Why gun violence prevention should be front and center on the LGBTQ rights agenda

The morning after the Pulse shooting is still clear in my memory. I spent the evening before celebrating D.C. Pride and was still waking up when my wife told me the news. I’d been living in the US for a while at that point, so of course this wasn’t the first time I woke up to news of a mass shooting. However, Pulse felt different, more personal – it was an attack on my community. It was also the first shooting after which friends told me they had checked in on their friends in Florida to make sure they were okay. The LGBTQ community is small and in some ways tight-knit so this hit close to home for all of us. I remember reading the stories of each of the 49 victims, mostly young, queer and Latino, thinking about how devastated their friends and family must feel.

As I follow the news about a recent onslaught of mass shootings, I no longer take the time to read the victims’ stories. Instead of names and faces, the victims have become statistics. I have become numb to the violence.

While it is the headlines about mass shootings that mostly attract our attention, we can’t forget about the shootings taking place every day across the country, making gun violence a “uniquely American problem.” Everytown for Gun Safety estimates that each year, gun violence claims the lives of more than 36,000 Americans (as noted by the organization, however, gaps in state and federal reporting make it difficult to determine the exact number of lives lost).

 News about yet another transgender woman losing her life to violence are sobering reminders that gun violence too is an LGBTQ rights issue and should be front and center on the movement’s equality agenda. In 2019 alone, 18 Black transgender women have been killed to date (if it is any indication of how bad things are, I had to update this number after learning of the recent killing of Ja’leyah-Jamar). According to the Human Rights Campaign, 13 of these women were victims of gun violence. The organization further states that since 2013, more than 150 transgender people have become victims to anti-trans violence. Of the victims who lost their lives during these attacks, two thirds were shot. 

For far too long, the mainstream media has further marginalized the transgender community by treating these deaths as afterthoughts rather than headlines.  While the media has started to pay attention, Serena Sonoma warns in an op-ed for Vox that media representations of Black transgender women should not be reduced to covering them only in relation to violence. Rather, the media needs to do a better job in showing their every day lives and give them a space to tell their stories and discuss the many issues impacting them.

While this violence against transgender women of color is nothing new, we can’t allow ourselves to become  desensitized. Instead, we as a community need to rally around common sense gun reform, including universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons. We need to continue to draw attention to how the interlinked notions of race, sexual orientation and gender identity make some more vulnerable to deadly violence then others. We also need to commit to learning and telling each and every story of the victims lost to senseless gun violence. As Serna Sonoma reminds us in her Vox piece, we also need to provide the space for marginalized communities to tell us about their everyday lives and concerns, not just when they experience violence. Only this way, we will remember them as our family and friends as compared to another statistic about gun violence.