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LGBT Equality Includes the Right to Live Without Gun Violence

LGBT Equality Includes the Right to Live Without Gun Violence

LGBT Equality Includes the Right to Live Without Gun Violence

The NRA is as damaging to LGBT livelihoods as Ted Cruz or One Million Moms, writes the founder of a new gun control organization.

In 1988, Claudia Brenner and her partner, Rebecca Wight, were hiking on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. They were backpacking in early spring, enjoying the forest and their solitude. That solitude was interrupted by gunshots after they had made love. Claudia, wounded by five bullets, hiked nearly four miles to get help for Rebecca, who also had multiple wounds. Rebecca did not survive.

Nearly 30 years later we still see violent attacks against the LGBTQ community in places like Orlando.

President Obama called attention to our struggle by last month by naming the Stonewall Inn in New York City a national monument. While having a national monument that recognizes the gay rights movement is amazing, it would not have happened without a major shift toward cultural acceptance of gay people.

Will we ever have a national monument that also recognizes victims of gun violence? Only if we can create another shift in the cultural story about guns. We are embarking on a campaign to do that. Claudia Brenner and I have formed a national organization to meet this challenge.

ENRAGED USA recognizes the role that the National Rifle Association plays in continuing gun violence and obstructing even the most minimal gun regulation. We call out to all gay people and our allies: Now is the moment. This can be a turning point. Come out once more. Come out for ending gun violence in our communities. Don't allow the NRA to continue to prevail. We can do this.

Religious fundamentalists stood in the forefront of the struggle against rights for gay people. They have been in many ways the "shock troops" of conservatives who want to keep the culture the way it was in the 1950s. "Take our country back" is a political rallying cry that glorifies the racist, sexist, homophobic culture that we have been struggling out of for more than a century.

In the struggle to change gun culture, the NRA fills the role that religious fundamentalists have played for the LGBTQ cultural struggle. It is not that all members of the NRA are evil or support the right of everyone to own an assault-style weapon. But the NRA is organized and incentivized in ways that religious fundamentalists were not. We know that the 5 million members the NRA boasts are simply not paying enough dues to the organization to fund the enormous expenditure of campaign funds that the NRA spends on every election -- and on lobbyists between every election.

Those funds have to be coming from the people who make money from the manufacture and sale of weapons. Gun violence is about capitalism, plain and simple. But the NRA is the front. And it is the front, the image of the NRA, that we must confront as we work to change this culture.

Nearly 50 years ago, LGBT people refused to submit to police harassment at the Stonewall Inn. Thirteen people were arrested, some were hospitalized after the riot, and four police officers were injured. The Stonewall riots were a turning point. Progress was painfully slow, but gradually public opinion began to change. It changed because, at great risk and sometimes at great cost to ourselves, we came out. We let our families and our neighbors and our friends and our employers know us -- know that we were gay. We began to hold Pride marches and rallies, small at first, then with greater and greater gusto.

When the AIDS crisis overtook us, we did not hide. We came out. We came out as gay and as HIV-positive. We shamed landlords into honoring leases when the partner named in the lease died of AIDS. We named the politicians who refused funding for the Ryan White Act, that would provide medications for HIV-positive people. And we displayed our grief in the AIDS Quilt, creating a panel for every person who died of AIDS.

The gay community knows oppression. We know about living in fear of violence. And we know how to organize to create change. Because of that organizing, Stonewall and the AIDS crisis became turning points.

When we look back from some point in the future, we will see that the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was one of our turning points. The murder of gay people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando was one of our turning points. And the filibuster in the U.S. Senate and the sit-in on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives were turning points.

It will take work and a willingness to withstand all of the name-calling; the misrepresentation of our message. It could take willingness to face threats and violence against us. It will definitely take creative nonviolent direct actions that force the NRA and its funders out in the open. And it will take direct action and demonstrations to expose the complicity with the NRA of those legislators who take NRA campaign funds and vote the way the organization requires.

Stonewall did not become a national monument overnight. Religious fundamentalists have not changed their minds about "gay rights." But in spite of setbacks, we never gave up the struggle for equality. We continue to demand our rights, and one of those rights is the right to safety, the right to be safe in our homes and our communities. We must all come out for gun regulation, not once, not twice, but over and over, as long as it takes.

The NRA insists that safety lies in owning a gun and being able to protect ourselves. We reject that as a falsehood, both statistically and morally. My safety will never be guaranteed by my willingness to kill someone who wishes me harm. My safety lies in changing the culture of guns as radically as we have changed the culture that discriminated against gay people.

Our work today is to continue--
  • We will continue to work to un-elect every elected official who accepts money from the NRA and parrots the NRA propaganda.
  • We will continue to work to support elected officials who are standing up to the NRA and looking -- with us -- for ways to end the plague of gun violence in our society.
  • Work to support other gun regulation organizations in protests and civil disobedience.
  • And most importantly, perhaps, we will seek ways to change the culture of violence that we do not want to hand down to future generations as our legacy.
Judith McDanielJUDITH MCDANIEL teaches law and social change at the University of Arizona. With Claudia Brenner, she is a founder of ENRAGED USA. She is Tucson public voices fellow with The Op-Ed Project. Follow her on Twitter @teacheronline1.
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