Rock and a hard place: Gays Against Guns stage a protest at the Manhattan offices of BlackRock, massive investors in gun companies. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Gag also targets high-street brands that partner with the NRA, including car rental companies, Visa, and Wyndham Hotels. Grauwilers message to those firms: Its us or them. End your relationship with the death business or the LGBTQ community ends its relationship with you. According to a recent study, the combined annual disposable income of the LGBTQ community in the US is estimated at $917bn.
The numbers turning up at Gags weekly meetings have increased in the wake of Trumps victory, as, Grauwiler says, people are increasingly looking for a focus to direct their anger at after the reality TV stars election. The most recent Gag meeting lasted eight hours as members debated whether or not Gag should become Gat Gays Against Trump. It was decided that Gag would retain its focus on gun control, but the group has joined the wider protest movement picketing Trump Tower.
Gag the acronym was chosen knowingly secured a last-minute prime spot at the front of New York Citys Pride parade leading Grauwiler and the others to pull an all-nighter spray-painting banners demanding stricter gun control measures.
Like Grauwiler, Iraq war veteran and DC political consultant Jason Lindsay immediately started forming his own anti-gun campaign group on 12 June. While Gag is visceral and direct, Lindsays Pride Fund to End Gun Violence is taking a considered and targeted lobbying approach to help gay people and their allies elect candidates who will act on sensible gun policy reforms while championing LGBTQ safety and equality.
I was shocked to my stomach when I saw it on the news, Lindsay said from Dupont Circle, DCs historically gay but now yuppified neighbourhood. At the same time, it was just another example of the senseless epidemic of gun violence. But this was different in scale and it was incredibly personal for me, as it was an attack on my community.
Lindsay came out in rural North Carolina when he was 15, but he only felt comfortable telling his mother, and kept his life and feelings very private. The intense privacy would continue for years. At 18, he signed up as an army reservist serving for 14 years including a tour of Iraq in 2003 when the Dont Ask Dont Tell policy was still in force. I didnt tell anyone all of that time and no one found out, he said.
Hes less private now. Today he is leading a campaign on one of the most contentious issues in America, as a gay man with hundreds of LGBTQ supporters. Why do I think gays can change this? he asked. The gay community, and its allies, are an incredible force. These are people in high-powered positions across all walks of life. And we have won battles before. People thought marriage equality would never happen, thought that Dont Ask Dont Tell would never be repealed, he said. This is a new fight for the gay community, adding our incredible strength and political experience to the existing campaigns, and that will make a difference.
Lindsay is uniquely placed to take on this fight as a gay man working in politics who has fired military assault rifles similar to those used by the Pulse killer. These are weapons of war and have no place on American streets, he said. People in the military have to undergo enhanced safety training before using a gun like that. But in the civilian world, you can go into a store and take away a gun with no training.
Lindsay said the public are already onboard, but lawmakers are lagging behind public opinion because of their reliance on donations and support from the gun lobby and the NRA. Political polling since the Pulse shooting has consistently shown 90% of Americans support stricter background checks and 85% want to block suspected terrorists on the no-fly list from buying weapons.
The NRA, said Lindsay, is trying to distort the aim of the campaign. They are playing the fear factor, saying we want to take away peoples guns and repeal the second amendment [the right to bear arms] . We dont want to take away anyones guns.
In fact, many of Pride Funds board own guns and enjoy hunting or days at the shooting range. All we are advocating for is a review of assault weapon sales and access to high-capacity magazines. No one needs them, he said. They are designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible.
Barbara Poma the owner of Pulse, who created the club as a place welcoming anyone and everyone in memory of her gay brother John who died of Aids-related complications in 1991 carries, and her husband and son own, several firearms. She said the attack, which claimed the lives of several of her friends, hasnt changed her support of the second amendment. My life changed forever that night, all of our lives changed. But it hasnt changed my point of view on guns. The right to bear arms is a fundamental part of being American.
Patty Sheehan, who also serves on the Pride Fund board, has a handgun she bought after being threatened because of her sexuality and for campaigning for equality. Shes not going to give up her gun either, but vowed to continue to demand a ban on assault weapons even if it costs her job. She fears that when she comes up for re-election later this year the NRA which pumped millions of dollars into Trumps campaign will deploy its vast war chest against her. I am scared, I know it might cost me my job, but if I dont stand up and protect my community I cant do my job.
Sheehan, who is single and has devoted her life to public service, Loui and her urban chickens, said: Everything I do as an elected public official doesnt matter if its all shattered by gun violence. These kids at Pulse didnt sign up for the military, they went out to dance and got shot.