Somewhere in Arkansas, half a dozen survivalists are hunkered down to await the apocalypse. They have more than 100 acres, 250 tons of stored food, and enough structures to house approximately 400 people — provided none is gay.
“I kept my mouth shut through many a horrifying conversation about how gays are the biggest problem facing America,” Nick (who declined to give his last name) tells me. “One of the members burst into tears thinking about how the filthy gays were ruining the Catholic Church by molesting all those boys. The average prepper in America is absolutely terrified of gays, yet they fantasize about being stuck in a fallout bunker with Bubba and Jed during the tribulations.”
Nick, who describes his sexuality as “fluid,” has a Southern accent and a nervous laugh. He spent a year at the Arkansas camp before escaping what he felt was “imminent danger” from two other survivalists disturbed by his sexual orientation. His fear of reprisal is such that he refuses to disclose the exact location of the camp; “Not trying to be paranoid or anything, [but] if these guys happen to come across your article and realize it’s them…my ass is grass.” Nonetheless, Nick still haunts survivalist message boards hoping to connect with other non-hetero preppers (a more media-friendly term for survivalists) eager to go off the grid.
While “gay survivalist” might sound like a Saturday Night Live skit, an increasingly vocal number of LGBT Americans are banding together online in preparation for social, economic, or governmental collapse. There are an estimated 3 to 4 million survivalists in the United States, and although it’s impossible to know how many are gay, the question — or rather, debate — of whether to accept them runs rampant on survivalist websites.
“For your own good, stay in the city and stock up. Your commune will be sighted by the first group of armed heterosexuals that is nearby. Most likely they will burn you alive. I am not joking,” one commenter cautioned prospective gay preppers. This is one of the more extreme responses, but its sentiment is echoed across dozens of similar forums. The message to gay preppers seems to be: You’re better off dead.
Given this animosity, why are more and more gays keen to join or start survivalist camps? To be sure, most such camps are the stuff of message boards and listservs, but several commenters do claim brick-and-mortar compounds everywhere from Nyack, N.Y., to Dallas, Texas. If TV shows such as Doomsday Preppers and Apocalypse 101 ushered survivalism into the mainstream, a gay conservative fringe made it the unlikely contingency plan of untold numbers of LGBT Americans. The worst-case scenario goes something like this: A disaster hits the United States, society splinters into lawless tribes, and morality goes the way of the passenger pigeon. Gays will be Public Enemy No. 1 due to entrenched stigmas and a disinclination to procreate. Genocide will ensue.
The irony is that conservative gays worried about a post-apocalyptic kill-off have a lot of ideology in common with their would-be right-wing exterminators. Both are skeptical of Washington, especially since the Great Recession, Hurricane Sandy, and the NSA wiretapping revelations made big government seem both fragile and unreliable. America’s $500 million survivalist industry caters to people who see themselves as outliers; just as Republicans and Tea Partiers feel besieged by runaway bureaucracy, conservative gays and lesbians feel vulnerable to unchecked vigilantism. According to The Nation, 64% of survivalists prioritize the need to acquire firearms, which is perhaps a welcome statistic for pro-gun, pro-gay groups such as Pink Pistols and Gays with Guns. While these groups may not have inherent survivalist tendencies, they exploit the same stark anxiety: Homosexuality makes you a target, and you’d better be prepared to defend yourself.
In the end, however, such segregation may be moot. As Tom Martin, founder of the American Preppers Network, told me: “Even five or 10 hardcore survivalists with AR-15s would be no match for a pack of 100 rabid, very hungry, and unafraid dogs…Political divisions, race, orientation, gender, etc., will be the least of anyone’s concerns.”