If there were no gays and lesbians on this planet, why should we invent them? It is not a trivial question, because gay and lesbian movements have historically asserted that there is value in being gay and lesbian. More recently, third parties have begun to derive political norms from the intrinsic value of being gay or lesbian. When an existence value (not the same thing as an existence right) becomes a political norm, that is reason to examine it critically.
There is another reason to look at the intrinsic value of homosexuality: since sexual orientation has a biological and physical basis, at some point in the medium-term future it will be possible to alter it. In other words, there will inevitably be a ‘treatment’ for homosexuality, at some point. That does not necessarily imply it is a disease, or that there is a specific ‘gay gene’, or that gays and lesbians were ‘born that way’.
If such a treatment were available for adults, then that would be matter of personal choice. However it is also possible, in fact probable, that treatment would take place before adolescence, maybe even during pregnancy. That means that parents would decide, if they wanted their children to grow up gay or lesbian. Most parents, in most countries, would prefer that they did not. Such a treatment would therefore result in far fewer gays and lesbians on this planet. Is that a bad thing? The hypothetical treatment allows us to formulate the question – and also incidentally, to consider whether research into such treatments should be banned.
It is good to formulate the question in this way, to avoid any suggestion of persecution or mass murder. It would certainly be wrong to kill all gays and lesbians, in order to rid the planet of gays and lesbians. However, that does not mean, in reverse, that the presence of gays and lesbians on this planet is a moral obligation. Nor does it justify derived political claims, especially demands that state should adopt certain policies. It does not oblige the state and individuals to suspend moral judgment on gays and lesbians, as such. Such claims are a relatively new phenomenon in European politics, and themselves the product of the successful emancipation of gays and lesbians, at least in some countries.
First several disclaimers: this is written from the experience of the Netherlands, and not directly applicable to every other country, not at present. There is good reason to think that the Netherlands indicates post-emancipation trends, because gay and lesbian emancipation is well advanced there. That in turn should be qualified: it is well advanced for the ethnic Dutch, and not necessarily for immigrants. Another important disclaimer is that the judgements here apply to gay men. They might apply to lesbians, and probably do in many cases, but unless stated specifically that is not implied.
Gays in the Netherlands
If we look at gays in the Netherlands, we see a minority which is in conflict with other minorities, and pressures the state to take repressive measures against them. We see that elsewhere too: in western Europe, gays have played a significant role in the rise of new anti-immigrant and anti-Islam populist parties. It is easier to recognise and accept this in the Netherlands, because of the legacy of Pim Fortuyn, still referred to as the ‘Fortuyn revolt’. He was probably the most successful populist in European history: in just a few months his one-man party overtook all others, and he was convinced that he would be the next prime minister. Fortuyn was assassinated a week before the 2002 general election, possibly with the collusion of the security services. His party collapsed without him, but was ultimately succeeded by Geert Wilders’ right-populist Freedom Party or PVV – now itself the most successful populist party in Europe.
Fortuyn was emphatically gay, and his ideology was partly determined by that fact. He opposed Islam, and introduced the ‘Islamisation of Europe’ as a political issue. He opposed immigration, and advocated a cultural nationalism and the maintenance of the Dutch national identity. Wilders, who has similar policies, is not gay, but also sees the protection of gays as a ground to oppose Muslim immigration. His party consistently speaks out in support of gays and lesbians who are harassed or discriminated by immigrants, as in this case of a gay couple harassed by Moroccan youths in Utrecht:
Parliamentary document 2011Z19411: questions to ministers from the member Van Klaveren (PVV), concerning the never-ending street terrorism against gay couples:
- Are you acquainted with the news report “Another gay couple flee their home after harassment”?
- Do you agree that the fight against street terrorism must be the top priority of the police? If not, why not?
- Do you agree that it is not the gay couples who must flee the neighborhood after continual harassment, but that the culprits must be evicted from the neighborhood, and if they are minors their entire family with them?
- Do you agree that you should have powers to hold the incompetent mayor responsible for his own inaction, since he is ultimately responsible for local security – and to to dismiss him if necessary?
- What concrete measures do you plan to take, to solve the structural problem of street terrorism against gays?
In some western countries, both the left and the right may be puzzled by this. They are accustomed to see gay and lesbian movements as part of the left. There is some logic in this: emancipatory movements are usually classed as progressive, and included in a broad category of oppositional social movements. However, being oppressed doesn’t make individuals ‘left-wing’ or ‘progressive’, nor does group campaigning against that oppression. All emancipation movements are essentially selfish, so we should not expect gays to hold ‘progressive’ attitudes, simply because they campaigned for their own emancipation.
