Opinion: No more prayers. ‘Die ins’ are how we get real action on gun violence.

Protesters participate in a "die'-in" protest in a Publix supermarket on May 25, 2018 in Coral Springs, Florida. Source: Getty Images

The Pulse massacre drew international attention to the rise of hate crime in America. The lesser known fact is that victims of gay hate speech are taking their own lives - with guns.

On the evening after the Pulse massacre in June 2016, tens of thousands of LGBTQ people and allies gathered in vigils across the United States to honor the 49 people, mostly LGBTQ people of color, who were slaughtered in Orlando that morning. I attended the vigil at the White House in Washington, D.C., where we shed tears, offered tributes, and sang songs. What we did not do is offer the hollow “thoughts and prayers” that are par for the course after mass shootings in America. We weren’t going to let the massacre of our siblings become just another statistic. Our message to Congress was clear: Gun control. Now.

Gun violence disproportionately affects women in domestic violence situations, people of color in general, and suicidal LGBTQ people. When LGBTQ people experience hate speech, they are more inclined to attempt suicide -- and the method of choice for Americans who want to kill themselves is a gun.

The founding chapter of Gays Against Guns (GAG), based in New York City, made its debut in the 2016 New York City Pride March. Every so often as we walked the parade route, we "died," dropping down to the hot pavement en masse and chanting "How many more have to die?" or "You're killing us!" This protest ritual, known as a "die-in," harkened back to the early days of the AIDS crisis, when activists from ACT UP and other groups routinely held them in order to represent queer deaths from AIDS. This time, of course, we did it to symbolize LGBTQ people murdered in acts of gun violence. A group of 49 others – veiled, clad in white, and completely silent – walked slowly behind, each carrying a placard bearing the picture, name, and age of one of the Pulse victims. The response from the crowd was by turns solemn and electrifying.

gays against guns
Gays Against Guns activists represent victims of gun violence.

In the months and years since, GAGers across the country have been naming, blaming, and shaming the gun industry and their puppet lawmakers by leafleting, protesting, and staging die-ins everywhere from Capitol Hill to the headquarters of the NRA and gun manufacturer Sig Sauer. GAG also targets corporations like BlackRock that invest in gun companies, businesses like FedEx and Hertz who offer discounts to NRA members, and the gun-fetishizing administration of Donald Trump.

The NRA is an obscenely powerful force - but it can be reckoned with. Twenty years ago, the NRA successfully lobbied to sanction the Centre for Disease Control from studying gun violence. In March this year, after a spate of mass shootings, that sanction was lifted and the CDC can finally resume scientific research on gun violence and call it out for what the American Medical Association now calls it: a “public health crisis”.

We will continue to pound the pavement, donate, make phone calls, and vote out of office the politicians who sell their souls to the NRA and take campaign checks written with the blood of thousands of dead Americans, and vote in legislators who will pass laws that make our streets safe from gun violence.

If there’s one thing the LGBTQ community knows how to do, it’s how to fight for our lives. The fight against the gun industry is one such fight. We cannot sit at home and worry. We cannot be afraid. We must act now.

John Becker is a member of activist group Gays Against Guns. He features in the documentary below: