The German party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) is known for its highly controversial ideas about, for example, immigrants and same-sex marriage. They are often accused of having racist ideas. The identity of their leader Alice Weidel does not exactly match the image of the extreme-right party, her being a lesbian woman. Throughout the course of her membership, the question why she chooses to be part of the homophobic AfD has been posed many times. However, even though her personal identity might not seem to match the party's ideas and people think this controversy can not be beneficial for the party, it actually is. By looking at her style and the issues she mostly addresses, we can get a clear idea of the way she wants to be seen and how she creates a political image for herself that fits the AfD perfectly.
On April 22nd 2017, Alice Weidel gave a speech at the AfD party congress in Cologne in which, for the first time, she addressed her homosexuality. In this speech, she gave an answer to the question why she, as a lesbian woman, is a member of a homophobic party. However, the answer she provides is formulated in a sarcastic manner. The fact that she is both a lesbian and a member of this party is a political message, because it is used to convey that AfD cannot possibly be homophobic.
According to Weidel, the AfD will provide safety for homosexuals by tackling the immigration problem. In the beliefs of the AfD, violence against gays comes especially from ‘Muslim gangs’ (Alice Weidel speech on AfD: 6:47). During the speech, she gives examples of violent acts committed by Muslims against homosexuals in Germany and uses these to provide evidence that a compromise between Islamists and the German people, which Angela Merkel and her party are pleading for, is not possible.
The issue of Muslim aggression against homosexuals is something Weidel wants to emphasize in her speech. 'Issues' are the topics that politicians need to address, such as unemployment, the debt-ceiling and same-sex marriage. Mentioning certain issues and leaving others out is a way of establishing a political Message, according to Lempert and Silverstein. Political Message is defined by them as: ‘what the politician seems to communicate about his or her identity and personal values through selectively taking up some issues and avoiding others’ (p. 2, 2012). Moreover, Message doesn’t just include the issues the politician addresses, but also the manner in which they do this. The way they speak, move and dress can be a part of this.
Alice Weidel opens her speech by stating that she is a lesbian. She tries to do so in a humorous way, as she pulls a fake-shocked face and starts laughing right after she says ‘I am homosexual’. (Alice Weidel speech on AfD, 0:49). By doing this, she makes it clear that it would be ridiculous if anyone was shocked by this information. She then says: ‘I am tolerant and I know that you are, too’. The public starts applauding. Here and throughout the rest of the speech, this Message of her, the party and their voters as being tolerant, non-discriminating people is very prominent. She does not state it literally, but makes it clear in various ways.
The image that Weidel wants to hold up for herself is in great contradiction with the ideas and statements of her party.
However, in Weidel’s case, being tolerant is not something she has to ‘prove’ that much as other AfD members would have to. She uses the fact that she is a lesbian in a political way, as it immunizes her political position regarding LGBTQ rights. The suggestion is that lesbians or gays cannot be intolerant towards LGBTQ people, which is gold for a party that denies equal rights for gays. Alice Weidel's homosexual identity is an inherent part of her Message: she is not intolerant, and neither is her party.
To further emphasize this, she continues her speech with: ‘I have waited, but it seems no one is leaving. This is somewhat surprising, because the AfD is a homophobic party. I read it daily’ (1:00). The ‘I read it daily’ indexes that this is an incorrect image of the party even though a lot of people seem to share this view of them. She and her supporters know the truth, which would be that the AfD is not homophobic at all, as she, as a lesbian, is one of their leaders.
Through understanding her Message, we learn that Weidel wants to create an image of herself of being a tolerant, rightful lesbian woman who acts to ensure safety and equality for all. This image is one that she managed to hold up for a while already, since she was often referred to as the ‘moderate voice’ of the AfD (Connolly, 2017). However, truth is that the AfD is a highly discriminatory party and ‘moderate’ can only be relative.
Protecting our way of life
The AfD are officially against gay marriage, which Weidel mentions as well. This is obviously not convenient if you want to create an image of tolerance. However, she says, ‘the gays and lesbians in this country will not care at the end of the day whether their relationship is a ‘registered life partnership’ or ‘marriage’ when they do not dare to go out on the street, arm in arm’ (5:27). Although she does mention the issue that the AfD does not allow gay marriage, she avoids explainingwhy they oppose this, or that this is in fact also homophobia, just like that of the ‘Muslim gangs’ she mentions. By stating that it does not matter to gays that the AfD opposes gay marriage, as long as they tackle the ‘real cause’ for the hate against homosexuals, Weidel makes sure she does not have to explain their opposition to same-sex marriage in her speech. Conveniently enough, she is also gay herself, which stresses the Message of tolerance and is ‘proof’ that the party does not stand for discrimination against homosexuals. Weidel makes her public forget the AfD’s homophobic ideas, and therefore it becomes irrelevant to her speech and in their political agenda in general.
