Monthly Archives

June 2016


CHELSEA NEWS: Slice of Heaven Returns to Hell’s Kitchen

June 30, 2016

June 30, 2016

Ramon Aponte Park, in Hell’s Kitchen, is welcoming back families.

The pocket park, on West 47th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues, received a full facelift, including new play equipment and plantings.

The $1.3 million project opened up the roughly two-tenths of an acre space, and added a spray shower, swings and seating. Drainage was also improved.

“Parks like this one are neighborhood gems that communities embrace as their backyards, benefiting their physical and mental health,” Parks Department Commissioner Mitchell Silver said during a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday. “Ramon Aponte Park exists in Hell’s Kitchen due to the passion and commitment of its namesake.”

The park was built on the site of a former police station in 1979 and named after a resident activist who had lobbied for its construction. The park was reconstructed once before, in 1991.

“Here on the West Side, we need to maximize all of the open space we have,” Councilman Corey Johnson said at the ribbon cutting. “That’s exactly what NYC Parks has done with Ramon Aponte Park, and I’m thrilled with the results.”


THE VILLAGER: Stonewall celebrates a monumental moment

June 30, 2016

June 30, 2016

While not quite as deep as the Grand Canyon or as tall as the Statue of Liberty, the 7.7 acres in and around the Stonewall Inn — scene of the 1969 multi-night rebellion that sparked the modern L.G.B.T. movement — were declared, like those iconic parks, an official national monument by President Barack Obama on June 24. Three days later, in the light of day on Mon., June 27, the area was dedicated as such by federal and local officials and L.G.B.T. activists, including a handful of the latter who participated in the rebellion.

This recognition of an uprising by L.G.B.T. outcasts — who were officially criminal, sinful, mentally ill and almost wholly closeted before that June 28, 1969, night — was an all-American inclusive affair steeped in patriotism. A soulful version of the national anthem was sung by actor Anthony Wayne. Village resident Edie Windsor, 87, who won federal recognition of same-sex marriage in 2013 at the U.S. Supreme Court, led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. She left out the words “under God,” which is the way she grew up saying it before Congress inserted the deity in 1954 at the behest of the Knights of Columbus. Windsor and her partner and later wife, Thea Spyer, returned to New York from a vacation the second night of the rebellion and soon became activists themselves.

The crowd heard from Valerie Jarrett, Obama senior adviser; Sally Jewell, secretary of the interior; Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service; U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and the openly lesbian Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, who is credited with quarterbacking the designation locally; and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Village’s openly gay elected local officials — state Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and City Councilmember Corey Johnson — also delivered remarks.

The keynote speech was delivered by Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, who was an 18-year-old participant in the rebellion and is now a prominent artist. He painted a vivid verbal picture of the Stonewall in 1969 — “a dingy, nondescript building that was like a speakeasy, run by the Mafia.”

the police hit the bar with a routine raid that night, he said, “we didn’t fight back because we loved the management of Stonewall, but because we were humanized in there,” the one bar where slow dancing — “a full embrace” — was allowed.

There was much praise for the administration and local government officials who worked with the near-unanimous support of both the L.G.B.T. and Village communities to get the national monument designation in place, mainly through the city’s transfer to the federal government of little Christopher Park, across the street from the bar.

“It takes a village to make a national park,” Secretary Jewell said, adding, “We want our history to be known and to reflect who we are — the diversity of our people.”

Transgender activist Octavia Lewis acknowledged the atrocity in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that was fresh in everyone’s minds.

“We have not come far enough,” she said. “I want this to be a place where I can bring my children and not be fearful.”

“We want to tell the American L.G.B.T. story to the world,” Gillibrand said. She added that she will continue to work with her congressional colleagues to make it “a national park, not just a monument,” though monuments designated by the president, like parks, are run by the National Park Service.

