In a sad attempt to be cute and hip with the kids, the House Republicans just made an embarrassing misstep. In a blog post announcing their Snapchat-based coverage of Tuesday’s State of the Union address—called, cringe, #SnapOfTheUnion—the GOP included a gif of Louis Virtel, a gay writer for HitFix, snapping for the ages. Virtel recently achieved a measure of notoriety on the gameshow Jeopardy! for his skilled gameplay, sassy demeanor, and, yes, excellent snappage after winning a coveted Daily Double. “Ohhhhhh snap! It’s almost time for the State of the Union!” the misbegotten post begins, before relying on Virtel’s gesture—a soul-quaking combination of masculine power and queenly poise—for whatever humor it possesses.
Unsurprisingly, Virtel is not pleased. He has written that he viewed his appearance on Jeopardy! as an opportunity for queer activism on a program that skews heavily toward the heteronormative. And while Virtel definitely injected plenty of cultural gayness into his gameplay, he says his only regret was “that I didn’t just say ‘I’m gay’ on air.”
Of course, the snap the GOP found so funny is only a touch less clear, so the hypocrisy of an anti-gay party using it in their promo materials is galling. Virtel responded with a string of tweets demanding that the GOP not use his image as a proxy endorsement of “candidates [who] are horrifying garbage who’ve done nothing for LGBT rights.”
In a follow-up exchange with me, Virtel added that it was an “absolute horror to see my face (and exuberance!) tacked on to a “humorous” GOP posting.” He went on:
As a gay guy who is protective and militantly proud of his gayness, it’s both hilarious and borderline traumatizing to see the GOP mistake my energy for something in line with their ideals. Like many longtime out-and-proud gay guys from the Midwest, I’ve known plenty of closeted folks who are terrified of coming out. They all have one thing in common: Their parents are staunch Republicans. The GOP as it stands is a regressive and terrifying threat to LGBT Americans, and if the GOP can’t see that a gay guy on Jeopardy! wouldn’t want to be associated with them, it’s only further proof of their brutal ignorance.
I think there’s a lesson in all of this for the GOP: If you want to align yourself with awesome gay people and the culture they produce, a good first step is aligning your platform and rhetoric with their best interests. Until then, you can’t help but appear offensively naive and hopelessly out of touch.