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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

A Transcript of my MSI Address

To my brothers and sisters in occupied Maryland, I bring you greetings from free America! Shortly after becoming a 2nd Amendment rights activist, I swore that I would never set foot in a state that did not respect my inherent right to armed self-defense. As you can see, I have broken that oath, but I have done so with the best of intentions: to bring you a message of freedom, of solidarity, and of hope. I don't know if I could live in a state like this, but I'm glad that you do; so many gun owners leave states with restrictive firearm laws. While I cannot blame them, by leaving they make it easier for further restrictions to be passed; you, however, have chosen to stay and to fight for the right to keep and bear arms.

My name is Erin Palette, and I am the founder of Operation Blazing Sword and the Diversity Outreach Coordinator for Florida Carry. I like to refer to myself as "a Venn intersection of oddity", because  my political positons are seen by many as mutually exclusive: I am a gun owner who believes in LGBTQ rights, and a transgender woman who believes in the right to keep and bear arms.

The reason this may seem odd to you is because Americans have for decades been told that gun owners exist on the far right, and that the LGBTQ community is on the far left, and between these two positions is a stark cultural divide and therefore both sides can never agree on anything. This is of course pure nonsense: if you believe as I do that both gun rights and gay rights are civil rights, you see that there is quite a bit of overlap. Come to the Libertarian side, it's great.

Given my audience, I think I can skip my argument regarding why gun rights are civil rights, yes? Excellent, on to LGBTQ rights.
Ah, I see that some of you are shifting uncomfortably. Don't worry, I'm not here to wag my finger at you or lecture about gay marriage. I'm just going to give you some information you didn't have.

According to a 2012 poll, approximately 3.4 percent of Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. To put that into perspective, as of the 2010 census 4.7% of Americans are ethnically Asian! However, despite being such a small percentage of the population, we are in fact disproportionately vulnerable to violence. According to a 2014 study by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 20-25% of LGBTQ people experience hate crimes within their lifetimes.

A full quarter of only 3.4% of Americans are likely to be victims of violent crime, including assault, rape and murder – the most spectacular example of which being the Pulse terror attack in Orlando last year – and so, given this, you would think that the LGBTQ community would decide the best way to keep itself safe would be to learn how to use a gun and carry a lawfully concealed weapon... but it doesn't, and I'll explain why.

But first, a bit of a sidebar here. I understand that saying LGBTQ is a mouthful. I can do it because I've practiced it. But if you don't want to stumble over it like President Trump did during his campaign – and God bless him, he tried – here are two things you can do.
  1. Think of it like the name of a Star Wars character: Elgee Beeteeque. Any geeks here? If you can say the name of Jedi Master Ki-Adi-Mundi, then you can pronounce LGBTQ. Who wants to give it a try?
  2. If all else fails, just say "The queer community." Use the term queer because it's not specific to sexual orientation or to gender identity, and it's an umbrella term that can encompass a lot of people without either specifically defining them or excluding them. 
So now if anyone asks you, "Hey, what did you learn at the Maryland Shall Issue meeting Saturday, you can tell them "I learned that the queer community is a Star Wars character."

All right, back to why the queer community eschews firearms. Remember when I said that only 3.4% of Americans are LGBTQ? That's a small sample of such a large country, and like most demographics, we like to hang out with each other – in fact, it's necessary for a lot of us if we're ever going to find partners, husbands or wives. While the internet is great for this sort of thing, please keep in mind that the internet is a relatively recent invention, wheras people seeking homosexual partners have been around for much longer than that, and for much of that time it was not only culturally unacceptable but also illegal. Therefore, it it follows that a gay man seeking other gay men would not stay in a rural area where it would be impossible to find a companion, but would instead move to a big city where the attitudes are more cosmopolitan and sheer population density put the odds of finding a mate in his favor.

As queer demographics favor the urban of the rural, so do queer politics, and this resultes in supporting the politics of the Democratic party which also exalts the city over the countryside. This support was richly rewarded in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when the Democrats became the champions of the gay movement.

