Pink Pistols boasts four chapters in Texas, while Gays Against Guns has none.
By Kim Hogstrom
After Valentine’s Day, the conversation about guns in America shifted.
On February 14, there was another mass shooting at the high school of a well-to-do South Florida suburb called Parkland. This time, blood ran through the halls of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which serves 3,158 students. When the smoke cleared and the SWAT teams gained control, authorities found 17 people dead and 17 wounded.
Within days, students in Parkland, some as young as 10, organized a movement called “Never Again” to demand changes to the nation’s gun policies, and many across the nation have joined their chorus of protest. Few would argue that the reaction to this scene of gun violence felt different from the hundreds before it. But will anything really change this time?
Given that LGBTQ individuals are among the most frequently targeted victims of violence and hate crimes, OutSmart reached out to representatives from two LGBTQ groups on opposite sides of the gun-control debate.
Gays Against Guns is a national nonprofit dedicated to promoting stronger regulation of firearms. GAGers, as they call themselves, take the position that “fewer guns equal fewer deaths,” and statistics largely bear that out.
A second group, called Pink Pistols, is an international LGBTQ nonprofit made up of people who meet monthly at firing ranges to support one another and advance their marksmanship skills. Pink Pistols members believe that the statistics are stacked against people who don’t own a gun. “Get a gun and give yourselves a fighting chance,” they say.
Both organizations offer compelling arguments.
‘The Opposite of Common Sense’
GAG members believe that gun violence is a public-health issue that disproportionately affects people of color, religious minorities, and LGBTQ Americans. The group has active chapters in New York, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Washington DC. There are no chapters in Texas, but GAG would welcome one.
“I will never forget waking up to the horrifying news of the Pulse Nightclub massacre,” says Kevin Gotkin, a member of GAG’s New York chapter, referring to the 2016 shooting at an Orlando gay bar that left 49 people dead. “Since then, I have been advocating for common-sense gun laws that would stop shooters who have hate in their hearts. America’s gun laws are the opposite of common sense.”
One of GAG’s most prominent supporters is Emma Gonzalez, the Parkland shooting survivor who identifies as bisexual and has emerged as a leading figure in the Never Again movement.
Jake Tolan, another member of GAG’s New York chapter, notes that 33,000 people die from gun violence in the U.S. each year—one-third of those due to homicide and two-thirds due to suicide.
“LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth, and 92 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide by age 25,” Tolan says. “Suicide attempts with guns are overwhelmingly more lethal than other efforts. With the risk of suicide so much higher for us, why in the world would we want more guns in our community?”
GAG members lobby candidates and elected officials for common-sense gun-control laws. They produce social-media video campaigns to educate and promote their position. GAG even has an online store selling “GAG swag,” and their protests are the stuff of legend.
“There’s a lot of chanting, and we carry a shitload of amazing banners and signs— because we’re artsy,” Tolan says. “We have a lot of fun, and we tend to get a lot of press.
GAG demonstrations often include “Human Beings,” silent protesters veiled in white who bring a somber energy as they memorialize those lost to gun violence.
“Each Human Being represents a victim of gun violence,” Tolan says. “Most of us have been a Human Being at least once. It’s a very moving experience, and a haunting sight to behold. It’s powerful.”
According to GAG, gun control is an LGBTQ-specific public-health issue. They point out that violence claims the lives of LGBTQ people at a disproportionate rate— especially people of color, trans women, and gay men. The organization believes the LGBTQ community should band together to support stronger state and federal gun control.
‘Guns Are Not Living Things’
Eighteen years after Newsweek published an article about “a new pro-gun, pro-gay political action group,” Pink Pistols has 50 chapters across the U.S. and several in Canada and South Africa. According to its website, the group has four chapters in Texas, including one in Houston. The group also experienced rapid growth in the wake of the Pulse massacre. In fact, five days after the attack, Pink Pistols reported that its membership had tripled.
Pink Pistols defines itself as an “international organization dedicated to the legal, safe, and responsible use of firearms for self-defense of the sexual-minority community.” Although Pink Pistols exists to serve LGBTQ people, it is not composed solely of LGBTQ members.
Gwendolyn Patton, a longtime leader and spokesperson for the organization, believes that guns are not the problem: “No matter what kinds of weapons an assailant uses—no matter the caliber of bullets, the style, or the design—the guns had no choice,” Patton says. “Guns are not living things. A gun cannot choose to refuse to fire if the action is illegal. People die because of the actions of a human being. What I pray for is that we learn why the assailant did it, so we can prevent others from feeling the same way in the future.”
Wes Simmons, a member of the Houston chapter of Pink Pistols, says he views the group as “a resource.”
“We help educate the LGBTQ community on guns and their proper use,” Simmons says. “We help people take the fear out of firearms, so they can successfully protect themselves.
“Things in the world today are pretty scary,” Simmons adds. “There are a lot of people who don’t like our community. I grew up gay in the rural woods of East Texas. I lived in fear every day, so I understand fear. I want to help people learn they don’t have to live that way. We know that many people would like the world to be different. Pink Pistols offers a way to deal with the world the way it is.”
This article appears in the May 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.