Why some gay men are drawn to anti-gay authoritarian leaders
The anti-gay Hungarian politician caught in a gay orgy in Brussels joins a long list of those who work against their own people
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From top, clockwise: Aaron Schock, József Szájer, Roy Cohn, Richard Grenell
This week József Szájer, a founder of the far right-wing Fidesz party in Hungary, which is led by anti-LGBTQ authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, was discovered fleeing a 20-man gay sex party in Brussels.
A member of the European Parliament, Szájer was caught shimmying down a drainpipe with a backpack in which he had some party drugs after police broke up the event — tipped off by neighbors — because the gathering violated COVID restrictions. The police found everyone naked according to reports, and one source told a Belgian paper: “We interrupted a gang bang.”
Szájer, married to a woman who happens to be a judge on the country’s Constitutional Court, resigned from his posts, as Orban slammed him as having “no place in the values of our political family,” and committing a “deed” that was “unacceptable and indefensible.” Orban, who President Donald Trump praised last year after inviting the extremist to the White House — touting Orban for doing a “tremendous job” and having “been great with respect to Christian communities” — has led a government that, as the Guardian reported, “enacted a range of legislation over the past decade infringing on LGBT rights.”
And Szájer himself boasted of having helped craft the constitution, which enshrines marriage as between “a man and a woman.” It doesn’t matter that, at the time, he didn’t think that it was necessary or that, later, he wasn’t so keen on the government’s successful removal of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from anti-discrimination laws: He went along with it all in the end, and even stayed silent as the government this year ended legal recognition of the existence of transgender people.
As Tomás Dombos, a leader of an LGBTQ group in Budapest, told the Washington Blade, whatever Szájer’s own beliefs, “he was a coward” who didn’t stand up and stop any of the assaults on LGBTQ rights.
This kind of story has played out over and over around the world, and certainly in the United States. From Jim Kolbe of Arizona and Ed Shrock of Virginia, to Mark Foley of Florida and Aaron Schock of Illinois, we’ve seen a slew of Republican members of Congress voting against LGBTQ rights — and supporting anti-gay Republican presidents — only to be revealed as gay or bisexual hypocrites voting against their own kind for personal gain.
And then there are those who are openly gay, like Trump’s former U.S. Ambassador to Germany (from 2018 to 2020) and former Acting Director of National Intelligence (for three months, earlier this year) Richard Grenell, who are nonetheless supporting an authoritarian stripping LGBTQ rights.
Ultimately, what’s the difference if they’re out or not, if they don’t stand up against the assault? Trump has been the most anti-LGBTQ president in history. I’d argue the situation is actually worse with people like Grenell than with closeted aides because by being out they help create an illusion of gay acceptance, giving the authoritarian cover even as he takes rights from LGBTQ people to placate enemies of equality.
Religious conservatives, to whom Trump bows, have learned to accept allowing an openly gay person in the administration to put on an appearance of tolerance (especially as long as the person is down with the rest of the far-right agenda). It’s a more efficient way to hurt the LGBTQ rights movement in a country in which the movement has made much progress and has broad acceptance. (I’ve written in The Washington Post about Grenell’s charade and the cover he’s given Trump.)
Interestingly, Grenell connects back to Hungary’s repressive regime, too, as Trump, it turns out, isn’t the only anti-LGBTQ authoritarian for whom Grenell has worked. Grenell was paid as a publicist for a foundation funded by none other than Orban’s government.
According to ProPublica in a piece published soon after Grenell was named as Trump’s Acting Director of National Intelligence in February of this year, “In 2016, the Magyar Foundation of North America paid Grenell’s consulting firm, Capitol Media Partners, $103,750 for ‘public relations’ services, according to the foundation’s tax filing.” The president of the foundation, Jo Anne Barnhart, had been a registered lobbyist for Orban:
Grenell, however, did not register, even though public relations work on behalf of a foreign government falls squarely under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to lawyers specializing in the matter. FARA is the same law that Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, were convicted of violating.
Grenell also took money from now deceased political consultant Arthur Finkelstein — who himself was gay and closeted for many years as he got paid to help elect those whose negligence and hate literally helped decimate gay men in the early part of the AIDS epidemic, from former President Ronald Reagan to viciously anti-gay Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina.
Hungary’s Victor Orban was a Finkelstein client too (Finkelstein died in 2017), and a $5000 payment by Finkelstein to Grenell appeared on the personal financial disclosure from when Grenell became Ambassador to Germany. It was during that time, as Trump’s Ambassador to Germany, that Grenell made headlines, infuriating German leaders by saying he wanted to reach out to “other conservatives” in Europe and then inviting far-right anti-immigrant Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to lunch at the American embassy in Berlin.
All of this harkens back to Roy Cohn, the zealous, diligent aide to Senator Joseph McCarthy, who purged gays and liberals out of government and Hollywood in witch hunts in the 1950s. Cohn, who’d go on to become known as a corrupt and sleazy lawyer, was of course also Trump’s attorney and fixer in the 1970s and 1980s, and is credited with teaching Trump many of the harsh tactics he engages in today, as he pushed the legal limits and used the media to attack those he deemed his enemies. Trump in 2018 famously asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” when he was lashing out at Jeff Sessions, expecting the attorney general to be his personal lawyer and fixer.
As director Matt Tyrnauer showed in his riveting 2019 film, “Where’s My Roy Cohn?”, all about Cohn’s rise and fall until his death from AIDS in 1986 — when Donald Trump completely ran away from any association with him — Cohn never really even tried to hide his voracious sex life. He was out with attractive men all the time, picking them up and taking them home, living an open secret. But when asked about it by journalist Ken Auletta, he gave a telling answer that explains a lot about the motivations of the kind of gay men who are drawn to authoritarians:
Anybody who knows me, or knows anything about me, or who knows the way my mind works, would have an awfully hard time reconciling that with any kind of homosexuality. In other words, every facet of my personality, my aggressiveness, my toughness . . . is just totally incompatible with anything like that.
It’s a pathological insecurity about masculinity — not unlike that of the authoritarians themselves, who overcompensate in dramatic and detrimental ways — fed by homophobia in our culture. We’ve often dubbed this “self-loathing,” and it is, but it’s also at the same time putting themselves above everyone else, grabbing for power, which is intoxicating and helps them tell themselves they’re not really on the bottom rungs of society.
As white men, these guys have privilege, and they’re not about to let the “gay” thing take anything away from that. Whether closeted or not, they’re out to prove to themselves and the world that they’re not like the rest of those homosexuals — or any of those other people they look down upon.
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