James Kirchick, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, columnist at Tablet magazine, and correspondent for The Daily Beast, is the author of The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age (2017). He is writing a history of gay Washington, D.C. (January 2018)
A Harvard-trained astronomer fired from his job in the Army Map Service in 1957 because of his sexual orientation, Frank Kameny was the first person to challenge the federal government over its anti-gay discrimination policies. Understanding that the rationale for barring highly qualified homosexuals like him from public service rested not only upon the McCarthyite claim that they were liable to subversion, but also that they were mentally unfit, he took it upon himself to change the scientific consensus. Kameny’s most consequential insight as an activist was that it was not the homosexual who is sick, but rather the society that deems him so.
Upon the release of his book about the rise and fall of the Liberal politician, John Preston observed that “If homosexuality had been legal, none of this would’ve happened.” In an ideal world, where homosexuality was not only never legally proscribed, but also never the target of intense and widespread social stigma, this would be true. But to emphasize the repressive power of the closet minimizes the responsibility of Thorpe, who, superficial charm aside, was a deeply unsympathetic figure. Unlike other public figures who used the unwelcome exposure of their homosexuality to fight for gay acceptance and legal equality, Thorpe never contributed much to that cause. Indeed, he denied being gay all his life.
“He has all that virility,” Steve Bannon told The Spectator of London. “He also had amazing fashion sense, right, that whole thing with the uniforms.” Social media feeds lit up with quips about the homoerotic subtext of Bannon’s Mussolini crush. This may have been an unexpected instance of a connection made between fascism and gay masculinism, but it is hardly without precedent. If fascism has had an allure for gay men, it is anti-egalitarianism that provides the connective tissue—the belief that homosexuality belongs to an elite caste.
Though Ron Paul is often described as an orthodox libertarian, his ideology is more accurately described as paleolibertarian, which shares the limited government principles of traditional libertarianism but places a heavier emphasis on conservative social values, white racial resentment, and isolationist nationalism. It is, in many ways, a forerunner of today’s alt-right. The appeal of Paul and Trump to many Americans is not so much their specific policy ideas as their anti-establishment temperament and rhetoric, and, more specifically, a feverish anti-elitism that inevitably leads to conspiracy-mongering.