"A jihadi walks into a gay bar, and the bartender says, 'What'll you have?' The jihadi says, 'Shots for everyone!'" ...is not the joke you expect to hear at a gay rights fundraiser one month after a very high-profile massacre at a gay club. And Pam Geller — organizer of last year's infamous "Draw Mohammed" contest in Garland, Texas — isn't the person you expect to be telling it. But it plays here Tuesday night, on the fourth floor of Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center, at Wake Up!, the gay Islamophobia party.
It's fitting that this is the hottest party of Donald Trump's Republican National Convention. According to organizers GOProud and LGBTrump, the event sold out within 24 hours, and the waiting list was "several hundred" people deep. The line to get in is long, security's tight, and there's a thick gaggle of dudes hovering to one side of the entrance, hoping to get in.
"The left wants us to believe that this election is going to be about bathrooms or who is going to bake our wedding cake," says Chris Barron, co-founder of LGBTrump. "LGBT people and our allies know that this is a question of life or death. We saw what happened in Orlando. We have a radical Islamic ideology out there that is dedicated to exterminating LGBT people all across the globe.
"I've been in the gay conservative movement for most of my adult life," he says. "Let me tell you that Donald Trump is changing the Republican Party, and Donald Trump in changing the conservative movement, and he is making it more open and more accepting to LGBT people all across this country."
Barron commends Trump's hiring of gay staffers, and derides Hillary Clinton's past support of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In doing so, he gets at the theme of the evening: Once upon a time, Democrats had the gays' backs, but now they're too worried about being "politically correct" to keep America safe.
"The Democrats pay lip service, OK? And give out transgender bathrooms," Geller says. "That is not gay rights in the 21st century. Gay rights in the 21st century is [about] the persecution, oppression, execution of gays living in Muslim countries under the sharia. That is gay rights."
Wake-Up! is both a convention of trolls, and a troll of the convention wrapping up its second night just up the street. On the walls are rich inkjet portraits of malnourished-looking white teenage boys in "Make America Great Again" hats: the "Twinks for Trump." Besides Geller — speaking in public for the first time since two would-be terrorists were shot to death outside her event in Garland — the headliners are world-famous bigot Geert Wilders and Breitbart.com columnist Milo Yiannopoulos, a flashy British gay man probably best known as one of the chief instigators of GamerGate. Earlier in the day he'd been banned for life from Twitter for repeated harassment and abuse; most recently he'd sicced his 338,000 followers on Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones.
Wilders, the right-wing Dutch politician who may well end up the next prime minister of the Netherlands — Euro-Trump, basically — was on message: "First, we should acknowledge that Islam is the problem. No political correctness anymore," he says. "No bullshit about 'radical Islam.'
"Anywhere in the West, if you allow Islam to be planted on your soil, don't be afraid that you will harvest sharia law, because Islam and sharia law [are] exactly the same," he says.
But Yiannopoulos is the real reason most of the crowd (of which perhaps 40 percent are journalists) is here. In line, one such Milo fan, a kid wearing one of the ubiquitous Trump hats, is reminding a young blond woman that they'd met at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference — doesn't she remember discussing a mutual acquaintance who told some girl online to go kill herself? "It was the way he told her to kill herself" that was so hilarious, he says.
Inside, Internet commenters in tank tops and more of those damn hats crowd the stage, whooping and hollering when Milo strides up. The crowd is mostly male, almost exclusively white, and very young. Older donor types are largely confined to the fifth floor, where VIPs are mingling at a more typical-seeming Republican cocktail party. Down here, there's pulsing dance music, the lights are low. People are drinking beer and admiring the Trump comic books they've just purchased.
Yiannopoulos finally strides onstage, tan, platinum-haired, in a bulletproof vest that he tears away to reveal a tank top emblazoned with a rainbow Uzi and the words "We shoot back." The audience goes wild. "I just got banned from Twitterrrrrr!" he trills. And all for "getting in a fight with a black Ghostbuster," he says. "The fucking tertiary star of a fucking terrible feminist flop."
He's reveling in the timing of his suspension, coming just before he attends the most media-saturated political event of the year. He calls out media outlets he knows are the in room — Vox, Fusion, BuzzFeed, Gawker — bragging about his ability to manipulate them. He says he'll use those powers to harass and bully Twitter at the RNC, much as he harassed Jones on Twitter, before pivoting back to his larger point: the left's stranglehold on the media.
"You have done nothing for gays. While you were busy hectoring and bullying and nannying us about transgender pronouns, you completely forgot that politicians in this country were welcoming in a religion that wants us dead," Yiannopoulos says.
"This is the hottest party of the Republican National Convention. It is the party everybody wanted to get in. It is the party everyone wanted to be at. And why? Because this is the group that is going to take the power back," he says. "This is the group that is going to turn 'round to the left and say, You don't own us anymore. Sorry honey."