Monday, tomorrow, is the forty-seventh anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and today is the forty-sixth Gay Pride Parade in New York. Two-and-a-half million people watched last year’s parade, and organizers expect at least that many today. Click here for information on the NY parade, including the fact that it’s a march, not a parade.
On Friday Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America, declared that the Stonewall Inn, Christopher Park, and the surrounding streets—the site of the Stonewall Riots in late June 1969—are henceforth to be the Stonewall National Monument, the first national monument to mark the contributions of LGBTQ people to America and “to tell the story of the struggle for LGBT rights.”
And yesterday marked the fourteenth day since the murders of 49 LGBTQ people at Pulse in Orlando.
It is a painful and exhilarating and confusing time to be LGBTQ.
But there may be a path out of this. Yesterday, on Salon, Kerry Eleveld, author of Don’t Tell Me To Wait: How the Fight for Gay Rights Changed America and Transformed Obama’s Presidency, interviewed Joe Sudbay on gun rights. Sudbay has been a principal activist on three of the biggest civil rights issues of the last eight years—LGBTQ rights, immigration, and gun safety. She asks him five questions. Sudbay answers from his experience in the LGBTQ movement. Her third question is this: “Is there anything gun safety advocates can learn from the LGBT movement or the immigration movement?” Sudbay says, “Inside-the-beltway thinking had to change. Activists and advocates did it on immigration and LGBT issues by going big, having effective outside/grassroots strategies and being unrelenting.” The operative words are big, grassroots, and unrelenting. I recommend the whole interview. Then Eleveld asks the question, “What would be a good first step in making real change on gun reform—what goal should advocates set?”
Go big. Demand votes on key issues, including the ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Don’t accept no for an answer. Don’t listen when “friends” try to tell you that it’s not the right time, or it’s complicated, or one of the other excuses often lobbed at advocates. On that, take a page from the NRA. If your allies aren’t being true allies, call them out. They’ll hate it, but they’ll pay attention. Importantly, don’t compromise with yourselves.
Also, don’t kid yourself, there is no middle ground on this issue—and that’s because of the gun lobby. They view any piece of gun control legislation as a threat. We learned a long time ago that there is no “third way” on guns. It’s critical to have a left flank within the movement to not only push politicians, but to push the groups and give them space to ask for more.
You have to change conventional wisdom – and that means defeating the NRA at the polls. The gun issue is inherently political and to win will require a political operation to elect friends and defeat opponents. Pro-NRA incumbents have to lose over their fealty to the gun lobby. Good legislation won’t pass in this Congress so start focusing on electing members of Congress who will vote your way.
This is powerful stuff, and it comes from two people who have deep experience at the intersection of minority rights and government action. Sudbay says: Think big. Don’t compromise. Grassroots. Be unrelenting. Neither of these activists mention being nice.
Think about these things today while you’re celebrating.
David Carter.Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked a Gay Revolution. New York: St Martins Press, 2004