance, and widespread social and moral acceptance, than at any point in history. But despite (or perhaps because of) this, two new dynamics have become visible. First, cisgender gay and bisexual men may be vulnerable to a perceived 'crisis of masculinity' and feel the need to overtly perform their masculinity through hypermasculinity and physical culture, which can act as gateways to more radical politics whose adherents promote traditional cisgender social roles for men. Second, the radical right has adopted strategies which, instead of victimising and attacking LGBTQ+ people like the far right, instead tries to appeal to them as allies and protectors. While the far right continues to pose a threat (and may be increasing), this new radical right dynamic requires attention.

The notion that the radical right would ever attempt to appeal to LGBTQ+ people seems paradoxical, perhaps impossible. Yet this is precisely what is happening in the UK today. In our newly published article in the British Journal of Politics and International Relations, we demonstrate that some radical right individuals and groups are adopting new strategies. While the radical right still remains overwhelmingly homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, and strongly advocates cisgender, heteronormative roles, a small section have begun to try exploit perceived divisions within the LGBTQ+ community. This new ideological strategy is deployed in two areas of perceived tension. 

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First, parts of the radical right appeal to perceived grievances between predominately cisgender gay and bisexual people versus trans people. Second, these same activists deploy a specific version of the 'Great Replacement' conspiracy theory to narrate Islam, and the 'left', as an imminent and existential threat to LGBTQ+ people.
By claiming that a 'regressive left' privileges Islamic extremists over LGBTQ+ people, and by claiming that cisgender LGB people are being ignored in favour of trans people, the radical right narrates left-wing politics as characterised by betrayal, ideological zealotry, and the promotion of existentially threatening groups. Through this thrawn rhetoric, some parts of the radical right narrate themselves as a natural home for gay/lesbian/bisexual people; and by claiming to defend social liberalism from an imagined monolithic, ultra-conservative demographic, the radical right can ostensibly acquire a thin veneer of legitimacy to distinguish themselves from the far right. The result is the same as related radical right campaigns to portray themselves as the protectors of religious and ethnic minorities persecuted by the far rightthrough these narratives, some radical right groups are able to portray themselves as the true defenders of liberalism. In this worldview it is the radical right who protect minorities from the far right, and who are the true allies of LGBTQ+ people against an apparently regressive left

To be clear, there is limited evidence to suggest that this narrative has been particularly successful so far. While groups like the LGB Alliance (recently registered as a charity by the charity commission) could certainly not be called radical right nor Islamophobic, they have nonetheless attempted to accelerate those splits within the LGBTQ+ community which the radical right seeks to exploit. We have also not yet seen significant shifts in the demographics of radical right movements themselves. The English Defence League’s LGBT division remains a relatively marginal force, as does the closely linked Gays Against Sharia movement. Yet there are examples of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals having success within radical right political parties. Two of these would be the lesbian leader in the Bundestag of Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) in Germany, Alice Weidel and, as we investigate, the leader of For Britain, Anne-Marie Waters. 

In our article we analyse those radical right narratives that seek to appeal specifically to LGBTQ+ people, especially cisgender gay people. We categorise these narratives as "alter-progressive". By this, we mean that much of this part of the radical right implicitly claims the mantle of progressivism from the left. By portraying the left as dangerously regressive and the far right as existentially threatening to minorities, the radical right promulgates a delusion that they are progressive in their defence of some LGBTQ+ people. These radical right groups do this by defining themselves against what can be traditionally understood as progressive movements of the centre and left, against the neo-Nazi far right, and against other minorities. Islamophobia and transphobia clearly remain among the radical right, as does a socially conservative imagination of gender roles. But through these alter-progressive narratives, the radical right claim to be the true guardians of the legal rights and social liberties of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

At present, these narratives appear to have limited appeal beyond becoming mainstreamed via some organisations and individuals. They have undoubtedly encouraged separating lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, from their trans allies and our evolving understandings of sex and gender. Yet they are significant for several reasons. While their widespread acceptance is currently limited, the radical right demonstrates an astonishing ability to adapt its rhetoric to target the anxieties of specific people. The UK is not alone, and similar themes are found in Europe and Western nations where fears of Islam create a fertile ground for radical right philosophies. These narratives demonstrate the flexibility and subtlety of radical right ideologies, abilities which are under-recognised and deserve much greater attention from scholars and policymakers. Furthermore, the insidious nature of these narratives again shows the need for strong arguments and alliances to counter their superficially seductive appeal. It is imperative that these trends are monitored, not just by counter-radicalisation practitioners, but by LGBTQ+ rights activists and allies. The mainstreaming of some far-right discourses has long been an object of study within the radical right, and the unholy alliance between some radical right factions and some LGBTQ+ groups warrants serious consideration. These discourses have already begun and, just as they do in other discussions, without serious studies and policy platforms, these may gain greater traction amongst the LGBTQ+ community.
(Here, the Spanish version)

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