And most of the newbies are straight “allies” with their own agenda
Ever since the June 12 massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a pro-gun LGBT club known as Pink Pistols has become something of a media obsession. While a majority of LGBT organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign (the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group in the country), have adopted a platform lobbying for gun control legislation, the Libertarian-leaning Pistols have taken the opposite approach since their foundation back in 2000. “Pick on someone your own caliber,” goes the group’s motto. Pink Pistols aim to train and arm every willing LGBT person so they can exercise their “natural right to self-defense”—a platform that, while not as inflexibly aggressive as the NRA’s, more closely aligns with pro-Second Amendment groups than most prominent LGBT organizations.
Meme posted in
Pink Pistols Facebook group
In traditional Libertarian fashion, Pink Pistols’ approximately 40 active chapters operate independently, according to their own rules. There are meetups at gun ranges. There are group training sessions. A manual to setup and operate a new chapter is provided through the Pink Pistols website, yet it’s more suggestive—this is what’s worked, this is what hasn’t—than a blueprint to follow. Membership in the club is more of an act of spirit and mind than one of paying dues, getting a t-shirt, or even lobbying. Whisper “I’m a Pink Pistol” with conviction and you’re in—making it tough to track just how many Pink Pistols members are out there in the real world.
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]We are mixing oil and water, so to speak. [But] I'm glad we have straight allies.[/quote]
But the club’s public Facebook group is a different story. In a statement to the Guardian, spokesperson Gwen Patton stated that before the Orlando shooting, there were 1,500 members. As of publication, membership has nearly quintupled to 7,179. And, it turns out, many of those new members are non-LGBT white people offering to help by organizing new chapters, reviving dormant ones, or providing basic firearm training to LGBT people who want to learn how to defend themselves.
Nicki Stallard, a transgender woman and head of the Pink Pistols’ San Jose chapter since 2006, welcomes those new voices. “We are mixing oil and water, so to speak,” she told me. “Some people have thin skins; it goes both ways. I'm glad we have straight allies. We don't have many in the LGBT community with the knowledge and skills to ramp up training to save our lives. Not dealing with straights who want to help us is stupid. The cost of people not getting training means more people will get injured or killed.”
But for longstanding members like Diane Moor, many of the new online supporters are drowning out the voices that have been there since long before Orlando. “After what began as very positive support and offers to teach after Orlando, many of the newer, non-LGBT members here have taken over the discourse—an invasion and conquest of the culture and atmosphere here,” she wrote. “Are you here for support, to convert the ‘natives’ to your whole outlook as conquerors, or just to inflate the membership numbers to create an illusion of LGBT support for your whole agenda? I'm strongly pro [Second Amendment], but hate the silencing of LGBT concerns which were also a core part of the reason we LGBT folks became members.”
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Are you here for support... or just to inflate membership numbers to create an illusion of LGBT support for your whole agenda?[/quote]
I asked Stallard if it was lonely being a Pink Pistol member pre-Orlando—a minority within a minority—but she said that, no matter what happened, her community remained steady. “Not lonely at all, truthfully,” she told me. “Things have just gotten more interesting; more interest than in ten years.”
Robert Shelton, a self-identified heterosexual cisgender white male, found the group after it was trending on Facebook. He’s an instructor in pistols, rifles, and “personal protection” both in and outside the home, as well as a range safety officer for the International Defensive Pistol Association. He joined the group in solidarity of their Libertarian, pro-Second Amendment political stance. “I believe everyone has the right to be free in their person, and has the right to protect that right by any means necessary,” he told me. “The government should get out of marriages, gun safes, holsters, pot farms, and rainwater barrels.”
Yet other new members, in a borderline hilarious display of privilege, felt disrespected by the group’s focus on LGBT people. “As a straight ally, I don't feel very welcome in this group,” said short-lived member Sonya Webb. “I have only commented a couple of times offering help. Everyday I see posts complaining about my presence. If you don't want allies in the group then decide once and for all so we aren't constantly targeted.”
“Leaving Pink Pistols,” posted another user named Joseph White. “I think I may, though well intentioned, be part of the problem.”
According to the FBI, nearly 20 percent of hate crimes take place because of sexual orientation. That’s second only to race. The Orlando massacre might be a wakeup call to some, but LGBT people have always lived with a constant threat to their personal safety. No matter how you feel about gun rights, it’s no surprise that targets of hate crimes would gravitate toward individual defense, that arming and defending themselves becomes a more reasonable option than waiting for a historically-divided government to take action on their behalf.
“Three of my friends who were previously anti-gun have contacted me about getting guns,” wrote a Pink Pistol member named Andrew Greene. Given the last two weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number continues to rise.