This quote by actor Don Winsor went viral almost immediately after the Orlando massacre and it is spot on:
“Congrats, murderer. You have turned the focus of the LGBT community, one of the most powerful progressive movements, onto the crumbling edifice of one of our country’s biggest problems, gun reform. I don’t know if you’ve seen what they have accomplished in the past 25 years, but these queens get shit done.”
In my time as a Philadelphia LGBT activist, not once has a gay person asked me what he or she could do about gun control; this past week, more than 20 people have reached out. Less than 48 hours after the Pulse shooting in Orlando, Fla., the gay-rights movement’s next battle came into focus. Orlando was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history and the worst targeted attack on LGBT individuals in modern Western history. The United States has a gun problem and the LGBT community has now adopted gun control as our cause.
It makes perfect sense that we would take on gun control because guns allow someone’s hatred to turn into violence and that anchors the gay-rights movement to gun safety. For people who never made the connection before, Orlando was a harsh awakening. Even before the shooting at Pulse, LGBT people have been frequent victims of violence in this country. In 2014, 1,178 hate crimes, or 18.4 percent of all reported, were based on sexual orientation, according to the FBI. In 2015, murder rates among transgender people hit historic highs, with at least 21 trans people killed by November of that year. Eleven of them — all trans women of color — were killed by guns, according to a Human Rights Campaign report.
HRC, the largest LGBT-rights organization in the country, announced it is officially supporting stricter gun laws. The HRC’s board of directors made the decision during a special meeting, and agreed to support limiting access to assault weapons, expanding background checks and limiting the ability of those on terror watch lists or with a history of domestic violence to obtain guns. The announcement marks the first time in the organization’s history that it called a special session to decide on a shift in policy.
In addition to HRC, a group of 50 mostly LGBT organizations, including GLAAD, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Pride at Work, the National LGBTQ Task Force and the Trevor Project, have all signed a pledge committing themselves to back gun-control legislation. Their statement notes that LGBT people remain vulnerable to bias-motivated violence, especially the transgender community and LGBT people of color, and calls on Congress to take action to prevent known and suspected terrorists and those convicted of violent hate crimes from legally buying guns and to ensure background checks on all gun sales.
If you look at our history of successes, marriage equality started slow and gained huge momentum after incremental wins over a 10-year period. The AIDS crisis, however, took much longer and was more grassroots in nature. I would liken the fight against the NRA to the slower AIDS struggle rather than the marriage equality. Don’t forget that it took 15-17 years of activism just to get the medications necessary to take AIDS from a certain death sentence to something more manageable.
The NRA has worked to make the right to own a gun even more entrenched in American culture than the idea that marriage was meant only for a man and woman. And the NRA is better funded than the evangelical Christians who pushed against gay marriage. To win, it’ll be important to frame this debate as not about gun ownership but instead of who should be able to access weapons and ammunition and what types of weapons the public should have access to. It is very possible to keep the most dangerous weapons off the streets without infringing on the Second Amendment.
As we all know, Congress recently held a vote on barring people on terror watch lists from buying guns. It was voted down and a historic sit-in ensued, but that the measure even made it to the floor for a vote is notable.
People are eager to turn their mourning into action — so what can you do here in the greater Philadelphia region? First of all, out of all the senators who voted down common-sense gun laws last month, 23 are up for re-election, including our very own five-year incumbent, Sen. Pat Toomey (R). The most impactful action I urge you to take is to vote for Democratic nominee for Senate Katie McGinty and donate to her campaign.
McGinty supports legislation backed by Sen. Bob Casey (D) that would prohibit people convicted of misdemeanor hate-crime charges from purchasing firearms as well as blocking suspected terrorists from purchasing guns. Moreover, she supports the end of the FDA’s discriminatory policy that prohibits blood donations from men who have had sex with men in the last year.
In addition to voting, you can get involved in organizations whose mission is fighting gun violence. One organization that has been in the trenches is CeaseFire PA. Consider attending an event or donating a few dollars. It sounds cliché, but every little bit helps. Moreover, on July 21, the Gayborhood will be gathering for what is evolving into a huge fundraiser for the Community Center in Orlando. Lastly, a Philly contingent will march in Orlando Gay Pride this fall. Reach out to me for more info.
There’s that expression, “Don’t wake a sleeping dog.” Well, they just woke up the gay dog. And what’s worst for the NRA is this dog isn’t afraid. We have faced all kinds of discrimination, persecution, ridicule and hatred over the years. This mass killing didn’t just affect parents, or the students at a university; this mass shooting woke up an entire community in the United States, and it seems as though everyone is in agreement that the “gay agenda” now includes firearm safety.