Tribute was paid to the history of activism that led up to the rebellion by Obama adviser Jarrett, who cited Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon of the early lesbian group Daughters of Bilitis; Harry Hay of the Mattachine Society; Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, who led a gay and lesbian demonstration each Fourth of July in Philadelphia from 1965 through 1969; Stephen Donaldson, the bisexual activist who formed the Student Homophile League at Columbia University in 1966; and the transgender patrons of San Francisco’s Compton’s Cafeteria who rioted over mistreatment, also in 1966.

Jarrett also ticked off the achievements of the Obama administration on L.G.B.T. rights, from getting rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to its current efforts to protect transgender rights.

Hoylman called Obama “our first gay president.”

De Blasio said, “We are not going to sanitize our history, we are going to remember the struggle.”

The Stonewall, after all, was a direct rebellion against oppression by the New York Police Department.

Two mini-acts of rebellion took place at the ceremony. Ken Kidd and Ann Northrop of Queer Nation unfurled a big gay pride rainbow banner reading, “Equal in Every Way,” behind the speakers platform, and none of the many government security or N.Y.P.D. personnel on hand tried to remove them.

Veteran gay activist Jim Fouratt, a rebellion participant, walked out on the ceremony, writing in an e-mail later that while he supported the monument designation of the streets where the rebellion unfolded, the Stonewall Inn itself “was a symbol of our oppression not our liberation.” He objected to the fact that no “reference was made to how the following three nights were organized in part by a small group of political gay men, including myself, disillusioned members of the Mattachine youth component, and gay anti-war activists and lesbians kicked out of the Women’s Liberation Movement.”

Fouratt also objected to the “erasure of the Gay Liberation Front birthed in the third night of the Stonewall Rebellion.”

Indeed, the historic significance of Stonewall was that it led to immediate and ongoing militant organizing in the community. Historian David Carter, author of the definitive book on Stonewall, said after the ceremony that there were around 30 gay groups at the time of the rebellion and 1,500 just two years later nationwide.

Transgender activist Stefanie Rivera, 37, talked afterward about the continued peril “of going out and not knowing whether you will make it back,” plus the challenge of finding employment.

“This should have happened years ago,” said her friend, Elizabeth Rivera.

Veteran gay activist Steve Ashkinazy, a founder of Harvey Milk High School on Astor Place in the East Village, said he went to the Stonewall when he was 16 “because they didn’t card us.” He said of the ceremony: “I am emotionally moved and thankful every time I see progress and change.”


THE VILLAGER: GAG on it! Anti-gun group to N.R.A.

June 30, 2016

June 30, 2016

The 49 L.G.B.T. victims of the Orlando, Florida, nightclub massacre were a pronounced presence in New York City’s Pride March as a newly formed group of nearly 1,000 wended down Fifth Ave. to chants of “Trans, Straight, Bi, Gay, Gagging on the N.R.A.” and “F— the N.R.A.”

“The energy was terrific. We’re just getting started,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, who was among the organizers who wrangled the group, Gays Against Guns, down the avenue behind a banner bearing the group’s name. The banner was designed by Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Rainbow Flag.

The group, called “GAG” in some of its chants, signs and T-shirts, was formed by Kevin Hertzog and Brian Worth following the June 12 killings. The gunman struck on “Latinx Night” at the club and the dead and wounded were overwhelmingly Latino and African-American.

Hertzog and Worth organized the contingent in two town hall meetings held at the W. 13th St. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. They were assisted by clothing designer Mari Gustafson, who held a silk-screen party at an East Village bar the day before the June 26 march and produced T-shirts reading, “N.R.A.: Prepare to be gagged,” “Gays Against Guns” and “Your tolerance is killing us.”

A second group immediately behind the first part of the contingent marched behind a banner, also designed by Baker, that read, “Republican Hate Kills.”

The group chanted loudly as it marched, and the crowds along Fifth Ave. frequently joined the “F— the N.R.A.” chant as GAG marched. At multiple points along the avenue, members staged die-ins and chanted, “How many more have to die?” as they fell to the asphalt.

Performance artist Tigger-James Ferguson organized 49 people who were dressed entirely in white and veiled and carried posters bearing the photos, names and ages of the 49 people killed. This group marched silently and did not participate in the chants and die-ins, so they formed a sorrowful, almost ghostly presence that was powerful and respectful of those who died and contrasted with the political message of the first two groups.

