Sunday, June 17, 2018

Arm the gays?

There have always been armed LGBT+ people, whether anyone knew it or not. There have also always been openly gay people embracing guns. But with a rising tide of violent bigotry in the USA, is it now time for LGBT+ people to arm themselves in self-defence?

As a long time proponent of gun control, I’d be expected to find the question absurd. For pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that most people have no business having guns, and those who are allowed to own them should be well-regulated. Because of that, it has always been an article of faith for me that part of the answer to rising gun violence in the USA is to reduce the number of guns available.

What if I was wrong?

Okay, not wrong, exactly, but what if circumstances have changed so drastically that the answer must change, too? What if the proper answer in the face of rising hate-motivated violence is arming people?

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), which compiles data from member organisations around the USA, 2016 was the deadliest year for anti-LGBT violence in US history. That was the year of the Pulse Nightclub massacre, at the time the USA’s worst-ever mass shooting. Overall, and excluding Pulse, there was a 17% increase in anti-LGBT+ murders that year [PDF of the report available online]. Following that year’s presidential election, the New York City Anti-Violence Project reported a 45% increase in calls to its violence hotline.

Official FBI statistics for 2016 showed a 5% increase in all hate crime incidents (not victims), with crimes against trans people rising 9%, as compared to a 2% increase for crimes motivated by anti-gay hatred. It’s important to note that the FBI statistics compile official data from police agencies, and as such, are known to undercount the actual number of anti-LGBT+ hate crimes, partly due to the reluctance of LGBT+ people to report crimes to police. This, too, is especially true for trans people.

In 2017, over 100 anti-LGBT bills were introduced in state legislatures. At the same time, Mike Pence was leading the current American regime’s war on LGBT+ people. In February of that year, some 8 months after Pulse, the regime announced it was rescinding the Obama Administration’s orders that trans students must be allowed to use public restrooms that conformed with their gender identity. A month later, the current occupant of the White House signed an Executive Order rescinding President Obama’s Executive Order protecting the rights of LGBT+ federal workers. Two weeks later, the Department of Justice withdrew from a lawsuit against North Carlonia’s anti-trans HB 2, signalling it would not challenge any anti-LGBT+ state laws. In early April, the current occupant signed an Executive Order on “free speech” and “religious liberties” as part of the regime’s support for allowing rightwing religious people to legally discriminate against LGBT+ people.

The situation for LGBT+ people had deteriorated so badly by the end of 2017 that the NCAVP issued a report in January of this year [PDF available online] showing that 2017 had an 86% increase in homicides of LGBT+ people.

The current regime is hostile to LGBT+ people and has rescinded the few meagre federal protections that existed for LGBT+ people. They also want to install religious radicals on the Supreme Court, making it possible to overturn marriage equality, and possibly overturn Lawrence v. Texas and other Supreme Court rulings that have served to protect the human rights of LGBT+ people.

The current regime has also encouraged racist violence, not the least by the current occupant failing to strongly condemn neo-nazis, but also through his constant demonisation of “illegal immigrants” in vague language that also manages to stir hatred against all immigrants [For example, see: “Anti-immigrant graffiti found outside Brownes Irish Market”, KMBC News, June 11, 2018, and also “‘Immigrants Not Welcome.’ Vandals deface historic Irish Midtown storefront” by Aaron Randle, Kansas City Star, June 12, 2018].

So, the facts are that in the USA, violence against LGBT+ people is soaring. Also, the current regime controlling the White House is anti-LGBT+ and, in general, encourages violent bigots to act out. The first is a direct result of the second. So, what’s the solution?

Despite everything, I can’t YET advocate that LGBT+ people arm themselves, but I also cannot condemn any who choose to do so. The tide of hatred is rising, and self-defence may become the only defence. Holding on to one last shred of my convictions, I’d add that if LGBT+ people do arm themselves, it should be within the context of a group like Pink Pistols that can provide proper training and support.

If LGBT+ people do arm themselves for self defence, it won’t do anything to end anti-LGBT+ hate crimes. It also won’t do anything to turn back the general tide of white grievance-driven violent hate crimes. Both, especially the second, will require political solutions that don’t actually exist right now, and may not be possible in the future. If a more violent and repressive society is around the corner, then arming may be the only way for LGBT+ people to remain safe.

If the USA was still run in accordance with the US Constitution and the rule of law, I’d dismiss the idea of LGBT+ people arming themselves, probably derisively. But as we’ve all seen, the abnormal is now normal, and the unthinkable is now policy. Quite literally ANYTHING is possible while this regime is in power. I cannot in good conscience try to discourage LGBT+ people from protecting themselves, their families, and their communities from the armed thugs the current regime has encouraged. If that means arming themselves, so be it. I can live with that. More importantly, that may be the only way to ensure they can, too.

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