In fact, the politics of Fortuyn – and Dutch gays in general – are perfectly rational. It is logical for gay men in the Netherlands to oppose immigration, especially from Islamic countries. It is logical to oppose and often hate Islam itself, and individual Muslims. It is logical for them to support campaigns for the closure of mosques, a ban on the Koran, exclusion of Muslim immigrants, and selective deportation policies for the Muslim minority – all typical Freedom Party policies. Most Dutch gay men would share Fortuyn’s perspective, which is now politically articulated by Geert Wilders and his party. They see an assault on their hard-won freedom and security, by an imported homophobic minority, which itself is defended by the ‘multicultural left’. Opposition to immigration, and support for identitarian cultural nationalism, follow from that perspective.
There is a clear parallel with the political shifts among Jews in western Europe. The nationalist right has been traditionally antisemitic, and Jews generally opposed the nationalist right. That position is being reversed, as a result of mass immigration from Islamic countries. The migrants brought antisemitic and vehemently anti-Israel attitudes, which are the norm in their countries of origin. Consequently, Jews turned to the xenophobic right, as the most effective barrier against immigration and Muslim influence. At the same time, the right came to see Islam as the greatest threat to European nations and European civilisation: it gradually abandoned antisemitism, and became resolutely pro-Israel. The most influential theorist of the new European populist right is Gisèle Littman, an Egyptian Jew who fled to Europe. In these circumstances, the relationship between Jews and gays in the one hand, and the new identitarian and xenophobic populist right on the other, is structurally similar. A similar threat generates a similar response.
So if I met a Dutch gay man, I would assume he is a supporter of Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, until otherwise indicated. Without that clarification, I would avoid social contact, and avoid being dependent on him in any formal capacity – as an employer, a judge, a doctor.
If I was to be operated on by a surgeon, and I knew he was a Freedom Party supporter, then I would ask for another surgeon, or avoid the hospital entirely. It is prudent to assume that the surgeon would try to kill or injure me – because of my opposition to the Freedom Party, and my support for mass immigration. The Freedom Party has no official membership, but it does have identifiable supporters and activists, who form a xenophobic right-wing movement. That movement is inherently violent because of its apocalyptic ideology, including Gisèle Littman’s conspiracy theory about the imminent Islamisation of Europe. The movement uses harassment and death threats as a political tactic, and circulates death lists of ‘multicultural traitors’. It is probable that any future ‘Dutch Breivik’ would begin as a Freedom Party supporter. These are not the sort of people you would want as your surgeon, unless of course you agreed with them.
At the same time, Dutch gays look to the same Freedom Party, to defend them against aggression by homophobic immigrants. Although murder may be an extreme case, it is logical and rational for Dutch gay men to disadvantage migrants, especially Muslims, and to disadvantage the opponents of Geert Wilders if they can. Under these circumstances it is equally rational for immigrants (and opponents of Wilders), to fear Dutch gay men. Of course this does not mean, that every Dutch gay man is a racist. In fact it does not necessarily mean that any gays are racist: it simply means that there is great enmity.
Hostile minorities in a democracy
Enmity is a political factor. In a democracy a minority can use the state to disadvantage another minority. That is exactly what Pim Fortuyn set out to do, and it is the political function of the anti-immigrant populist parties such as the Freedom Party. Not all its supporters are gay: most are heterosexual, non-religious, low-income or middle-income ‘whites’ (ethnic Dutch). It is also unclear exactly how many gay men vote for Wilders, because no-one is prepared to poll them on such a sensitive issue. However it is clear that Wilders and his party do appeal to some specific groups, represent their interests, and have disproportionate support within those groups. Three such groups are easily identifiable: Jews, gays, and evangelical Christians.
In summary, ethnic Dutch gays are, or have become, a minority hostile to Muslim immigrants. They are hostile to the immigration policies which brought them to the Netherlands, and by extension to the ‘multicultural left’ which they hold responsible. A similar trend is visible in some other EU countries.
It is in this context, that the norm of gay value has entered European politics. Restriction of immigration and repressive policies against immigrant minorities are justified by the immigrants attitudes to other minorities, such as gays and lesbians. The most striking example was the ‘Muslim test’ in Germany. The state of Baden-Württemberg tried to deny German citizenship to Muslims, by asking them “What would you do if your son is gay?”. The expected answer is “I would accept it without problems”, and the assumption was that no Muslim could bring himself to say that.
The affirmative precondition for German citizenship is articulated as the explicit disaffiliation of the immigrant from Islamic fundamentalism, chauvinism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. These policies are problematic insofar as they go beyond the immigrant’s compliance with the German constitution, putting forth instead a universalist, ideal model of the German citizen. Clearly, this corresponds neither with the reality of the immigrant nor with that of the native German citizen. Religious fundamentalism, chauvinism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism are not beliefs that are peculiar to Muslims.
Kader Konuk: Discords in German Secularism: The Question of Muslim Germans..
