Boys in the Bandwidth By Eve Gerber
They're here, they're queer and they're on the Web. An elite, underground group of gay intellectuals who pride themselves on their non-leftist political leanings have found sanctuary -- and a mainstream audience -- at IndeGayForum.com.
BQ-Friends, an invitation-only, top-secret network of prominent, nonleftist gay intellectuals, has finally come out of the closet. Inspired by the success of the right-leaning Independent Women's Forum, BQ-Friends recently organized the nonprofit Independent Gay Forum and launched IndeGayForum.com -- a website that pools essays on subjects ranging from hate-crime laws to same-sex marriage. The site has attracted hundreds of thousands of hits over the past year. Nearly a thousand people subscribe to its e-mail newsletter, including many prominent members of the mainstream media.
BQ-Friends has been honing ideas to fill the ideological void between the antigay right and the gay left and strategizing to raise the profile of gay nonleftists since the early nineties (Though its members didn't christen themselves BQ-friends until 1996). Some writers in the group, including New York Times Magazine contributing editor Andrew Sullivan, circulate working drafts of their essays to the listserv members for peer review. BQ-Friends gave itself a public face a year ago with the launch of IndeGayForum, but the website is merely the shop window for the work of the group.
BQ-Friends was born of a shared frustration. Until recently, many gay centrists and conservatives felt their leftist colleagues stigmatized them for their views. Stephen Miller, a libertarian columnist for several alternative weeklies, says that the gay community was so dominated by liberal Democrats and sexual liberationists that "[g]ay papers wouldn't publish things that diverged from leftist dogma." In 1993, literary critic and current BQ-Friend Bruce Bawer published A Place at the Table, in which he argued that the silent majority of homosexuals shared the values of mainstream Americans. Inspired by Bawer's work, veteran gay writer Paul Varnell began to network with kindred thinkers. Just as the Internet connected gay lonelyhearts, it also enabled a cluster of gay libertarians, communitarians, conservatives, and classic liberals to coordinate online. Fellowship with formidable like-minded gay thinkers emboldened many members of the telephone and e-mail network.
The emerging brotherhood resolved to flex its intellectual muscle in the conservative media, where gay voices were rarely given respectful hearings. In March 1994, Jonathan Rauch, a Washington-based journalist, tried to publish a retort to an antigay harangue in The Wall Street Journal. The Journal rejected the piece but eight months later published an op-ed by Rauch that urged Republicans to "build pro-family policies that embrace all responsible Americans, homosexual and heterosexual alike." To demonstrate that there was a critical mass of nonleftist gay thinking, the writers assembled an anthology. In 1996, they published Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy, which billed itself as "a serious alternative to 'queerthink.'"
The listserv abbreviated the book's title as its name and began to grow. Membership today stands at more than 20 prominent gay men and a couple of lesbian intellectuals. (The names of most participants are a closely guarded secret.) Sullivan calls BQ-Friends "a completely undemocratic club." New members are added through a fraternity-style selection process. Not all candidates make the cut. One member laments that the e-mail exchanges are filled with "intellectual one-upmanship," and complains that "the debate over Tinky Winky's sexuality stretched out for weeks."
Despite occasional bouts of banality, the listserv is a writer's brain trust. Members use it as an ideological and editorial sounding board. Rich Tafel, executive director of the gay political group Log Cabin Republicans, confesses, "It's always helpful to have someone smarter than yourself critique your thinking."
BQ-Friends and the forum have earned unlikely allies and challenged hardened conservatives to reassess their stance on gay issues. In response to a 1996 New Republic essay by Rauch, which argued that granting gays the right to wed would serve society by "domesticating" gay couples, George Will wrote in his syndicated column that Rauch's arguments "merit political debate and legislative judgments." Last spring, when the site posted a piece arguing that gays should consider carrying firearms, dozens of straight gunslingers sent supportive e-mails.
It is making inroads on the right, but the group isn't uniformly right-wing. Any effort to pigeonhole its politics will prove futile, which is perhaps its greatest accomplishment -- BQ-Friends has broadened the debate. Other ideological dissidents are certain to copy its cyberstrategy.