In the aftermath of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando leaving 49 people dead and 53 wounded, new efforts are emerging in the LGBT community to take on gun control in remembrance of the LGBT victims of the attack.
One major development is the establishment of a new political action committee called the PRIDE Fund to End Gun Violence, which seeks to focus efforts from the LGBT community to elect to Congress lawmakers who will support meaningful gun safety legislation and defeat those who won’t.
Leading the effort as executive director is Jason Lindsay, a D.C.-based gay political operative who over the course of 12 years has worked in congressional offices, on national campaigns and served as a congressional relations officer with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Lindsay served for 14 years in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Iraq in 2003.
In an interview with the Washington Blade, Lindsay said the impetus for founding the PRIDE Fund to End Gun Violence was the desire of the LGBT community to take on gun control after the Orlando shooting.
“In the aftermath of Orlando, looking at so much of the energy in the community around the issue of gun control, most of the discussion was on protests and participating in calling members of Congress, which we know hasn’t worked,” Lindsay said. “Members of Congress continue to ignore the will of the American people on this issue, so the driving force was really to shape a political action committee where we could have the most direct impact on the electoral policy of gun control.”
In the first four days after its creation, Lindsay said the PRIDE Fund to End Gun Violence has raised about $10,000, but the goal is to raise $500,000 before November. Lindsay said he hasn’t yet engaged with LGBT rights groups, but has already started dialogue with gun control organizations, like the Newtown Action Alliance.
“The immediate goal is we’re quickly ramping up the organization,” Lindsay said. “We’ve accomplished an incredible amount in the last 10 days, but the first thing is we need volunteers and we need people to get involved, so we can quickly grow the movement.”
The short-term goal for the committee, Lindsay said, is expanding the website and growing other technology platforms in addition to establishing a hub for volunteer operations enabling further growth and fundraising. On Thursday, the committee is set to hold a volunteer meeting at 7 p.m. at a yet-to-be determined location in the Dupont Circle area.
But the long-term vision, Lindsay said, is to enact gun reform legislation at the federal level, such as an expansion of background checks, “no fly, no buy” legislation, restrictions on magazines and a ban on assault rifles. A yet-to-be-formed policy committee, he said, will work directly on those issues and determine specific bills to support.
The policy committee, Lindsay said, will also decide over the next couple of weeks criteria for endorsing candidates running for Congress, but generally that will consist of support for LGBT rights and gun reform legislation.
“At this point, we’re organized at the federal level,” Lindsay said. “That’s the way we’re registered with the Federal Election Commission. We have not yet had the opportunity of state races, but that’s something our policy committee is going to be looking at.”
Lindsay said the committee also intends to endorse presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but hasn’t yet set a time for when that will happen.
Mark Glaze, a gay D.C. political operative who’s worked on both LGBT rights and gun control efforts, said the PRIDE Fund to End Gun Violence “appears to be taking off” at a crucial time.
“If I’ve had a better idea all year, I can’t remember what it is,” Glaze said. “I think when the community puts its brains, its determination and its money to work, it generally achieves what it sets out to do, and adding their juice to the fight against gun violence is exactly what we’ve needed for a while.”
The establishment of the PRIDE Fund to End Gun Violence is but one effort among LGBT advocates to join the fight for gun control in the Orlando shooting, which LGBT advocates and President Obama have called a hate crime and terrorist attack against the LGBT community.
On Tuesday evening, the New York-based LGBT grassroots group Queer Nation held a two-hour meeting at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan, where 150 attendees made and discussed proposals for action.
“In the wake of Orlando, we’re not going to be silent,” said Alan Klein, a spokesperson for Queer Nation. “The 49 demand that we turn the anger and sorrow that the LGBT community felt into action, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
According to Queer Nation, activists decided to organize a large action in New York City during the Republican National Convention to target presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his anti-LGBT and pro-gun positions, but between now and then additional actions will take place.
Another newly formed LGBT activist group, Gays Against Guns, turned out up to 750 on Sunday at the New York City Pride parade, where activists affiliated with the group chanted “Stop the NRA!” and staged die-ins along the route similar to demonstrations conducted by HIV/AIDS activists in the 1980s.
According to Gays Against Guns, the activists who engaged in the “die-ins” repeated in unison, “How many more have to die?” and were trailed by 49 silent marchers in white veils who each carried a placard with the name and photo of someone who died in Orlando.
“Gun violence has become a public health crisis in the U.S.,” said Gays Against Guns co-founder John Grauwiler. “The NRA and their enablers in D.C. have blood on their hands and make us gag in disgust. We intend to have great fun in the weeks and months ahead haunting their collective bad conscience until they do the right thing or get kicked out of power. They’ve hit us too close to home this time.”
Within a week of the Orlando shooting, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, approved a resolution affirming the organization would support gun safety reform measures.
And yet, another faction within the LGBT community is urging LGBT people to arm themselves in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. One such faction is Pink Pistols, which, under the slogan, “Pick On Someone Your Own Caliber,” urges gay people in the 31 states that allow concealed carry permits to arm themselves and learn to use firearms safely.
Lindsay cautioned against calling on LGBT people to arm themselves in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, pointing out even the National Rifle Association has said firearms don’t belong in a place where people are drinking, such as the Pulse nightclub where the shooting took place.
“I would say that more guns doesn’t equate to less violence and being protected,” Lindsay said. “I think taking assault-style weapons off the street and working to improve our gun control policy is important, but adding more into the mix just isn’t the solution.”
Amid other gun efforts control efforts in the LGBT community and elsewhere, Lindsay said the establishment of the PRIDE Fund to End Gun Violence is important because it will provide additional focus.
“Our motivation was we thought it was important to have a unique and dedicated LGBTQ voice that was solely focused on the issue of gun reform and protections,” Lindsay said. “And we have a strong desire to work collaboratively with all other groups involved — both gay and straight — to really create change in this country.”
If efforts of gun control advocates to enact legislation are successful, Lindsay said it would be “a very positive step toward making the country safer” in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting.
“I think that it’s important for there to be a comprehensive plan to end gun violence in America to really counter the increase in the lethality of these attacks,” Lindsay said. “There is the discussion of terrorism, we need to focus on mental health…and those things are incredibly important, but at the same time, limiting the access to such powerful assault-style weapons is one of the first steps I think we can take.”