30 years ago it was unthinkable that a European country would use acceptance of homosexuality as a criterion for citizenship. The example shows how easy it is to justify policy against one minority by the protection of another. However, it is not simply a case of some German nationalists finding a random excuse for their policies: the underlying principle is applied in other contexts.
In the Netherlands homophobia, along with antisemitism, is used to justify repressive policies of forced assimilation, directed at immigrant minorities. Positive state attitudes to gays, and the willingness to tolerate gay and lesbian movements, are now an informal criterion for membership of the European Union. Criminalisation of homosexuality (or re-criminalisation as in Russia), is now seen as an obstacle to close relations with western states.
All of these would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. There would have been no discussion of an Olympic boycott, for instance, simply on the grounds of anti-gay legislation in the host country. In fact, most Olympic Games were held in countries which criminalised homosexuality: it was simply not an issue at the time. Gay emancipation made it an issue, but at the same time made homosexuality a value in the political sense, which can sometimes override others. It is legitimate to assess that development.
One way to think about it is the initial question posed here: what would be the case if there simply were no gays? Or alternatively, what would happen, if all gays and lesbians woke up tomorrow morning and found they were straight, without any persecution, treatment or other human intervention?
Individuals would apparently lose nothing from ceasing to be gay, since they would no longer want to be gay either, and would therefore feel no sense of loss. What would the rest of the population lose, if there were no gays and lesbians? Apparently nothing, since there is nothing which gays do, which can not be done by straight people. A gay or lesbian architect who became straight would still be an architect. It is also pointless to list, for instance, the scientific achievements of gays: they would presumably have done the same research if they were straight. For these reasons the answer to the opening question is also no. If there was no homosexuality, there would be no reason to invent it.
Those are abstract considerations: the political specifics are much more sensitive. Again the Netherlands is a good example, because of the openness with respect to homosexuality. (We can not judge the impact of gays on societies where they are still ‘in the closet’.) On the basis of the political situation described above, a Netherlands without gays would have fewer Freedom Party MP’s, and the influence of the party on policy would be proportionately less. That would have had significant consequences: the First Rutte Cabinet would not have existed.
The first cabinet under Mark Rutte had a majority of one seat in Parliament, thanks to Wilders’ Freedom Party. In exchange for his support, it adopted a general policy document (Dutch text) which opened with the promise to “reverse, manage, and limit immigration”. It promised to adopt as restrictive an immigration policy as possible within the European Human Rights Charter, to deport migrants who failed a citizenship test, and to criminalise illegal immigration.
Are Dutch gays to blame for this? The answer seems to be: yes, probably. On the assumption that gays are overrepresented among Freedom Party voters by a factor of two or three, the ‘gay vote’ gave the party its 24th seat, which in turn gave the Rutte Cabinet its one-seat majority (in a 150-seat Parliament). It is impossible to prove this retrospectively, but the case shows that the political preferences of one minority can have drastic consequences for another. And it is not a side-effect either: gays support the Freedom Party because of its views on immigration and integration, not despite them.
One-seat majorities created by bloc votes for a specific party are rare. Gays can also impact other minorities by individual political action, as politicians, by lobbying, and through the media. Without gay party members, there would be less pressure within mainstream Dutch parties for immigration restriction, cultural nationalism, and forced assimilation (integration). The Freedom Party would still be there, but the mainstream parties would be less inclined to accept its views. (That is important because populist parties force mainstream parties to compete with them in anti-minority policies). Without gays, there would be no gay organisations in the Netherlands. They do lobby the government for policy specifically directed at immigrants, for instance compulsory lessons about homosexuality in Muslim schools. An absence of gays in the Netherlands would therefore result in a society which is, at least marginally, more open to migrants and less nationalist.
If the Netherlands is an indicator of political trends on this issue, other west European countries will follow. Gays will probably become more prominent in anti-immigration lobbies, more openly hostile to migrants, and more active supporters of the identitarian cultural nationalism propagated by the new European populist parties. (Again this applies mainly to ‘white’ gay men, meaning those who belong to the ethnic majority in each individual country).
These effects derive from a historically specific conflict in Europe, between an emancipated gay minority on the one hand, and immigrant minorities on the other. As noted already, there is hostility on both sides. Labour migration into the European Union is now primarily from Islamic countries, and Islam is traditionally hostile to homosexuality:
Book 38, Number 4447: Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas:
The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.
Book 38, Number 4448: Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas:
If a man who is not married is seized committing sodomy, he will be stoned to death.
Volume 7, Book 72, Number 773: Narrated Ibn ‘Abbas:
Allah’s Apostle cursed those men who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of women and those women who are in the similitude (assume the manners) of men.
That is reflected in hostile attitudes among Muslim immigrants: a 2009 survey could not find a single Muslim in Britain who approved homosexual acts. The mutual hostility, the resulting gay-specific attitudes on immigration and identity, and the inherent political conflict between gays and supporters of immigration, are all rational, logical, and predictable.
