“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it shine, let it shine for the 49,” was just one of the transcendent protest hymns echoing through the lobby outside the Orlando office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on July 11.

While organizers representing the full panoply of Central Florida staged their “#sitinforthe49” – a clear reference to the 49 people gunned down by a semi-automatic rifle in the early hours of June 12 – echoes of unrest from the fringes were everywhere. Members of Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood, Equality Florida and Organize Now, among others, assembled peacefully, even mournfully, for a morning of conscientious objection.

Meanwhile, as organizers conversed with building owners and members of Rubio’s staff, each keeping their rehearsed deference in check with smiles and handshakes, a small memorial for each of the 49 victims was formed with pieces of paper inked with each of the names of the dead. A single rose was placed atop each. The workaday crowd of downtown business life walked by with noncommittal glances, the protesters remained peaceful, discussions behind the scenes involved trespass warrants and other such effluvia that accompanies public actions.

IMG_7037In the end, 10 of the protesters chose to accept trespass arrest after nearly 10 hours of vigilance; some gay, some straight, some white, some black, some male, some female, all definitely engaged. Just a few days later, two innocent people were killed and at least 16 wounded outside of Club Blu in Fort Myers; a shooting happened after a fight outside Orlando nightclub 578 on July 24. Neither of the post-Pulse events were LGBT in nature, but it’s become increasingly clear that the gay community is connected to the gun-safety battle just as much as the Latin community, the black community and every community.

“It’s pretty clear how most LGBT people feel about gun safety and about the need to take action,” former local Democratic Party chair, Equality Florida government affairs manager and current candidate for state house Carlos Smith says. “That’s what a lot of the conversations have been around, because Pulse brought up the question that the general public has been asking: ‘Is the LGBT community going to get into the fight for gun safety?’ The answer is “hell yeah, we are.’” Unfortunately, just like the African-American community, the Latino community and the LGBT community have been disproportionally impacted by gun violence, and we’re ready to do something about it. Now the one question is: ‘What can be done?’”

Most agree that the issue of gun violence is a difficult trigger on any account, even more so for communities coloring outside the lines. Just this past weekend on July 23, the group Gays Against Guns (GAG) – a grassroots group that formed in the wake of the June 12 Pulse massacre; a group that also made a strong appearance at New York City’s Pride parade – staged die-ins (not unlike those staged by Black Lives Matter groups nationwide in recent history) as a means of shutting down CrossFit locations in New York, hosting events sponsored by Reebok, events that were intended to award Glock handguns to competition victors.

“After Orlando, it was time for queer people to join in the fight against gun violence,” Gays Against Guns representative Tim Murphy says. “Many of us have been marching and protesting individually or with friends, in New York, whether it was a protest against police violence against black lives, going back to Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, so many others. Or whether it was massacres with assault weapons by civilians like in San Bernardino, Charleston, Sandy Hook, of course. I think with Orlando, we felt we just reached a tipping point. So, with our community’s history of effectively mobilizing around issues like marriage equality and HIV/AIDS, we knew how to do this. We had some fire. We hate a bully. Sometimes, gay people can be angrier or more obnoxious when it comes to raising a hissy fit against systemic bullying and violence. … We really want to target it, and expose, name, shame and blame.”

The demands that GAG is proffering don’t seem terribly controversial, according to the group’s website (an Orlando chapter is in its formative phase on Facebook): “Thwart the life-threatening convergence of homophobia and flawed gun policy; ban access to high-capacity magazine guns and assault weapons; create stricter background checks for gun owners, close the loophole that allows sales of weapons at gun shows without background checks, ban gun sales via the internet, and block people on the FBI watch-list from purchasing guns.”

Reebok later issued a statement attempting to distance the company from the gun giveaway.

“[Politicians] are used by the NRA as puppets to avoid legislation against the most insanely lethal war-grade weapons,” Murphy says. “There is no civilian need, period. But most of them in the congress, frankly Republicans and very few Democrats, create anything they can to back the most insane, NRA-backed legislation around gun control. It’s just a whole chain of death. It is disgusting. It is out of step with what most of America wants. And LGBT people have a lot of righteous anger over this issue and finding our place among the bigger gun-violence issue that has been underway for years.”

It didn’t take long for the message to travel up the bureaucratic ladder. On July 1, Florida Congressman (and current candidate for the U.S. Senate) Alan Grayson introduced a new bill which aims to reinstate the assault weapons ban that lapsed in 2004 after its 1994 passage.

“It was the weapon that made [the Pulse massacre] possible,” Grayson said in a statement. “You can’t always know what is in people’s heads, we can’t always know what’s in people’s hearts, but we can know, and we do know what’s in people’s hands.”

But even with those absolutes, Grayson isn’t presently banking on an easy shift from perceived Second Amendment freedoms and common-sense gun laws. There’s a great divide between Constitutional interpretation and what’s right over wrong, not left.

“I think over time as things are changing – there has been a lot of pull since the tragedy in Orlando – my feeling and my sense is that the opponents of gun safety are losing in people’s minds and in their hearts in much the same way that gay-haters lost that argument over the last decade or more,” he says.“So we’ll see. Certainly there hasn’t been any dramatic response; it’s like my filibuster [in June] where I shut down the House. Besides that we haven’t seen effective measures to institute gun safety, but I do feel the tectonic plates moving, the tectonic plates of public opinion are moving; over time that does have consequences.”