Several hundred groups marched in this year’s parade and hundreds of thousands lined the streets along the parade route. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, marched, as did Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

GAG was able to enter the parade past the deadline for registering because Corey Johnson, the openly gay city councilmember who represents the Village and Chelsea, invited them into his spot in the parade. Heritage of Pride, which produces the annual march and other events that commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots that mark the start of the modern L.G.B.T. rights movement, agreed to the change after some initial resistance.

The day, however, was not without dissent. Three libertarian groups and a chapter of the Pink Pistols, a pro-gun L.G.B.T. group, held a press conference late in the day and challenged the prevailing sentiment that was seen in the march.

“I have a license to carry in the state of Massachusetts because as a gay man I know I am statistically more likely than almost any other demographic in the United States to be assaulted,” said Thomas Simmons, a Bay State resident who traveled to New York City. “I want the right to protect myself.”

Simmons, a member of Outright Libertarians, was joined by Steve Scheetz, a member of People Against the Initiation of Violence and a Libertarian Party congressional candidate from Pennsylvania. A member of Pink Pistols was supposed be on hand to speak but could not leave work. Similarly, a member of the group Muslims for Liberty who was supposed to speak was stuck in traffic.

Simmons’s broader point was that the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, is to be interpreted broadly to maximize the freedoms that document affords to the people. Limits on those rights, he said, effectively eliminate them. He also argued that it was common for federal, state and local governments to overreact to events such as the June 12 attack.

“Every time there’s a crisis in this country, there’s an assault on the Bill of Rights,” he said.

Scheetz said that self-defense was both legally and morally right, and that if people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando had been armed, the outcome on June 12 might have been different.

“Pink Pistols, they’re people who believe in self-defense,” Scheetz said. “I believe in self-defense — every person has a right to self-defense. Whatever tool you use for self-defense is fine by me… . If people were there and able to protect themselves, then people with guns, people who want to commit murder are not going to go to a place where they know people are armed.”


BROADWAY WORLD: NYC Parks Cuts Ribbon on Ramone Aponte Park

June 30, 2016

June 30, 2016

NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP, yesterday joined City Council Member Corey Johnson, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Community Board 4-Manhattan Chair Delores Rubin, West 47th/48th Streets Block Association President Elke Fears and neighborhood children to cut the ribbon on Ramone Aponte Park which has received a full reconstruction which included greening up the space and making it more accessible of all ages.

This project has transformed Ramon Aponte Park; opening up the space while adding a spray shower in its sunniest location, a new play unit and house, swings and passive seating. In addition to adding more safety surface for younger visitors, the design also addressed drainage issues by installing a sustainable rain garden. The reconstruction on Ramon Aponte Park was funded by former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn with $1.3M.

“Parks like this one are neighborhood gems that communities embrace as their backyards, benefiting their physical and mental health,” said Commissioner Silver. “Ramon Aponte Park exists in Hell’s Kitchen due to the passion and commitment of its namesake; it’s that same type of passion that resulted in former City Council Member Christine Quinn’s funding support to fully renovate this park, for which we are truly grateful. The redesign and added amenities will be enjoyed for years to come.”

“This is an exciting day for Hell’s Kitchen families,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “Here on the West Side, we need to maximize all of the open space we have. That’s exactly what NYC Parks has done with Ramon Aponte Park, and I’m thrilled with the results. With state-of-the-art play equipment, new plantings and great amenities, our City is stepping up and supporting families of Hell’s Kitchen, who do so much for their kids and their community. I want to thank the Parks for their extraordinary work on this space, as well as my predecessor Christine Quinn, who put the funding in place to make this great project a reality.”

First constructed as a city park in 1990 by then Manhattan Borough President, former Mayor David Dinkins, Ramon Aponte is one of few parks named for a living person-then president of the block association.


