Communities

Why Gun Control Should Be The Next Gay Cause

by Eric Sasson

June 13, 2016

Last night, some friends and I talked about going to an outdoor LGBT dance party in Bushwick, and for the first time that I can recall, I hesitated, forced to worry about my safety. Gay clubs are supposed to be more than a place to dance. They’re safe spaces for like-minded people to lose themselves in the music and crowds, so secure that when a shooter opened fire at Pulse yesterday, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, witnesses assumed the gunshots were “part of the music.”

Fifty people shot dead. I’ve been thinking a lot about that number since I heard the news, trying to wrap my mind around it. A single shooter killed or wounded more than 100 people using an AR-15 style assault rifle, a weapon capable of shooting 30 rounds in less than 30 seconds. He did this in June, the month of LGBT pride, at a venue thought of by many local gay people as a “safe haven.” I’ve been to Pulse. The choice of venue wasn’t an accident: LGBT people were his targets. His father said he saw two men kissing in Miami the weekend before, and that this enraged him.

With the AIDS crisis, we did not proclaim ourselves helpless against powerful institutions.

How short the distance from rage to tragedy in the United States. How quickly we allow people to travel that road. The rest of the country is flailing right now, embroiled yet again in fruitless arguments about the second amendment, President Obama pointing out for the seventeenth time that “to actively do nothing [about gun control] is a decision.” Gun safety has not been a major issue for the LGBT community, but now it must be. A community that has had extraordinary success mobilizing for its rights must galvanize its forces to confront this issue as well.

I know we know how to do this because I’ve seen us do it so many times before, at both the state and federal level. With the AIDS crisis, we did not proclaim ourselves helpless against powerful institutions. We mobilized, we protested, we formed organizations like ACT-UP and the Gay Men's Health Crisis—because we could not stand any more lives to be lost in vain. We forced people in power to listen and laws to change. We can, and we must, do this again. We did it to get the Matthew Shepard hate crime law passed. We did it to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We did it, with spectacular success, with gay marriage.

As we did with the fight against state constitutional amendments against gay marriage, we must refuse to allow people who don't respect our community to suddenly use this tragedy to make a case for their narrow, discriminatory agenda. We must also call out those in congress who voted against hate crime protection for LGBT people; those who say they now stand in solidarity with us are hypocrites and opportunists. Say so. Demand accountability. Nothing will get done until we start to see these attacks as personal affronts, and thus take up solving this nation’s gun control problem as a personal cause.

That means large-scale mobilization. Boycotts. A national day of awareness and demonstrations across the country. Grassroots political action committees that specifically target senators and congresspeople in states and districts where siding with the NRA could be a liability. Demanding universities and large investment funds divest from gun and ammunition companies that are manufacturing these weapons, as well as those companies backing politicians and organizations actively enabling these kinds of tragedies.

We must be relentless. We have to shame politicians and powerful institutions into taking action.

In short, we must be relentless. We have to talk about guns repeatedly, every day, so often that we shame politicians and powerful institutions into taking action. But that’s not all. Just as we have throughout every instance of anti-gay violence over the years, we must insist on living our lives, to gather in places of “solidarity and empowerment,” as Obama so eloquently noted yesterday.

So my friends and I did it. We danced in Bushwick. And it felt right and cathartic, so soon after such a horrific tragedy. Dancing, more than anything else, is such a pure expression of joy. The DJ dedicated the final song of the night to the victims in Orlando, a song called “We Just Can't Ever Stop.”  Because this is how we show we are strong, by not stopping. It can’t be the only way, but we must not stop dancing. We cannot let hate win.

Participants show their support for victims of the Orlando shooting during the 2016 Gay Pride Parade on June 12, 20116 in Los Angeles, California. Security for the tightened in the aftermath of the deadly shootings June 12 at the Pulse, a packed gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Photo: AFP / Mark Ralston / Getty Images.

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Why Gun Control Should Be The Next Gay Cause