All photos by Amy Lombard
In an event meant to rally gay Republicans around threats of radical Islam and their savior Donald Trump, we found plenty of funny hats, protestors, and a Dutch nationalist—but not a lot of gay men.
I am greeted at the Republican National Convention by a line of born-again Christians screaming, "I know your parents didn't love you too much!"
They are protesting the "Wake Up" LGBT event organized by Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay conservative Breitbart writer; Pamela Geller, the founder of the organization Stop Islamization of America; and an outfit known as Twinks for Trump. Held inside Cleveland State University, the event was put together as a response to the Orlando shootings, wherein a radicalized Muslim man killed dozens at a gay club (even though there's evidence that he himself was bisexual) in declaration of allegiance to ISIS.
The argument of the Wake Up organizers is simple: Democrats and the political left have failed to address the crisis of Muslim extremism whereas the Republican Party is willing to take a harder, more military line.
In a piece following the Orlando attacks Yiannopoulos wrote:
The LGBT "community" needs to confront the same problem and make its choice. If it continues to be a part of the left's Neville Chaimberlain-esque attitude towards Islam, it will effectively be committing suicide. The Christian Right may not be totally down with homos, and Trump may say things that hurt our delicate feelings, but they aren't going to kill us or put us in camps. Only Islam would do that — the same Islam that, bizarrely, now stands at the top of the left's hierarchy of victimhood.
Back in Cleveland, many attendees I meet agree with Yiannopoulos' sentiments, but even more are there just to party with the platinum-haired right-wing bad boy.
The gay Republicans filing into the event aren't so much offended at the Jesus freaks that greet them, but disappointed. "This group is very tacky and not as fun as the Westboro Baptist Church," says Lucian Wintrich, the budding conservative provocateur who takes photos of "Twinks for Trump" on his Instagram. "I wanted for a while to combine my love of twinks with my love of politics and Donald Trump," Wintrich explains as we walk past blown-up portraits of slim, hairless, strong-jawed young men, posed like Grecian statues with their laurels replaced with "Make America Great Again" hats. "Trump is a very commanding father figure," Wintrich continues. "He's the father figure that America is waiting for to lead us into the next phase of American exceptionalism."
Other gay conservatives feel mixed about Trump. An 18-year-old twink wearing a red bowtie, who asks that Broadly refrains from using his name because he works for the government, was initially very pro-Trump because he was the most LGBT-friendly Republican candidate. He even hung a Trump 2016 sign above his bed in his dorm. But Mr. Bowtie started to have real doubts about Trump once he brought Indiana Governor Mike Pence onto the ticket. Pence signed into legislation—then amended it after backlash—a law that essentially allowed Indiana citizens the right to discriminate against LGBT people based on religious reasons.
Other gay Trump supporters were also turned off by the Pence pick. "I'm conservative, economically," says Michael, a local, greying Republican activist. "Socially, I'm as liberal as you can get. [The government should] leave me alone. I'm an old-fashioned gay."
Gill, a blonde boy, dances on the dancefloor to the song. He wears khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt covered in purple and pink trees. That is the worst gay man I've ever seen, I think. Gill corrects me: "I'm straight but I would be gay for Milo, and you can put that on record," he says. He and his bros drove 15 hours from Savannah, Georgia, to hear him speak. "I just love the really edgy sense of humor," Gill says of Milo. "I believe everything he says, but I love that he's provocative too. It gets the people going!"
Offensive jokes apparently draw straight Republicans like shit draws flies. For half an hour, I struggled to meet other homosexuals. A guy named Kevin said he came here for Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. "That's my girl," he says. (She never arrived.) Two teenage boys stand at a table with their father, a bald straight man wearing a shirt that says, "MILO YIANNOPOULOS DANGEROUS FAGGOT."
I grow annoyed and stand at the end of the dancefloor. A hot guy in a blue collared shirt walks up to a podium. He orders everyone to dance. Only two guys join them, including Gill, the heterosexual in the Hawaiian shirt. The hot guy bounces back and forth, like a straight boy struggling to do the "Cha Cha Slide" at a middle-school dance. He grabs my hand, trying to dance with me. I fling it off of me. "You're straight!" I hiss. His masculine face morphs into the gayest gay face I've seen on this side of the Mississippi River.
"I am not!" he yells. He slides closer to me.
"Well, I have a hot boyfriend," I yell. I stick out my tongue, like a bully on a playground. "But I can interview you." He gives me a dirty look. Silence. "I know Ann Coulter!" I say.
He sighs and agrees to an interview. For privacy reasons, he asks that I call him John. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and has sided with Republicans for his "whole life" but only slept with men "just the last couple years." He tells me he's "single and ready to mingle," but has refrained from trying too hard to get laid at the RNC. "There are so many uptight people here," he says. "You wouldn't believe [it]." I believe it. I ask him why he's a gay and a Republican. "Why would there be a problem with that? I would get defensive with that," he says. "Why not?" We argue for a bit about his non answer, and he eventually reveals the truth: "I love money more than anything, more than I would ever love a man."
The dancing ceases as Geert Wilders, founder of the Netherlands' anti-immigrant Dutch Party for Freedom, gives the first speech. Between his yellow hair and colorful tie, he looks like a cross between Willy Wonka and Trump. "I am here to tell you about the disruption in Europe or should I say, Eurabia," he says. (The crowd applauds.) Pamela Geller follows him. She became a national sensation last year when terrorists shot up her "draw Muhammad" contest. Tonight she causes a sensation for wearing a sequin-covered rainbow bustier.
Yiannopoulos closes the show, walking on stage in sunglass and a white wifebeater that says, "WE SHOOT BACK." The crowd roars so loud that struggle to hear what he says. By this point, the rooms smells like sweat and cologne, like a bathhouse. Yiannopoulos closes his speech, and a mob surrounds him. "I fucking love you!" a gay boy in a leather jacket yells. Yiannopoulos looks like a literal rock star; earlier in the day, Twitter shut down his account after SNL star Leslie Jones accused him of urging his followers to make racist comments about her. The ban got Yiannopoulos in the New York Times and trending on Twitter. During an Uber ride in Cleveland, my elderly driver even asked me, "Who is this Milo?"
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