CHELSEA NOW: BID Takes Care of Business on Burgeoning Boulevard

June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016

Hudson Boulevard Park was bustling with activity on the evening of Fri., June 24, having served as the site of the Hudson Yards / Hell’s Kitchen Alliance’s Annual Meeting — a fitting venue for the group, which has been instrumental in the success of the new park. As a business improvement district (BID) that covers the area approximately between W. 42nd St. and W. 30th St., and Ninth and 11th Aves., the Alliance’s goal is to help improve the quality of life in the area.

Guests were welcomed to the green space — which sits near the similarly new 7 train subway station — with complimentary tote bags, full to the brim with literature highlighting the work that the BID did over the past year, as well as future plans. Under tents, a spread of food was provided by Better Being, a local company within the BID. Live music filled the air, as a duo of musicians strummed on acoustic guitars. Guests hobnobbed for about a half hour before the main event got underway.

Alliance Chair Kevin Singleton (also of TF Cornerstone) emceed the evening’s proceedings, and opened the celebratory event with a quick speech of his own.

Noting that they’ve “witnessed tangible progress” over the course of the past year and “are continuing to strengthen our relationship with local community groups,” Singleton expressed that, “We believe that as the future unfolds we will have the ‘live, work, play,’ environment,” quoting his personal mantra for the area.

The next speaker, Mark Specter of the Hudson Yards Development Corporation, highlighted some of the successes the Alliance saw through the year — specifically operating the park’s programs and the opening of the new 7 train station — while also stressing new goals, such as securing more blocks for the park, opening a concession kiosk within it, and constructing a new entrance to the subway.

Singleton took to the podium once again, to present the group’s annual Visionary Award. This year’s ceremony was bittersweet, as the award was posthumously given to Oskar Brecher, the late Moinian Group executive and BID member, who was a significant figure in the forthcoming Hudson Yards development.

“He was courtly, he was a great joke teller, and a lover of fine wine,” recalled Singleton. He also noted that evenhandedness and politeness in business matters helped set the “renaissance man” apart. “He would nicely tell you how to go to hell in a way that you’ll enjoy the trip,” Singleton laughed. “I miss my friend.”

“[The Hudson Yards] project excited him and allowed him to stretch creatively,” noted Oskar’s son, Matthew Brecher of his father, as he accepted the award on his behalf. “I’m sure he would have been honored to have his peers consider him a visionary.”

Next, the Alliance quickly voted on its Board of Directors. The slate was unanimously approved in short order, securing seats for a wide swath of individuals representing local businesses and community organizations.

Finally, keynote speaker City Councilmember Corey Johnson — who, as Singleton noted, continually supported and contributed money to the Alliance — took the podium.

“I am proud of the work the BID has done over the year,” Johnson announced, singling out the success of the park, which was years in the making, as being “pretty special.” He again asserted that they were going to be working to secure more blocks for the green space, as well as free WiFi and public art. He also highlighted the creation of the M12 bus line, and spoke with excitement of the forthcoming affordable housing to be built at the district’s Slaughterhouse site (11th Ave., btw. W. 39th & W. 40th Sts.).

“This BID has really fostered a community,” Johnson concluded. “I wanted to come here to say thank you.”

The Alliance’s Executive Director and President, Robert Benfatto, closed the evening with brief statements of thanks for all those who came out, and praise for the work of the Alliance. “I’d like to end this so we could all get to know each other,” Benfatto finished. And with that, the meeting was adjourned for guests to continue to enjoy the fair weather, food, drinks, and music.

The Alliance was right back to business as usual, however, when early the next morning, Johnson and Benfatto attended a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Canoe — a public plaza featuring seven tables and 21 chairs on W. 36th St., just west of Ninth Ave., made possible through the efforts of Johnson and the Alliance.

“In this dense urban oasis, there are very few opportunities to reactivate public open space, so we tried to create a usable public plaza here,” Johnson told Chelsea Now after the ribbon cutting, noting that he allocated funds for the project, and that even early on its first day open it was well-populated — showing the need for this kind of space.

