Over the past 24 hours, it finally happened: America woke up to the incendiary, disturbing nightmare that is far-right troll Milo Yiannopoulous.
Following a controversial video in which Yiannopoulous appears to defend pedophilia, the CPAC rescinded their speaking invitation to Yiannopoulos. He lost his Simon & Schuster book deal. Brietbart seems to be weighing the options of letting him go.
But the question on everyone’s minds seems to be: how in the hell did it take this long?
Yiannopoulos’ racism, xenophobia, sexism and transphobia have been well-documented for quite some time. In 2016, he subjected Leslie Jones to a horrific tirade of abuse that resulted in him being permanently banned from Twitter. That same year he compared Black Lives Matter to the KKK. Just last year he claimed trans people are “confused” about their “sexual identity” and are “disproportionately involved” in sex crimes. He is openly anti-Muslim and misogynistic. (Even as I attempt to type this list, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer mass of horrible and bigoted examples to choose from.)
But it was his seeming defense of pedophilia that went too far for his far-right base ― an idea that seems nauseatingly close to the classically ancient conservative, homophobic myth that gay people are pedophiles.
The reasons why it took this long to actually bring down Milo are complicated, but also obvious. Yiannopoulos, like other homonationalistic white gay men who are now troublingly the face of gay conservatism, have become props and tools for conservatives. And these men are happy to oblige, in return for the power that this position begets.
The very fact that they are men who have sex with men gives them a permissibility to be more outrageous and more incendiary in their language and ideas. They are given more space to push the boundaries of racist, problematic language because they occupy a unique position in the conservative contingent ― one of minimal disenfranchisement while still embodying all the markers of power and privilege.
Unfortunately, Yiannopoulos’ damage has already been done. Since his disturbing appearance on Bill Maher last week, a whole new crop of mainstream audiences have now heard a gay man speak power to their bigoted truths rooted in racist, transphobic, sexist and xenophobic ideals.
Even in my liberal bubble of New York City, I’ve had friends tell me about the way this Bill Maher appearance has penetrated their lives when it comes specifically to transgender identity.
One friend says he witnessed a trans-identifying person attempting to come out to group of their friends in a public space. A member of the group countered by citing Milo’s Maher appearance, telling their friend ― who had literally just come out ― that they were merely “confused” and probably could benefit from seeking some help, referencing Milo saying the same thing.
Another friend who considers her mother to be fairly progressive told me her mother ― who knows no trans people ― was shocked to hear a gay person speaking about trans people the way Yiannopoulos did. His words had a profound effect on her and ― because of the nature of his sexuality ― challenged her to be more critical of across-the-board acceptance of trans identity.
As gay identity becomes more mainstreamed, we are going to see more Milos emerging from the LGBTQ community. These people are recognizing that there is power to be wielded in the conservative right ― a contingent that has all but given up the fight against mainstreaming gay identity.
I shudder to think of the impact this interview had in other parts of this country.
Within the LGBTQ community, it is now our job to not only hold these gay men accountable for their words and actions, but to recognize them for what they are before they develop a cultural grip. We need to recognize our responsibility within the queer community to fight for the rights of all minorities ― and understand that some of the most dangerous figures in our current political climate are coming from within the LGBTQ community itself.