Could the tactics of ACT UP be used to finally start a conversation about gun control? Hours after a man killed 26 people in a Texas church, Gays Against Guns plans to get in the face of lawmakers standing in the way of meaningful reform. A demonstration takes place at the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., Monday morning, marking the first time the activist group brought a this kind of disruption to the Capitol.
"Congress has said it was too soon to talk about gun reform in the days after the October 1 Las Vegas tragedy," says Michael Adolph, a member of GAG's D.C. chapter. "GAG believes that the time has come to not only start talking about gun reforms but to start enacting them. The phony ritual of 'thoughts and prayers' no longer has any credibility when there are 91 people shot to death daily and 291 mass shootings so far this year." (Adolph was interviewed before Sunday's shooting in Texas.)
GAG has participated in D.C. protests before, including a march last year between monuments to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, two icons killed by guns. But the event goes into the Washington, D.C. workplace of lawmakers.
The disruption is tied to several events, including special elections being held around the nation on Tuesday. "It's important to remind those voting in elections that our representatives are a large part of the problem," Terry Roethlein, Communications director for GAG NYC, tells The Advocate. "We want to get the message out on a national scale."
The disruption was organized by New York City and Washington, D.C. chapters of GAG. The group turned to the AIDS era advocacy of ACT UP as a model for bringing attention to an important issue impact LGBT Americans today. The correlation of ACT UP messaging and GAG activity has been a regular feature of the group's work.
GAG also has come out in favor of the Background Check Expansion Act, recently filed by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy. The bill would expand background checks to the sale and transfer of all firearms by private sellers, with few exceptions.
The group also supports an assault weapons ban filed by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has sought such restrictions regularly since the Newtown, Conn., shooting in 2012 and who has been behind a push for a bump stock ban this year.
But GAG doesn't just want to stand in support of legislation; it seeks to change the terms of conversation around deadly weapons. Just as ACT UP helped turn discussion of AIDS from a gay plague to a public health matter, GAG wants to shift the gun debate away from rights and individual crimes and make people view the spread of guns as a public health concern.
One of the demands with Monday's demonstration will be reinstatement of funding for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research into gun violence. "We see gun violence as a public health crisis," says Roethlein, who participated in ACT UP actions in the early 2000s.
And the organization also wants gun control treated widely as an LGBT issue. The community, especially trans women, faces a higher risk of gun violence victimization. Roethlein notes the high number of trans people killed in homicides each year, and that at least 14 of those deaths recorded this year were bywith guns.
The group also wants to call out politicians by name, and create particular headaches for NRA-backed senators standing in the way of gin control. Monday's events will target Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and likely Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, all opponents of gun reform.
"Many congresspeople are intimidated by the National Rifle Association, American gun manufacturers, and the president, who both helped to elect, so they refuse to pass common sense gun laws that save lives," says Natalie James, a member of the New York chapter of GAG. "Fortunately, there are some congresspeople who believe, like us, that gun violence is a public health crisis in America, and those individuals have encouraged us to make a lot of noise about this issue."
Roethlein says that the advocacy in Washington, D.C., is designed to garner national attention, but it's only one front in the battle for reasonable gun control. GAG has also led disruptive events at the offices of the NRA in Washington, and last year the group after the Pulse shooting held a die-in at the Manhattan headquarters of BlackRock, a major corporate shareholder in gun manufacturer stock.