In the hours after the massacre at Pulse in Orlando on June 12, 2016, LGBT people worldwide gathered in silent horror. Omar Mateen had come into the only traditionally ‘safe’ gay space, a nightclub, to shoot 49 of us down in a senseless rampage. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in the US since 9/11, the deadliest mass shooting in American history – and the deadliest-ever assault against LGBTs.
The US is obsessed with terrorists, but indifferent to the tools they use most. In 2015, ISIS-inspired and white-nationalist gunmen shot and killed four people in Chattanooga, nine in Charleston, and 14 in San Bernardino. Yet the National Rifle Association and its puppets in Congress – locked with the gun manufacturers in a bloody chain of death – block even the most common-sense reforms, like universal background checks and bans on assault-style weapons. Our laws make it alarmingly easy for a mass shooter, that uniquely American character, to stockpile deadly weapons.
Most rampage killers are not terrorists, of course; and most murderers aren’t rampage killers. Far more gun victims die at the hands of everyday murderers, in domestic violence, botched robberies, and hate crimes. Queers are the victims of hate crimes in rising numbers, as the country experiences a backlash against marriage equality and greater gay and trans visibility. The Trevor Project has reported an alarming increase in bullying and violence since Trump’s election.
The majority of gun deaths in the US – more than 20,000 a year – are suicides. LGBT youth, burdened by stigma and internalised homophobia, are three to four times more likely to kill themselves. In countries with stricter gun laws, like Canada and Australia, gun-related murders and suicides are much, much rarer. Hatred and easy access to firearms is a toxic combination.
Like HIV in the 1980s, gun violence is an unchecked health crisis in America – and once again, LGBT people are dying as the government looks away. Just as we did then, queer people must fight to save our own lives. At Gays Against Guns, we’ve responded with a decidedly queer approach. In the tradition of ACTUP and QueerNation, we mount in-your-face direct actions, social media campaigns, protests, and street theater, using edgy graphics and irreverent messaging.
America’s insane love affair with guns is killing us. Enough is enough.