Benfatto said he was “happy to have it up and running,” and was grateful for the cooperation of the Department of Transportation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in helping realize the plaza, which previously functioned as an NYPD parking area. He also noted that they were looking to continue to improve the Canoe over time, highlighting the potential addition of more chairs and more plants, as well as the commissioning of a sculpture — displaying the kind of foresight and work that made the Alliance’s last year so successful.

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OBSERVER: Obama Administration Makes Stonewall’s Monumental Status Official

June 27, 2016

June 27, 2016

The Stonewall Inn that stands in the West Village today doesn’t much resemble what was there in 1969, when it earned its place in history.

“To picture it, you have to picture these windows not with glass on them, but with plywood on them. Not with any little flags up there, but a very dingy, nondescript building,” Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, who was there in 1969, recalled today at a ceremony outside Stonewall.

But that history—the history of the club with the discerning doorman holding sign-in sheet, run by the mafia and raided repeatedly by the police until finally its patrons responded with a riot—will be preserved forever, federal officials said, thanks to the designation of Stonewall and nearby Christopher Park as a national park site.

“We want our history to be known, and to reflect who we are a nation that aspires to be as inclusive as it is diverse,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said, one of several federal officials to touch on the theme of parks as places to tell stories—and on the need to tell the whole story.

In sharing his story, Lanigan-Schmidt recalled the Stonewall of yore, which existed in a time when gays were defined as sexual deviants, people whose identities were built around sex—”not love, not affection, not being human.”

But inside, Lanigan-Schmidt recalled, the Stonewall Inn was a sanctuary for members of the LGBT who wanted to slow dance together.

“The affirmation of being human came full force to me,” Lanigan-Schmidt said. “We didn’t fight back because we loved the management of the Stonewall. We fought back because we were humanized in there. We fought back because in there, we were allowed to dance slowly.”

What Lanigan-Schmidt and others fought back against that night in 1969 was a police raid of the bar in the early morning hours. Raids of gay bars, especially the Stonewall, had been routine, but that evening patrons resisted, leading to tension with police that eventually descended into violence and riots and the start of the modern gay rights movement. The June raid and riots are why Pride is celebrated this month around the world.

A bar that once more of a speakeasy with a peephole and sign-in sheet is routinely visited by tourists and LGBT people visiting as a rite of passage rather than something that must be kept secret. But while the Stonewall isn’t quite the secret sanctuary it once was, it remains a gathering place for the community in times of collective joy and sorrow. Just over a year ago, people flocked here to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling that gay marriage was legal nationwide. Two weeks ago, people gathered here to mourn the 49 people murdered in another gay club, Pulse, in Orlando.

“We would’ve celebrated what is good about today, and we would have remembered the pain of the past, either way—but Orlando put things in a sharper perspective. It reminded us what it means to keep fighting,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “This was not a place where change happened easily or calmly or gently. It came through a fight. It just came through a struggle and that struggle now must continue.”

It might have been difficult to imagine in 1969 that 47 years later a president of the United States would see fit to make the spot a national park, as Barack Obama did—or that a leading presidential candidate would see fit to walk in a pride parade, as Hillary Clinton did yesterday. It might have been even harder to imagine that the NYPD would swarm around the Stonewall Inn to protect it, not raid it, and would roll out rainbow-decorated police vehicles. Or that an openly gay senator would speak from the podium, as Tammy Baldwin did, or that Edie Windsor, the lesbian activist who read the Pledge of Allegiance, could win a Supreme Court case about her marriage that brought down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“Our progress towards the goal of equality has been tremendous,” Valerie Jarrett, a top advisor to Obama, said. “When the president was sworn in, marriage equality was only the law in two states. Now it’s the law of the land nationwide, because—it is because our Supreme Court recognized what we have known all along: love is love.”

(It’s not quite clear Obama or many other politicians have known that “all along:” he did not support gay marriage publicly until 2012; Clinton didn’t support it until 2013.)

And despite that progress, Octavia Lewis, a trans woman and activist, noted many people like her still faced challenges—including in visiting some of the grand national parks who officials rattled off as they noted what fine company the Stonewall would be in.

