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.

What I Learned From 10 Years in the LGBTQ Movement

In life, we all encounter moments that completely transform our lives and redirect the course of our path ahead. Arriving in San Francisco for the first time ten years ago was one of those moments for me. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I stepped into the Castro District. I felt both immense pride and crippling anxiety as I walked past the iconic rainbow flags and LGBTQ bars on Market Street – Pride because I had finally arrived at a place that would allow me to be my authentic self for the first time in my life; anxiety because I knew very well that being yourself never comes easy and requires some sacrifices along the way.

Before I came to San Francisco, the idea of living my true self seemed out of reach. I was born and raised in Traun, a small town in Austria of about 25,000 people. When it was time to apply for college, I played it safe and went to the University of Salzburg – while the 1,5 hours train ride seemed like a big deal at first, it was in Salzburg that I first realized that there was a world of opportunities outside of Traun. My time in Salzburg would also prepare me for a much bigger leap. During the last year of my undergraduate studies, I was presented with the opportunity to spend an exchange year abroad in yet another small town – Bowling Green, Ohio. BG was everything I imagined an American college town to be like, including a main street, Waffle House and big box supermarkets. While there was no LGBTQ community to speak of, being away from my small hometown for the first time in my life helped me take a step I’d been running from for 23 years. I finally came out. I’d never considered myself a brave person, but in that moment I found a strength I never knew I had. But this was 2008 in a small town in the Midwest, so just like in my hometown, I felt like there was no one else like me. I wasn’t sure where to turn to in order to find people like me. While I struggled with my coming out, I also enjoyed significant privileges that so many young LGBTQ people don’t have – the unwavering support of family and friends, and the resources to travel to a distant place that would help me come to terms with my identity.

Only months after returning from my exchange year in Ohio, I had the opportunity to spend several months in San Francisco for research. Of course, I was aware that San Francisco was home to those who didn’t seem to fit in anywhere else, so the prospect of finding a space where I could fully be myself suddenly seemed within reach. My first days in San Francisco were a culture shock to say the least. This was the first time I ever saw people living out and proud. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw a same-sex couple walking hand in hand in Dolores Park. For the first time in my life, I felt truly alive.

When I first came to San Francisco, I was mostly excited about meeting queer people and visiting the bars I heard so much about. What I didn’t know when I first left for California was that I’d find something just as important – a sense of purpose and a community that made me realize I didn’t have to do this by myself. It was not only the feeling of belonging that I learned to admire about the community, but also something else – it was here that I first met activists fighting relentlessly for equal rights. I came to understand the importance of grassroots activism and that we all have a role to play in bringing about change.

As I spent more time in San Francisco and later moved to the East Coast for graduate school, I had the privilege of witnessing significant moments for LGBTQ history. I met activists in California fighting an uphill battle against Proposition 8, witnessed the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and celebrated in the streets of Baltimore as the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. However, with each victory, it also became painfully clear that some of the greatest challenges were yet to be faced. Some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community – in particular the B and T and queer people of color – remain invisible. From the loss of critical protections for transgender people to rampant news about yet another Black transgender woman losing her life to violence, it seems like these victories were truly only the beginning in the fight for equality.

As we continue to fight on so many fronts, it is sometimes hard to know where to begin. One thing I’ve learned in almost a decade as a member of the LGBTQ community is that we have the power to bring about significant change if we stand together. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of joining LGBTQ leaders in D.C. to witness the House of Representatives take a historic step by passing the Equality Act, which would expand the Civil Rights Act and other non-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics, providing critical non-discrimination protections for queer people in all fifty states. While the Equality Act is unlikely to pass in the Senate anytime soon, it was a historic moment for LGBTQ rights. It was also a reminder of the battles ahead. Ten years after first arriving in San Francisco, I am no longer scared and proud to fight alongside my community for a future free of hate and violence.

Welcome to my page

Hello and thanks for stopping by. On the following pages, you can find out more about my research and writing. In the next couple of weeks, I will be adding blog posts related to LGBTQ rights, tech policy and human rights as well as other social justice issues.