In the heart of Los Angeles County is a city known as West Hollywood. Measuring just under two square miles, the area is home to the Sunset Strip, the House of Blues and the Roxy Theater, and is known for being one of the most gay- and trans-friendly places in America—more than 40 percent of West Hollywood’s population reportedly identifies as LGBT.
The area also has the highest violent crime rate among the 23 districts patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department—a rate 98 percent higher than that of South LA, and a full 38 percent higher than Compton.
For this reason—and several others, including the fact that more than 20 percent of all hate crimes are based on sexual orientation, and the fact that in 2015 a record number of homicides were committed against LGBT individuals—there is a growing subset in the LGBT community that believes armed self-defense is the best and most reliable means of keeping themselves safe.
Unfortunately, however, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom—formerly thought of as an ally to those in the gay, lesbian and transgender community based on his opposition to Proposition 8—does not seem to have gotten the memo. Newsom is currently pushing a ballot initiative that would require bullet purchasers to be registered with the state, require bullet/shotgun shell purchases be reported to the state, ban so-called large capacity magazines, and will mandate the confiscation of rifles capable of holding such magazines—all things that would render Californians, especially vulnerable Californians such as those in the LGBT community, even more defenseless against the high levels of violent crime that the existing restrictive gun-control laws haven’t been able to stop.“If Gavin Newsom gets [the Safety For All Act] passed, how will transgender women like me be able to protect ourselves?”
In response to the threat posed by these measures, a transgender woman posted a photograph of herself to Facebook, superimposed with the caption “If Gavin Newsom gets [the Safety For All Act] passed, how will transgender women like me be able to protect ourselves?” It was signed simply, “Nicki, Fresno.”
The photo went viral and eventually found its way to Gavin Newsom—who then made his own Facebook post (and in the process, an ass of himself). Refusing to directly address Nicki, Newsom said, “The NRA group in California is using the trans community to fight our common-sense gun safety initiative. Using the trans community to fight their battle of lies is arguably one of the most disgusting thing they’ve ever done.”
What Newsom did not realize is that, far from being some sort of newly minted pawn for “the NRA group in California,” Nicki—whose last name is Stallard—is a journalist, and is well known in the community for being a longtime, outspoken defender of firearm freedoms.
“Nicki has been a longtime supporter of the Second Amendment and has been active with the Pink Pistols since their founding, as far as I can remember,” a commenter named Charles Dahlen wrote, referring to the LGBT shooting and Second Amendment advocacy organization started in 2000. “Don’t try to pin this on NRA or act like Nicki’s efforts just came about recently in response to your personal limitations on law-abiding citizens. You act like the LGBTQ community is now being victimized by the NRA, when it is you that is trying to turn them into victims.”
Many other LGBT gun owners took issue with Newsom’s view of Californians being part of an imaginary “anti-gun or NRA” dichotomy: “So Gavin Newsom hasn’t heard of the Pink Pistols? They aren’t an NRA group; they’re a group dedicated to helping the LGBTQ community protect itself. Educate yourself before you bash the LGBT community,” a poster named Cameron Barker wrote. (While the Pink Pistols—which boasts 60 chapters and a membership of 10,000—utilize NRA-certified instructors in their training, the group is a completely separate organization.)
In an interview with the Sacramento Bee, the group’s leader, Gwen S. Patton of Pennsylvania, explained further: “The NRA does not provide donations or funding to the Pink Pistols,” she said. And while the groups have worked together on legal cases, according to Patton, the Pink Pistols “have never gotten a dollar from NRA.” “Gavin isn’t promoting common-sense gun safety. He is promoting victim disarmament, and his proposals will get innocent victims killed.”
But by far the most incendiary idea—the notion that those both within the LGBT community and those outside found truly disgusting—was the idea that trans men and women are incapable of independent thought: “‘Using’ them, Gavin? Is that how you see the trans community, as gullible people to be used for your own ends? Or are they only allowed to have opinions and views if they meet your approval?” commenter Paul T. Nordberg asked.
The firestorm of controversy prompted coverage in local outlets such as the Sacramento Bee, ABC 10, and San Jose Mercury News, but also in the national outlets such as the Washington Times, Breitbart and others. While a few commenters and interviewees were supportive of Newsom’s efforts, most expressed disappointment with both Newsom’s attitude toward transgender people and with his anti-gun campaign, with many citing some variation of the idea that “more guns, less crime” applies to hate crimes, as well.
For her part, in an article in the Sacramento Bee covering Newsom’s misstep, Stallard confirmed that she stands by her views.
“Gavin isn’t promoting common-sense gun safety. He is promoting victim disarmament, and his proposals will get innocent victims killed,” Stallard said. “I know he’s done a lot for the gay community, but on this issue he’s like a friend who’s wrong. … I’m not angry at him, but I know a lot of other people are.”
It isn’t hard to understand why. California’s high crime rate makes it a dangerous place for anyone to live—a fact which has prompted a rise in gun sales each year since 2003, permitting backlogs in a number of counties, and empty shelves in some firearms stores. But given the heightened risks faced by the LGBT community, it’s all the more important for gun owners of every gender identity and sexual orientation, both NRA members and nonmembers, to join together to defeat this wrong-headed ballot initiative this November. Only by ensuring that armed self-defense is a readily available option for all law-abiding citizens can we begin to realize the ideal of “safety for all.”