Gay impact on society
There are many other areas where the presence of gays has some impact on society. These must also be taken into account when considering state policy. They are more difficult to assess, and more controversial because that assessment involves value judgements on gays as a group. Even aside from immigration and national identity issues, the contribution of gays to political and cultural trends seems negative, at least in countries where the emancipation process is nearly complete.
Gays typically have a consumption-oriented lifestyle. They often have a specific spending pattern, as childless two-income households: that means more money for clubs, restaurants and travel – expenditures from disposable income. Some advertising is targeted at gays for that reason: they form a specific market.
Apart from expenditure specifically related to their homosexuality, their tastes are conventional. The presence of a large conformist group within a society has contra-innovative effects, certainly in a free market economy. Other things being equal, market forces will result in a less innovative range of products and services, in response to conformist consumer demand. It is also notable that no alternative sub-culture has ever emerged from the gay minority. There is a gay culture, which is itself a subculture with respect to the surrounding straight culture. However, it is for a specific community, and not intended to undermine existing cultural norms.
Gays are not simply consumers: they are politically and socially active, but that is primarily in their own interests. Gay movements rarely act on behalf of third parties, and this is a negative aspect of the presence of gays. What would happen if the entire population was gay? On the evidence so far, there would be huge gay lobbies, and political parties would compete with each other to best serve the interest of gays. Other forms of activism would however be absent: there would be no environmentalist or consumer movements, for instance. Such a society would certainly be ‘more right-wing’ in political science terms. That implies that the presence of gays is an advantage for the right.
It does not automatically follow that there should be no gays. An all-baby society, for instance, is inherently undesirable: with no adults to care for them, the babies would die. That does not mean there should be no babies at all. However, it is reasonable to ask if gays are in some way essential to a human society, in the same way that babies are. The answer seems to be: no.
It is also reasonable to ask, if there is an explanation for the generally right-wing impact of gays, in countries where their emancipation is almost complete. Possibly there is an innate association between homosexuality and right-wing personality traits such as xenophobia, conformity, and conservatism. That would explain statistical correlations, such as a right-wing voting preference. That is all speculation at present: there are no reliable long-term studies of the voting preferences of gays and lesbians, let alone psychological, neurological, or genetic research into a link between homosexuality and the right. It is clear that homosexuals don’t explain the existence of the right – there are simply not enough of them to do so. Nevertheless it is worth researching any possible innate political preference, biological or developmental. It would have significant consequences for political theory, and for state policy.
It is not however necessary, to wait for scientific explanations for the post-emancipation impacts of gays on society. The impacts are there already: the question is what the state should do in response, specifically the western European states which are confronted with the issue.
The state’s response
To start with, these states should abandon emancipation policies. Gays and lesbians should no longer be treated as oppressed and discriminated victims of the straight population, but rather as a minority in conflict with other minorities. That is a radical step: in western Europe, there is an elite consensus in favour of gay emancipation. Abandoning state support for emancipation is not the same thing as state repression of gays and lesbians, nor does it prevent social processes of emancipation and acceptance.
The state should also stop using the protection of gays and lesbians, as a justification for repressive policy against migrants, or for immigration restriction. Excluding homophobic immigrants would certainly diminish homophobia, but that is not a sufficient reason to exclude homophobic immigrants. Restrictive policies of this kind inevitably limit immigration itself, and its positive effects on the European nation states. Similarly, repressive integration policies which are intended to punish immigrants for their assumed homophobia, or somehow ‘treat’ or ‘cure’ it, should be abandoned – simply because they are repressive policies against immigrants. That applies even if the immigrants are indeed homophobic, and even if the repression has the intended effect.
These policy shifts would imply a certain acceptance and normalisation of homophobia. The term can refer to intergroup hostility (‘we hate you because you hate us’), or to an innate aversion, especially to gay men. Individual gays will simply have to accept the first kind of homophobia: they will have to accept that some people are their enemies, because they too are an enemy. The state, on the other hand, should not be passive: it must prevent the hostility escalating into harm. That probably means an increased segregation of the hostile groups. As for innate homophobia, there is nothing the state can do to eliminate it anyway. Protection against harassment and violence is an incomplete response: the state must recognise the innately homophobic minority as a distinct group, and formulate policy accordingly.
Thinking about policy options shows why it is important, to also think about the intrinsic value of being gay. If gays and lesbians are inherently good, then these policies would be wrong. Indeed, if gays and lesbians are inherently good, then the state should favour them and persecute their enemies. That is what some western countries have apparently begun to do, but the justification for their policies is rarely explicit and never proven. Neither logic nor political experience indicate any value in being gay or lesbian, as compared to not being gay or lesbian.