On the Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Where the Gun Violence Prevention and LGBTQ Rights Movements Intersect
By Robert Disney, Brady Director of Grassroots Local and State Chapter Relations
Fifty-one years ago, most of the nation took no notice of five nights of riots in front of Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, NY. These riots broke out after the police raided a gay bar where patrons were merely living openly as their true selves. While police raids of gay bars were frequent in the 1960s on this night and nights to follow patrons decided to fight back, following the lead of trans and gender non-conforming women of color — most notably Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
This reality may feel a world away from America in 2020 — where marriage equality is the law of the land, where workplace discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity is newly prohibited under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and where the Stonewall Inn is now a national monument — but the Stonewall riots were a pivotal moment within LGBTQ history, sparking the modern movement for LGBTQ rights. Stonewall is also held up as an example that change most often comes at the hands of mass movements and what may be seen as radical acts in the face of an oppressive system.
For the gun violence prevention movement, the march for LGBTQ rights and Pride month are sadly inextricably aligned. On June 12, 2016, 49 people were murdered and an additional 53 people injured in the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. That massacre was the most deadly act of violence against the U.S. LGBTQ community, but it was also sadly far from the only incident.
A 2019 FBI report found that almost 20 percent of hate crimes in the U.S. are attributed to anti-LGBTQ bias and that these incidents are rising. A trend that is particularly worrying pertains to continued violence against our trans siblings and trans women of color in particular. In 2019, at least 27 transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals were murdered, most of whom were Black trans women.
Despite the clear and marked progress that our society has made as a whole in accepting LGBTQ Americans, we know that there is still a great deal of work to be done.
All too often, homophobia and transphobia couples with easy access to firearms and results in the loss of life.
There are solutions that exist. And they require that we #disarmhate.
The Disarm Hate Act would prevent individuals who have committed hate crimes from buying firearms. While of course not a perfect fix, this bill works in concert with existing laws to help ensure that individuals with an agenda of hate who have proven themselves unfit to possess a deadly weapon are not able to purchase one.
And, while these fixes only work to keep guns out of hateful hands, they cannot change hearts. Unfortunately, that cultural shift is slow and, though there has been marked progress, many LGBTQ individuals face discrimination in their daily lives.
This sad reality is why the LGBTQ community continues to face disproportionately high rates of self-harm and suicide. LGB youth are nearly five times more likely to have attempted suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts. This concern is even more pressing for transgender individuals, where a national survey shows that 40 percent of transgender adults have attempted suicide.
We know that access to a firearm greatly increases the likelihood that a suicide attempt will be fatal — the risk of suicide is three times greater for gun owners than non-gun owners. Fortunately, safe storage practices —or storing guns locked, unloaded, in a safe, and with ammunition stored separately — can create a needed barrier between an individual in crisis and a firearm. For those in crisis, help is available no matter what you are going through. Please call the free and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255 or text HOME to 741741. Similarly, for LGBTQ youth in crisis and in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline at 1–866–488–7386.
There is still much that needs to happen to achieve full equality and acceptance of LGBTQ individuals in our country. But we cannot separate that work from the need to disarm hate and help individuals in crisis. The gun violence prevention movement can and should be vital allies in this effort. Let’s work as a nation to disarm hate.