E. Winter Tashlin

A Vital If Unpopular LGBT Civil Right

Filed By E. Winter Tashlin | May 31, 2012 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: 2nd Amendment, gun laws, guns, NRA, pinkpistols, protection

poorecho.JPGIt's 3am and a drunk man decides he's fed up with having "fags" living downstairs. So he takes his illegal (he has a criminal record) Beretta 9mm pistol and goes downstairs to do something about it. On the way down the three flights of stairs from his apartment to theirs, doubt worms its way into his mind. Maybe it's because he's got a new baby at home, or because somewhere under the booze and ignorance, he's not really a killer at heart.

He bypasses the door to the first floor apartment and empties all ten rounds of 115 grain full metal jacket slugs into the queers' little Toyota instead. The shots can be heard clear on the other side of their little Vermont village, yet it takes better than fifteen minutes from the first 911 call for the police to arrive, evacuate the three family home, and take the drunkard into custody. He's back at the house by midday and would not serve any further jail time for his crime.

The story is hardly unique, buts it's mine, and it's consequences fundamentally changed how I and my partners lived our lives. My partners and I were fortunate that our neighbor made the decision to go for my ex's little Toyota Echo instead of us that Fall night back in 2004. We know that he had originally planned to cause us more personal harm because he said as much at the time of his arrest. The most potent weapon we could have replied to a hail of gunfire with was an 1873 French bayonet, poor comfort in the situation.

By that evening a 9mm Glock 19 compact semi-automatic pistol, and the fifteen rounds of jacketed lead in each of its two magazines, had supplanted the antique bayonet as the preeminent weapon in our home. Fortunately, both Asrik and I had been shooting before and already had the rudiments of gun safety and handling.

We bought the ugly little pug nosed pistol on the advice of the local chief of police who, when we asked what could be done to protect us with our neighbor back in the house already, had said "Got a gun?" When told that we didn't, he simply replied "Well, I'd say that's a good place to start then wouldn't I?" Even now, my liberal New Englander memory wants to give him a southern accent in retrospect, as if that would make his response expected, if not OK. But no, this was southeastern Vermont, a scarce fifteen miles from the liberal stronghold of Brattleboro.

In the weeks and months that followed, we ran thousands of rounds through that Glock, which wasn't the only gun in our household for long as we each choose to daily carry a weapon that suited us best. We practiced several times a week at the local National Guard range until we were comfortable and accurate with our chosen weapons as we were with our shoes, phones, and other items we carried in daily life.

Today my Kimber .45 is rarely far from my hip, and the availability of concealed carry permits has been a guiding condition in deciding where to live, though in few states is it as easy to carry concealed as in Vermont, which we left not long after the shooting. It is through this experience and process that I have come to believe that the Second Amendment provides a vital constitutional right, particularly for us as LGBT people.

Over the last few weeks the LGBT media has been full of pastors and faith communities preaching violence against us. From Pastor "Put the Gays Into Concentration Camps" Worley, to Pastor Sean Harris of "break your gay child's wrist" fame, to whomever indoctrinated into hate the four year old whose anti-gay church solo has been making its way around the web recently. Most recently, Kansas pastor Curtis Knapp, not wanting to be outdone, called on the U.S. government to put us all to death. As I've written about before for Bilerico, I believe whole heartedly in the First Amendment protections these bigots enjoy, though personally I believe that Pastor Harris at least has exceeded its bounds.

According to the FBI crime statistics report for 2010, more than nineteen percent of hate crimes in the U.S. were against LGB people. The FBI either does not count crimes against trans* people, or lumps those in with gays and lesbians, and I suspect the reality is somewhere in the middle.

Of course, that only takes into account crimes that are reported to police, and equally important, treated as hate crimes by law enforcement. For instance, I believe my story wouldn't be counted, as the local DA choose not to pursue hate crime charges against our neighbor, fearing that it could "complicate" the prosecution.

Firearms have a bad rap in our community, or at least in the LGBT media, but I'm hardly the only person who feels that the Second Amendment is essential to our individual survival as queer/LGBT people. I recognize that for completely understandable reasons, the struggle for our civil rights is tied inextricably to liberal politics and the Democratic Party, for whom gun control is a bedrock principal.

For better or worse, both political parties in the U.S. have staked out their positions on our civil rights, and I believe history will someday show that the Democrats were on the side of justice. However, this has often meant that in order to advance our own political agenda, the positions of our community and that of our political allies must be fundamentally inseparable. On the issue of the firearms freedom, I truly believe this to be a grave error.

Of course, I don't for a moment want to imply that the LGBT community's perspective on firearms is solely attributable to the Left. The gun world, and in particular to the NRA, is as tied to the Republican party as the LGBT community is to the Democrats. And that fact has more often than not left liberals and queer/LGBT people feeling uniquely unwelcome.

For instance, to join many shooting ranges, one must belong to the NRA (mostly for the insurance), which means that our money that will eventually feed the coffers some of the most radical, hateful, and yes, anti-LGBT politicians and propaganda around. Not to mention receiving the the increasingly paranoid and hateful right wing ravings of the NRA's successful but polarizing, president Wayne LaPierre, which will flood your mailboxes, both virtual and physical with repugnant anti-Obama and anti-liberal propaganda.

On a personal and one-on-one level, the situation is a bit more complicated as far as both politics and acceptance goes. The vast majority of gun owners in my experience are hobbyists, for all that our hobby serves a valuable purpose in our lives. I've seen a preference for .45ACP over .40S&W create common ground between socially and politically disparate individuals, just as readily as disagreements over rail mounted flashlights can divide friends. In this, gun nuts are no different than people who ride motorcycles or devote their time to fly fishing. I've found great acceptance as a queer guy at gun ranges and shops, and just generally among my fellow shooters.

Not to say it's all rosy solidarity and cross cultural exchanges though. I have witnessed shocking displays of misogyny and anti-LGBT bias as well, even up here in northern New England. Pre-transition, my partner struggled to get gun store salesmen to even talk to him, and at least one store my family used to frequent had a salesman who wouldn't sell to me or my male identified partner after he discovered we were together. Liberal gun owner forums are chock full of stories of racism and bigotry that people have encountered, a fact that sadly puts off many of the very people who could benefit from embracing responsible gun ownership, including members of the LGBT community.

The thing is, there will always be those who hate us (just ask the Jews). Protecting and ensuring legal rights for the LGBT community can go a long way to mitigate the impact of that hate, just as education and public visibility can go a long way to attenuate it, and I'm not advocating the formation of LGBT para-militias and street gangs. But in those dark, personal moments, when help is out of reach and hate is staring one of us in the face, the legal protection that gives us a chance to come home to our families and community is the one the founders enshrined in the Second Amendment.

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