“As a woman of trans experience, I am also fearful—because in many of those states where these landmarks are held, we have no rights. We have no protection,” she said. “So while we are joyous in this occasion, we cannot forget that many of us cannot enjoy all of these wonderful experiences.”

But for the most part, the mood was celebratory, even in the wake of recent tragedies. Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, the first gay member of the Legislature, recalled that “Stonewall made my life different.” Councilman Corey Johnson recalled being 18 and newly out and desperate to get to Christopher Street, which to him “meant gay: g-a-y, gay.” State Senator Brad Hoylman dubbed Obama “our first gay president”—harkening back to Toni Morrison’s designation of Bill Clinton as the first black president—and took in the National Park rangers who had gathered at the site.

“There wasn’t a national park ranger in the Village People,” he cracked, “but there should have been and now there will be.”

Baldwin, the senator from Wisconsin, said what’s always been an unofficial monument would get the stamp of federal approval.

“Our American story is now a little more whole,” she said, “and a little more truthful by sharing our part of that narrative.”


NBC OUT: ‘Gays Against Guns’ Stages Die-Ins at NYC Pride March

June 27, 2016

June 27, 2016

“Hey, ho, the NRA has got to go!”

That was what a newly formed LGBTQ gun control group, Gays Against Guns, or GAG, shouted as it marched down Fifth Avenue during the New York City Pride March on Sunday. When the shouting stopped, silence erupted as hundreds of people dropped to the ground as if dead. It was a stabbing reminder of the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando.

GAG organizers said they performed this type of protest known as a “die-in” over what they consider political inaction on lax gun laws. They say it was a harkening back to the LGBTQ activism of the 80s and 90s, when groups like Queer Nation and ActUp fought for justice around HIV and AIDs.

“Our stance is a gut one. We’re outraged and we think something has to change. We’re in agreement with the consensus of most of the gun control lobby that there’s no place for civilians to have assault weapons,” GAG spokesman Tim Murphy told NBC OUT.

“Orlando was such a combination of homophobia enabled by this national crisis of such easy access to assault weapons,” he said.

Organizers estimate over 500 people participated. Signs that read “I Am Pulse” and “Flowers Not Guns” waved above the crowd.

A group of 49 people slowly walked behind them, dressed in white garments and veils. Each carried a sign with a picture of one of the victims of the Pulse Nightclub massacre, with the victim’s name and age. None would speak a word. Their procession was a mournful reflection of those who lost their lives in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, and the worst assault ever on an LGBTQ venue.

The tragedy struck a nerve with openly gay New York City Council Member Corey Johnson. He donated his space in the march line-up to GAG.

“[GAG] is taking this fight to the [National Rifle Association’s] front door. Our community has been fighting for gun control as part of other organizations for many years, now we’re starting our own,” he said in a statement.

Last week, Democratic lawmakers staged a sit-in at the House of Representatives to try to force votes on gun control measures. GAG co-founder Brian Worth said he sees a correlation between those politicians and his group.

“We’re both giving calls to action. We’re both saying we’re done. We’re tired. We’re fed up and we’re going to do whatever we can to make the change,” he said.

Many who marched with GAG, like Matt Sartwell, a bookstore owner from New York City, were vocal in their outrage.

“[Gun control] is an issue on which there’s been a lot of inaction. We may not achieve complete change over night, but we have to develop some momentum behind it so people don’t let this go to the back burner again,” he said.

Kimberly Miller, a TV stage manager from New Jersey, said she’s been against loose gun control for a long time, but decided to join in the march because the Orlando massacre was personal.

“They went in a gay bar, shot up our brethren, and we’re not going to stand for it. We want a ban on assault weapons. We want it to not be so easy to buy a gun at a gun show. We want to feel safe in our country and in our world,” she said.

LGBTQ advocates say gun control has become an important issue for the community since the Orlando shooting. The community is the most at-risk group for hate crime victimization in the United States, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But there is not much data on how gun violence specifically impacts LGBTQ communities, according to Sue Yacka, Communications Director for the New York City Anti-Violence Project.

