How to Avoid the Gay Mafia

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
April 8 2014 10:45 AM

Beware the Gay Mafia

Madonna
This is the Madonna the gay mafia pledges allegiance to.

Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

One of the more curious memes to emerge (or, really, re-emerge) in the wake of Brendan Eich’s resignation from Mozilla last week is the notion of a “gay mafia,” a shadowy group of power-queers that will, I don’t know, sink you off the Christopher Street Pier in a bundle of costume jewelry if you run afoul of the movement. Conservatives like Glenn Beck and Newt Gingrich have warned the faithful of the ruthlessness of LGBTQ activists, decrying “terrorist organizations” and a “new fascism,” respectively, and everyone on the panel of last week’s Real Time With Bill Maher chuckled nervously when Maher called out the gay mafia directly. “I think if you cross them, you do get whacked,” he said, not entirely approvingly. 

I get the humorous appeal of the gay mafia. But joking aside, the Mozilla episode seems to have convinced a lot of people across the political spectrum that gay people (or at least LGBTQ activists) exercise an inordinate and perhaps frightening amount of power and that you’d better be careful around us lest you risk social or professional, if not physical, termination.

To that, I have to join with the New Republic’s Brian Beutler in calling on straight people to partake in a reality check. As he wrote yesterday, “[A]nyone who's white hot with rage over Eich's quasi-firing really needs to check their privilege.” This should be obvious, but anyone who thinks that gays have anything close to outsized influence in public life either lives in an urban liberal bubble or just doesn’t understand the meaning of the words structural inequality. Given the ongoing threat of emotional and physical violence that LGBTQ people live with every day, not to mention the extremely real risk of social or professional termination we face in many parts of the country, to take even half-seriously the idea that gays might be “running things” behind the scenes is not only pernicious—it’s downright offensive.

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BuzzFeed’s Saeed Jones recalibrates the conversation well in his post on the “mafia” resurgence:       

However arresting and damning it feels to be called a bigot, I assure you, it is far more painful to endure bigotry itself.
In 2008, the same year that Eich donated money to support Prop 8, the same year Barack Obama continued to resist supporting marriage equality, a straight man tried to kill me. He held me down on the floor of his apartment and said, “You’re already dead” over and over again while beating me. This happened in Arizona, a state that just a few weeks ago almost made law a bill designed to protect the religious freedom of business owners who fear they’ll be sued by marriage-equality supporters. It is surreal to hear that anti-gay people feel they are being bullied for their beliefs.

“Surreal,” indeed. When you are forced to live in a world in which states pass segregation laws against you, in which statesmen accuse you of pedophilia and various other depravities on a regular basis, in which you move through your daily commute with a modicum of fear that someone might interpret an accidental glance the wrong way and attack, in which you are treated to discussions about which rights you “deserve” during that same commute and at work and on the news when you get home, you are not in a position to “bully” anyone. For gay people, the “gay mafia” is about laughing instead of crying. If you’re really scared of gay terrorism, it’s your understanding of historical and cultural context that’s laughable.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.