After the June 12 assault-weapon massacre of 49 LGBT Orlando clubgoers, I was among the first of hundreds of queers and allies here in New York City that massed together to form Gays Against Guns.
Only days later, nearly 800 of us stormed the NYC Pride March. We chanted “Fuck the NRA!” along with our angry onlookers and staged “die-ins” every few blocks while chanting, “How many more have to die?”
Hauntingly, we were followed by 49 solemn, silent white-veiled marchers, each of whom carried a sign with the name and face of one of the Orlando victims.
Since then, we’ve been working nearly around-the-clock to put together a plan for this election season to “name, shame and blame” congresspeople up for reelection who are #NRApuppets. Elected officials who take National Rifle Association money in return for consistently voting down common-sense gun-control laws, like a ban on assault-weapons—even after sickening tragedies like Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and Orlando.
And even when polls show that up to 90% of Americans support such laws.
Many (but far from all) of the roughly 300 members of GAG are forty- or fiftysomething gay men who vividly remember being in the crosshairs of another public-health crisis and of mobilizing to fight the epidemic—and government indifference—under the banner of ACT UP.
There is a lot of fire left in our bellies from the fight against AIDS to take on gun violence carried out by civilians and enabled by our NRA-backed climate of weak, patchy nonexistent regulations.
A climate that is our national shame compared to other western nations like as Australia, Canada and the UK, that don’t have this disgusting problem.
But then this week happened: Two more black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota, were shot dead by police when they didn’t even have guns in their hands. And then a sniper took out five cops during a massive but otherwise nonviolent street protest in Dallas, just one of many cities nationwide where protests against police brutality have erupted.
The new deaths only add to the sense that the country is spiraling downward in a toxic sludge of racism, right-wing hate, police brutality, and trigger-happiness.
It’s led to me and my friends in Gays Against Guns to have myriad conversations about the role we should play in trying to undo the complicated matrix of homophobia, racism and gun violence.
Some critics have said that LGBT people didn’t particularly care about lives lost to guns until Orlando happened. Speaking for myself, that’s not true: I’ve been enraged and heartsick at the murder of every unarmed black male at least since Trayvon Martin. I’ve marched after such outrages with massive crowds in New York City, often only to allay my own sense of impotence.
Of all the hate-driven, assault-weapon massacres of innocent civilians in recent years, the attack on the Charleston prayer group unnerves me the most: How could someone be so filled with hate that he gunned down those worshippers, even though (he said later) he briefly considered mercy because they were so kind to him?
And how can police murders like those of Sterling and Castile continue even when, as a nation, we’ve convulsed through so many before? I guess I am profoundly naive to assume that there has been any serious change at local police departments around the country.
These new wounds are so fresh that, in GAG-NY, we’ve not been able to process them on the meeting floor yet. That’ll happen next week. But for me, they raise profound questions about what it means to be a “gay against guns.”
Up to this moment, I took that to basically mean support for stronger civilian gun-control laws, such as an assault-weapons ban and implementing background checks on the roughly 40 percent of gun sales that happen online or at gun shows.
I hardly had the stomach to take on the idea of confiscation or buy-back of currently owned assault weapons (which Australia did 20 years ago) or, goddess forbid, a repeal of gun-lovers’ much-worshipped Second Amendment.
But now I don’t know.
If I truly am a “gay against guns,” as well as a gay white male who’s enraged and sickened by police brutality and the murder of black and brown people (including queer black and brown people), I think I may need to broaden my stance to look more closely at the scale of weapons in the hands of law enforcement as well as civilians.
With American “law and order” such as it is—a source of safety for some and of sheer terror for others—how can I espouse taking weapons out of civilian hands while putting more in the hands of the police?
I don’t want safety for some and not others.
I can only feel good about dancing safely in a club as a gay white American if I know that a black American can drive their family home safely. And I feel strongly that a huge part of what led to this week’s tragedies is an NRA that has relentlessly urged Americans to carry guns wherever they go—and fought tooth-and-nail against laws that would restrict such gun ubiquity.
White people might feel more secure carrying a gun, but taking advantage of that same legal option can make black folks like Alton Sterling a double target in the eyes of the police.
There is so much to consider and Gays Against Guns is so young. These are issues we are grappling with on a steep learning curve. Luckily, we’re in contact with other groups that inform our steps going forward.
We were going to include gun-sale-blocks on those on the FBI watch list in our draft platform before people at our first meeting pointed out how biased the watch list is toward Muslims. We need and want to be educated, and to educate ourselves, on issues beyond our immediate queer purview.
And we need to figure out how to support our allies in groups like Black Lives Matter in a way that doesn’t overshadow or contradict their own goals, even as we stayed focused on ours. On our part, this is going to take conversations, shutting up and listening, humility, empathy, reaching out and putting in the time.
Black people and LGBT people (and of course the significant overlap) are among the most vulnerable populations in the U.S. Often in complicatedly different ways, but we know we do face some of the same threats.
That’s why we have to take a deep breath and figure out this grim but necessary fight together.
What Now? An MTV News/BET News Town Hall, featuring Charlamagne, MTV News’ Jamil Smith, BET’s Marc Lamont Hill and The Nightly Show’s Franchesca Ramsey, airs tonight at 10pm on Logo and MTV.