Two weeks ago, news emerged that the co-founder of the website Manhunt.net had contributed $2,300 to the presidential campaign of John McCain. Uproar ensued.
Haven't heard of Manhunt?
Unless you're a gay man, that's to be expected. It's one of the most popular gay websites in the world, with 1 million registered members in the U.S. alone and 400,000 unique visitors a month. As its name implies, it's a site where many gay men go to find casual sexual encounters. Manhunt and sites like it have revolutionized one formative aspect of gay culture, taking what was once a public activity to the privacy of one's home.
Except that the Internet, as Jonathan Crutchley recently discovered, isn't really private. A successful real estate developer, he founded Manhunt with his life partner, Larry Basile, in 2001. He ran into trouble when Out, a gay magazine, published an article about the website in its current issue. The article, in passing, referred to Crutchley -- who until last week was chairman of the board at Manhunt -- as a "liberal Republican." That tidbit apparently shocked gay blogger Andy Towle, who within seconds found Crutchley's donation to McCain on a contributor database and posted the news on his website.
The shaming and condemnation of Crutchley was swift and unforgiving.
"Let's show MANHUNT what we in the gay community think of members of our community who support politicians who vote against the interests of the community," an anonymous commenter wrote. "Delete your MANHUNT profile!" Michelangelo Signorile, a gay liberal radio host, labeled Crutchley "asinine" simply for supporting McCain.
Rarely do you come across a political candidate who shares each and every one of your political views, and Crutchley's support for McCain was hardly different from that of any other donor who doesn't make the perfect the enemy of the good. "I believe McCain will be a better commander in chief than Obama, who also opposes gay marriage," Crutchley wrote on a website that covers the online personal ad industry. "If we have an experienced, seasoned person defending the country in this dangerous age, we will be able to argue about the gay agenda later."
That explanation might not please every gay activist, but it is a feeling shared by many gay people. According to exit polls, about 25% of gays voted for George W. Bush in the last two presidential elections (the actual number is likely higher, seeing that many gays do not identify themselves as such to pollsters).
The fact that Crutchley is a Republican ought not to come as much of a surprise then, especially considering that he's a self-made millionaire. And he's hardly a radical right-winger either. "I'm a Massachusetts Republican," he wrote, "which is about the same as being an Alabama Democrat."
But such nuance is apparently irrelevant to those who equate homosexuality with political liberalism. Manhunt hasn't revealed how many people canceled their profiles. However, just how poisonous Crutchley's politics can be in a gay milieu can be deduced from the speed with which he stepped down from his position as chairman -- at "the request of the board," according to Basile. (Crutchley maintains his co-ownership of the site, meaning that subscribers will continue to put money into the pocket of an "evil" Republican in order to fulfill their sexual desires.)
In an open letter that's been all over the blogosphere, Basile reassured users of the website that his partner's political beliefs were his own. "It is too bad for the website if we lose customers, but PLEASE never refer to me as a Republican. I consider it an offense," he wrote.
Basile, who proudly pointed to his donation to the Barack Obama campaign in his letter, also claimed to the Boston Herald that the McCain campaign returned Crutchley's donation and that Crutchley, realizing the error of his ways, now supports Obama. There has been no independent verification of these claims, as neither the McCain campaign nor Crutchley have spoken to the media about the contretemps. If the intent was to silence a conservative gay voice, it appears to have succeeded.
The hue and cry over Crutchley's politics is all too familiar. Why can't gay activists countenance the idea of a "Massachusetts Republican"? Liberal intolerance. In the minds of too many on the left, gay people (like women and ethnic minorities) have to be liberal and support Democratic candidates. To do otherwise -- that is, to have opinions on issues (even issues utterly unrelated to gay rights) that don't follow the left-wing line -- is to be a traitor to the gay "community."
For too long, many gay-rights activists have acted as if throwing temper tantrums will magically bring about their political agenda. But labeling everyone with whom they don't agree a "bigot" does not help the worthy cause of gay equality.
The truth of the matter is that civil rights for gays can't come about without the help of Republicans. And this means that gay people -- and straight supporters of gay equality -- need to stand with, not silence, people like Crutchley who are working to change the GOP from within.
Gays need only look to California, where a state Supreme Court loaded with Republican appointees legalized gay marriage and the Republican governor is one of the most powerful pro-gay publicly elected officials in the country, to understand the importance of making gay rights a bipartisan cause.
Gayness is a sexual orientation, not a political one. Aside from their sexuality, gay people are no different from heterosexuals. There are gay people of all races, income levels, occupations, body types and, yes, political beliefs. Gay liberals are always crowing about the importance of "diversity" and lauding its importance on matters of race and gender. Too bad diversity doesn't count when it comes to politics.
James Kirchick is an assistant editor of the New Republic.