Many AfD voters are LGBTQ people, and this can understandably seem surprising, as it can be hard to comprehend why these people choose to vote for a homophobic party. Beate Kupper, a social psychologist who studies the far right in Germany, explains the phenomenon of ‘homonationalism’ by saying that ‘a party like the AfD gives people from minorities an offer of social identity. If you identify strongly with a group and you have an 'out-group' that you can position yourself against, that is a good feeling for your personal belonging’ (Shubert, Schmidt and Vonberg, 2017). In this case, the ‘out-group’ that the homonationalists are positioning themselves against are the Muslims.
Having Weidel as leader of the party has proven to be a very strategic move by the AfD.
Since Alice Weidel is a lesbian herself, many LGBTQ people might be more likely to identify with her and to trust that she and her party understand their needs. With Weidel as a party leader, the AfD has a higher potential to create an image of itself as a party that is tolerant towards homosexuals and even wants to fight for their rights, despite of the fact that their policy includes some homophobic ideas. As Volker Beck, member of the German parliament, said, ‘they are using it to portray their radicalism as a little bit softer’ (Wildman, 2017). And it works.
The issue that Weidel addresses very prominently in her speech is that of violence against homosexuals by Muslims in Germany. Around 6:45, she starts talking about these 'Muslim gangs' and continues giving examples of violent acts by Muslims for several minutes. It seems as though her speech functions as a tool to make people angry and afraid, as she becomes very angry while discussing these examples. By shedding such an extremely negative light on immigrants, and solely on them, people start to believe it eventually. Especially those who already feel unsafe and afraid of violence, such as homosexuals, are affected by words like these. In this way the AfD is able to persuade LGBTQ people to vote for them, even more so when the words come out of Weidel’s mouth.
How Weidel's identity immunizes her ideology
The fact that Weidel is gay is instrumentalized to create support for AfD's stance on immigration. This anti-immigration point of view, and especially it being very much against Muslim migration, is an important ingredient of the party's ideology. After the party won enough votes to enter the Bundestag this year, they stated that they would ‘fight an invasion of foreigners’ (Stone, 2017). They had campaigned a lot around this issue during the past years of their existence. Through Alice Weidel, this idea is immunized from left wing criticism: it is being framed in terms of 'gay rights'. This seemingly progressive stance serves a right wing goal. The fact that Weidel is lesbian, does not alter their anti-immigration rhetoric, and it does not alter their conservative view on the natural order of things.
Not only do they want to stop new immigrants from entering Germany, they also plead for sentencing foreigners who commit crimes in Germany to foreign prisons and treating 12-year-old children as adults for certain crimes (Chase, 2017). Moreover, the AfD argues that Germany has been ‘Islamified’, and that this is wrong because they should not lose their traditional Christian background.
The AfD supports Christianity and ‘traditional families’, meaning families with a mother and a father (Wildman, 2017). They believe that the ‘traditional gender roles’ that belong to males and females should not be undermined (Knight, 2016), and even once stated that ‘state broadcasters should be made to ‘present marriage and family in a positive way’.
As the AfD values this ‘traditional’ form of a family so much, they are automatically opposed to same-sex marriage, and have often stated that gay couples should not have the right to adopt. This second statement is actually impossible for Weidel to agree with, as she and her partner have adopted two children themselves (The Guardian, 2017). However, she tries to give the impression that she does not really care about the AfD standing for these views. When Germany recently decided to approve same-sex marriage, for example, Weidel tweeted that a ‘'marriage for all’ debate while millions of Muslims illegally immigrate to Germany is a joke’ (Wildman, 2017). In this way she does not contradict herself and her identity, but she does not contradict the identity of the party either. She simply states that it is an unimportant progression and that the AfD focuses on what actually matters.
Overall, the image that Weidel wants to hold up for herself is in great contradiction with the ideas and statements of her party, but she succeeds nevertheless. Having her as a ‘moderate’ voice in their party clearly helps the AfD in gaining votes, especially from the LGBTQ community as these people are more likely to trust her because of her lesbian identity. It's a big reason for why her Message, of the AfD being tolerant and not homophobic, is so strong, namely: it matches her sexuality.
Even though it is obvious that Weidel’s identity does not match with homophobic statements made by other AfD members, she is able to take the attention off of this fact. She mainly does so by stating that they are the only party that is focusing on what truly matters to the LGBTQ community: tackling the immigration problem. People believe her in this.
Alice Weidel serves to give the AfD an image of being not as radical as everyone thinks they are. Having her as leader of the party has therefore proven to be a very strategic move.