Nearly 40 years ago, the assassination of gay rights pioneer Harvey Milk at the hands of a lone gunman galvanized a movement that would later confront the HIV/AIDS epidemic and win nationwide marriage equality.
Over the weekend, the national LGBT community faced another harrowing moment when a lone gunman at a gay nightclub in Orlando killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. The LGBT community was the target of a terrorist attack resulting in the greatest number of American casualties since Sept. 11, 2001.
At a time when the direction of the LGBT movement seems less precise, the attacks have traumatized LGBT people, but also rallied them in a way unseen for some time. It’s hard to believe that energy won’t inspire the movement to take on new tasks, such as backing efforts to support gun control or defeat ISIS.
Already, more than 50 LGBT organizations and funders issued a joint statement on Monday calling for unity in the aftermath of an attack at a gay nightclub on a night dedicated to Latino patrons at the hands of a Muslim who pledged loyalty to the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria.
“Unity and an organized response in the face of hatred is what we owe the fallen and the grieving,” the statement says. “Collective resolve across national, racial and political lines will be required to turn the tide against anti-LGBTQ violence. Our response to this horrific act, committed by one individual, will have a deep impact on Muslim communities in this country and around the world. We as an intersectional movement cannot allow anti-Muslim sentiment to be the focal point as it distracts from the larger issue, which is the epidemic of violence that LGBTQ people, including those in the Muslim community, are facing in this country.”
Signers of the statement, organized by the Arcus Foundation, include the Human Rights Campaign, the Gill Foundation, GLAAD, the LGBT military group SPARTA and the newly formed Trans United Fund.
The statement stands in contrast to new efforts from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to win favor with LGBT people. In a recent speech in New Hampshire, Trump enumerated LGBT people as victims in the Orlando shooting — something many Republicans wouldn’t say — and encouraged them to support his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. On Twitter, Trump said he’d fight for LGBT people “while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”
Given the shooter murdered LGBT people with an AR-15 assault rifle, an instrument the progressive movement and President Obama has sought to ban for civilian use, one possible course of action for the LGBT movement is greater involvement in gun control efforts
Mark Glaze, a gay D.C.-based gun safety advocate who has worked in the LGBT movement, said initial conversations about LGBT rights groups working on gun reform issues are happening.
“There’s a lot of conversation going on about can we work together,” Glaze said. “The first few days after the shooting everybody’s still shocked and trying to deal with their feelings about it, but I think you’re going to see more collaboration. And the reason is this was clearly a hate crime, but the easy availability of guns turns hate crimes deadly. And you see it again and again and again with African Americans, women and gay people. That’s the thread that binds a lot of gun violence in this country, and I think we have to take it on together.”
One item on the agenda for collaboration, Glaze said, would be working to pass a new hate crimes bill that would change federal law to bar people who have committed misdemeanor hate crimes from buying guns. Currently, convicted felons and those with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction are prohibited from owning guns under federal law.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, alluded to support for gun safety measures in a news conference at his organization’s headquarters on Sunday.
“Let’s not forget that what made this hate so deadly is that it’s still far too easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns in this country,” Griffin said.
The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond on Wednesday to the Blade’s request for comment on whether the organization will begin encouraging members and lawmakers to support gun safety legislation as it does with pro-LGBT measures.
Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun safety group co-founded by gun violence victim and former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, posted an open letter on Monday signed by LGBT leaders calling for unity as well as action on gun safety measures.
“It is not written in our Constitution that we must live in fear of each other and of troubled individuals with guns,” the letter says. “We can do better. Some states have already made progress – they show us that when we put aside our incidental or momentary differences and stand shoulder to shoulder, we have enormous power.”
Signers in addition to civil rights leaders are LGBT leaders like Griffin; Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force; Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality; Sharon Lettman-Hicks, CEO of the National Black Justice Coalition; Aisha Moodie-Mills, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund; and Laura Ricketts, chair of the board for LPAC.
But if stepping up efforts on gun control is the progressive response from the LGBT movement after the Orlando shooting, the more conservative answer could be encouraging efforts to defeat ISIS.
Chris Barron, a gay D.C.-based political consultant and former board chair of the now defunct gay conservative group GOProud, predicted the LGBT community would come together to oppose terrorism more strongly.
“I think that for average gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people across the country, they understand that this is really a question of life or death,” Barron said. “We have a global ideology in radical Islam that is committed to the barbaric treatment of LGBT people worldwide, and I think that average LGBT folks are going to step up and recognize that we don’t have the luxury of sitting on the sidelines anymore.”
But Barron said he’s unaware of any conversations along these lines happening with LGBT organizations and doesn’t “expect it out of the HRCs of the world,” referencing Griffin’s criticism of Trump’s speech in which the candidate invoked LGBT victims to call for a Muslim ban.
“Unfortunately, for too many of the national organizations this is all about playing politics, and they’re really doing it playing with the lives of LGBT folks, and this is too serious to be playing political games with,” Barron said.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t think the LGBT movement will be able to focus on either gun safety or anti-terrorism efforts in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.
“I don’t see the LGBT movement unifying around a single issue one way or the other,” Angelo said. “Like so many other LGBT issues in our post-marriage equality country, I think you’ll see LGBT opinion split along partisan ideology — the LGBT left will likely go full-force to support restrictions on the Second Amendment, and the LGBT right will focus on national security issues.”
Instead, Angelo said the change will come from the opponents to LGBT rights, who will no longer be able to demonize LGBT people as has occurred in the past.
“If there is any momentum the greater LGBT movement has, it is a decided change in the tenor and tone of the way politicians — especially Republicans — discuss LGBT issues and the rhetoric that surrounds them,” Angelo said. “After June 12, 2016, the far right cannot demonize LGBT people in the fashion they have before. If they do, they don’t just look out of touch; they look heartless.”