Gun safety is, and has always been, an LGBT-rights issue.
Granted, some of the most prominent cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes have not involved guns; the deaths of Matthew Shepard and Sakia Gunn were not due to firearms. Even so, the LGBT community is plagued by gun violence.
On May 13, 1988, Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner were shot while hiking the Appalachian Trail, because their murderer was enraged by their lesbianism. Wight died from her wounds.
On Oct. 15, 1999, Sissy “Charles” Boden was shot dead in Savannah, Ga., for being gay.
On July 23, 2003, Nireah Johnson and Brandie Coleman were shot to death in Indianapolis after their assailant learned Nireah was transgender.
On Feb. 12, 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King was shot twice by a classmate in Oxnard because of his sexual orientation. He later died.
Gun safety has always been an issue with the LGBT community. According to FBI data, nearly 21 percent of all hate crimes reported in the U.S. have been due to the victims’ real or perceived sexual orientation. However, our major LGBT organizations historically have not taken a significant stand on the controversial issue of gun violence.
But on June 12, 2016, 49 individuals died because of their sexual orientation, or because of their support of the LGBT community, at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. This was a pivotal moment: A community has had enough—a community that is well-organized due to decades of fighting for civil and human rights. Our right to live without fear of dying at the hands of gun violence is now being fully embraced and is considered of paramount importance. Make no mistake: These are not special rights. These are not gay rights. These are human rights—and now this is our fight.
On Saturday, June 18, Equality California (EQCA) launched its new #SafeAndEqual campaign, not only to raise awareness that gun violence is an LGBT issue, but to declare that gun safety is an LGBT right and now a major policy priority. EQCA has signed on to numerous statewide bills and is proud to join other organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign, on federal efforts that will prohibit military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines; close gun-show and Internet-sales loopholes on background checks; and strengthen background checks and waiting periods to keep guns out of dangerous hands. EQCA will bring the full force of our lobbying efforts to pass them.
This is deeply personal. Pulse nightclub could easily have been Hunters or Chill Bar on Arenas, or Micky’s in West Hollywood. Those 49 people are sons and daughters, siblings, parents and young people with what should have been very bright futures. Most of them were LGBT people. They could have been me and you and 47 people we know here in the Coachella Valley. It’s difficult to remember in such an affirming community as Palm Springs, but the more visible we are as an LGBT community, the more vulnerable to violence and hatred we become.
As EQCA’s executive director, Rick Zbur, said: “Ending gun violence is also an LGBT issue, because LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. Transgender women face epidemic rates of murder and violent crime. Hate crimes are on the rise throughout the United States, and members of communities of color suffer the highest rates of gun violence. In the weeks and months ahead, Equality California will relentlessly work in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento, and mobilize our 800,000 members and the LGBT community to support legislation to keep our community—and everyone—safe.”
We all cope with tragedies differently. After the Orlando shooting, some of us attended vigils that doubled as rallies. Many of us were angry or sad. Many of us cried … a lot. I am a person of faith, and I’ve prayed for those who have passed and hold them in my thoughts every day. However, my tears and prayers alone will not change the culture in which we live. They will not bring 49 dear souls back to us. They will not remove killing machines from the hands of dangerous people.
However, 800,000 Californians, organized in lockstep with millions of others across this country pushing for real reform, will make a difference. It will require all of us to do our part and work together, but we can and will become #SafeAndEqual. I encourage you to start by adding your name at eqca.org/safe.
Darrell L. Tucci is a Palm Springs resident and a board member of Equality California.