“What we do know is that of the 24 reports of [LGBT] hate-violence-related homicides in 2015, 14 of them were gun related,” she said in an email.

Kevin Hertzog, a co-founder of GAG, believes easy access to guns results in more shootings in general.

“If you look at the countries with more guns and assault weapons available, there are dramatically more shootings,” he said.

But some gun rights advocates see it differently. Gwendolyn Patton, a spokesperson for the LGBTQ pro-gun rights group Pink Pistols, said firearms like the one used in Orlando don’t pose more of a risk to LGBTQ people.

“It is true that any kind of weapon can increase the amount of damage done by anybody. That’s what weapons are designed to do. But I don’t see a specific class of rifle as being any more dangerous than any other weapon being used to hurt queer people …The generative factor is the person and their desire to do harm,” she said.

But those who want tighter gun restrictions say the more guns that are easily accessible, especially assault-style weapons, the more harm people can do with them.

“There are always going to be people who somehow manage to get the gun, I understand that. But if I have 10 ants in my kitchen and I have a plate of cookies on the table, you know they’re probably fine. If I have a thousand ants in my kitchen, there are probably ants in my cookies. I don’t want any ants in my cookies. Let’s get the number of ants down,” Hertzog said.

He said the staged die-ins during the parade were an act of solidarity for those who believe in greater gun control.

“I hope that bolsters the feeling other people have that this has reached a critical mass and a turning point … We explode with grief around every shooting, and then we go back to our regular lives. I would love for that to change to whatever degree we can shift it,” he said.


BUSTLE: The ‘Gays Against Guns’ Pride Demonstration Is The Link Between Two Crucial Policy Debates

June 26, 2016

June 26, 2016

LGBT activists who want stricter gun laws seized the day at New York City’s Pride March on Sunday, staging a “die in” on 5th Avenue to draw attention to anti-gay gun violence. But the ‘Gays Against Guns’ Pride demonstration was much more than a one-time thing. It was work of an entirely new advocacy group, founded in the wake or the Orlando shooting and dedicated to stopping “the life-threatening convergence of homophobia and flawed gun policies.”

Gays Against Guns, or GAG, was formed a week before the pride parade, not long after 49 LGBT Americans were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in US history. The group is still “figuring out our place in the larger pre-existing gun control movement,” according to a post its Facebook page, but its website lists a couple of specific policy demands: A ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, more thorough background checks for gun purchases, and elimination of the gun show and Internet sales loopholes.

“We know that several groups have been fighting gun violence in the U.S. for decades now,” group co-founder Kevin Hertzog said in a press release. “We’ll be meeting after Pride to hash out positions and a strategy approaching the November 2 elections. But for now, we want to present as large a crowd as possible on Sunday, to show New York and the U.S. that LGBTQ people are outraged. The current situation with guns in America makes us gag in disgust!”

The group saw an enormous turnout when it unveiled itself during Pride weekend, and drew praise from NYC Councilman Corey Johnson.

“Gays Against Guns is taking this fight to the NRA’s front door,” Johnson said in a press release. “Our community has been fighting for gun control as part of other organizations for many years, now we’re starting our own. The LGBT community has vanquished bigger enemies than the NRA.”

GAG didn’t return Bustle’s request for comment. But it’s notable that, for the time being, the group appears to be focused on changing gun laws, not policies that tackle LGBT equality. That makes sense: While the LGBT rights movement has enjoyed enormous progress over the last five years, both in terms of policy and public sentiment, advocates of stricter gun laws haven’t been nearly as lucky or successful. Last week, Senate Republicans blocked an attempt by Democrats to bar suspected terrorists from purchasing guns, but this was only the most development in a long, long trend of legislative inaction on firearms.

LGBT Americans are more likely to be the target of hate crimes than any other minority in the country. It was probably only a matter of time until a group like GAG came into existence, and the NYC Pride march was the perfect place to make its public debut.