Jason Lindsay, 34, was struck by the Orlando Pulse tragedy, so much so that he wanted to find a place within the growing threads of practical reaction in which he could bring change. Lindsay, an Iraq veteran deployed in 2003 (since, he has been engaged in various capacities with the Veteran’s Administration), is moving forward with a political action committee that will fund and support campaigns against gun violence, particularly violence directed at the LGBT community.

The Pride Fund to End Gun Violence launched in the wake of the Pulse shootings, and is trying to fill the gap between the vulnerable people on the ground and the government that creates policies to protect them. It’s a “direct political action,” Lindsay says. It’s also a financial challenge. The Pride Fund hopes to raise $500,000 to support candidates and policies directly related to gun violence in the 2016 election cycle ending on Nov. 8. As of mid-July, the fledgling group raised $23,000. The group is planning fundraisers in Philadelphia, Orlando and New York City, among other locations.

His reasons are clear. “We are approaching it like you would in the medical community,” he says. “It is like other public-health hazards: lead in water, AIDS, cancer. The government spends money on countering terrorism,” so why not on something as deadly as gun violence?

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, another group hard at work to curb gun violence in the U.S., there are presently nearly 300 million guns in the hands of gun owners in the U.S. An estimated 13,286 people were killed by gun violence in the U.S. in 2015. By comparison, the group says, 60 percent of murders in the U.S. were achieved by way of firearm abuse, while only 10 percent of murders in the U.K. were gun related.

The Pride Fund is hoping to rush funds to candidates and also to counteract the ballyhooed National Rifle Association report cards for government officials with an equal and opposite document. An “F” on the NRA report card is ostensibly an “A” on the Pride report card.

“Citizen action, fundraising and politics are what will make a difference in the fight against the incredible power of the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby that owns so many members of Congress,” the group’s website reads.

Deeper in the political sphere, other groups and individuals are enacting similar policies – or at least paradigms – to combat what has become far too pernicious a problem. Florida’s League of Women Voters has launched its own Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, one that is reasonably non-partisan and includes a diverse roster, from faith-based organizations to Equality Florida. LWVOF vice president Patricia Brigham is leading that charge.

“I can’t remember when a coalition like this has emerged, especially here in Florida,” Brigham says. “And [the coalition] already has 85 organizations that have joined on, and these are from all walks of life: faith-based groups, health, education, LGBTQ, Hispanic, African-American and civic organizations. It’s a wide swath, and that’s very encouraging, because I think people are at a turning point and have had enough of gun violence and are maybe seeing that it really is going to take a collaborative effort to make change…It’s become a fetishizing of guns. It wasn’t always that way. The NRA and gun lobby are very effective at marketing fear. We have to be as effective, if not more effective, in challenging that fear.”

To that end, the League is biting back.

“We also urge voters to look at the records of candidates before casting their ballots this fall,” Democratic Progressive Caucus leader Susan Smith said in a statement. “Check campaign donations and NRA ratings to see which candidates care about you and your community, then please vote accordingly.”

The battle is just beginning, ironically (when you consider that battles often involve guns), and nobody is more aware of that than candidates attempting to woo progressive voters into voting booths and out of the firearm frenzy. On July 22, presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton hosted an Orlando roundtable before heading to Pulse to feel the sadness that most of the community has been enduring for more than a month.

Hillary (1 of 1)“The LGBT community, by any measure, was the community most severely impacted by this terrible attack,” Clinton said, identifying that adding Latin heritage to the mix made it even worse. “What does that mean? Well, among other things, it means that it is still dangerous to be LGBT in America.

“I think it’s an unfortunate fact, but one that needs to be said that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are more likely than any other group in our country to be the targets of hate crimes. They face a very complicated intersecting set of challenges in general, and even more so as people of color,” she added.

During a visit to the Tampa Fairgrounds the same day, Clinton was visibly stirred by the tragedy in Orlando, referencing it multiple times in her speech to a packed house.

Saint Petersburg Democratic state representative candidate Jennifer Webb, who witnessed her sister kill herself with a firearm she should not legally have been allowed to obtain, is raising her voice, as well.

“My cousin used to own the second largest gun manufacturer in the world,” she says. She spoke to him about the issue and was surprised. “It’s very interesting, because he had a nuanced approach. He thinks that doctors should be able to ask a suicidal or a homicidal patient whether he or she has access to guns. He thinks pawn shop owners should use discretion when selling firearms to people they think have substance abuse issues. … I think this: I think that we need common sense gun reform at that level; like if you think that somebody is suicidal or strung out and not in their right mind, why would you sell them a gun?”

But it’s not an easy row to hoe, especially in the south, says Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant.

“As much as I would like to drag these assholes – excuse me, ‘people’ – to town and do what’s right, I do not have that authority. We did work with our caucuses and our elected officials to ask for a special session, which of course they did and the Republicans turned it down,” Tant says. “I will tell you where I am personally on all of this stuff. I see this gun violence as, and the deaths that are resulting from it – much less the disability, the aftercare from trauma or injury – I see all of this as a public health epidemic.”

“I do think that the gay community has a voice that will be reckoned with,” she adds. “I hope that you continue to fight this fight loud and proud. I think it’s reprehensible what they did. I am just – I’m still heartbroken over it. I won’t get over it for a long time.”

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