As we all know, the Democratic party is not favorably disposed towards the right of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms, and so the political culture of the LGBTQ community also began to see gun control as desirable and gun ownership as violent and gauche. Thus, the reluctance of queer Americans to arm themselves for lawful self-defense is the result of identity politics – although to be perfectly fair, using identity politics to advance the status of such a small and easily victimized group is quite understandable.
Then the Terror Attack upon Pulse happened on June 12, 2016, and everything changed because the queer community saw themselves attacked as a demographic. Prior to this, violence against LGBTQ individuals was seen as precisely that – individual. While it was understood that hate crimes happened, the perception was that they happened to queer persons in specific circumstances; in other words, it was seen as a very personal form of attack. An excellent example of this is what is known as "gay panic":  Your honor, I was just minding my business in this bar when that gay man came up and started making passes at me, and I was just so disgusted I panicked and beat him. There's a similar version known as "trans panic": Your honor, I took this girl back to my hotel room, and when I lifted her skirt I saw a penis, and I was just so disgusted that I panicked and beat him. 

But the Pulse Massacre was different; the shooter didn't attack a specific queer person, he attacked every person in that club. This shocked our community, not just because it was brutal and barbaric and cowardly, but also because we realized It really could happen to any of us, at any time, in any place.

Now I'd like to take a moment to make a very specific point here. I do not believe the LGBTQ community is in more danger now that it was before Pulse; this is rather like saying that America was in more danger from al-Qaeda on September 12, 2001 than it was on September 10. No, the danger was always there; it just required a shocking act to shake us from our reverie and get us to see it.

Speaking of terrorism, after the Pulse Terror Attack, something remarkable happened: the Democratic party – the party of gay rights – threw the queer community under the bus by refusing to call what happened at Pulse a hate crime or a terrorist attack. Many in my community realized that the party which they had supported would not protect them because it feared the political backlash of calling the Pulse murderer a Muslim killing homosexuals in accordance with his religion, or of suggesting that he was questioning his own sexuality and lashed out in his own form of "gay panic", and felt betrayed. More than a few queers looked at how long it took the police to stop the killing and thought You know, instead of being at the mercy of a madman for hours, maybe I'd like the personal agency to defend myself. This was a watershed moment in the history of queers and guns.

But remember, the queer community at large hates the notion of citizens engaging in armed self-defense, as shown by the post-Pulse remarks of George Takei and the rise of anti-gun LGBTQ activist groups like New York-based Gays Against Guns. There is such stigma against owning a firearm that admitting you are a queer gun owner is known as "coming out of the gun closet" and it carries nearly identical results to coming out last century: social ostracism, loss of friendships and/or jobs within the community, and even a technique known as "naming, shaming, and blaming".

So gun-curious LGBTQs find themselves in a precarious situation: in order to learn, they must out themselves as wanting to shoot guns before they have the opportunity to truly commit to gun ownership. Further, to whom do they go for instruction? Most queer gun owners are deep in the gun closet. Moreover, the gun-curious cannot easily get instruction outside their community; just like we have been taught that the LGBTQ community hates us and wants to forcibly disarm us, they've been taught that gun owners are all – sing along with me if you know the words – right-wing heterosexual white males who of course just HATE "dem fags" and want to see them all dead. So gun-curious queers don't feel SAFE, let alone comfortable, going to a shooting range and getting instruction, or walking into a gun store and asking advice, because they've been told that gun owners are so hateful and violent that they'd as soon shoot a queer as look at one.
This is where I come in. On June 13th, the Monday after it happened, I noticed something remarkable: gun owners across social media were posting not only messages and pictures of support, but they were also offering to take to the range, FOR FREE, anyone who wanted to learn how to shoot in self-defense. They were offering to provide everything: the guns, the ammunition, the ear and eye protection, the targets, pay for the range fees – EVERYTHING – because human life was precious and everyone, including their political opponents, deserved the ability to defend themselves effectively. And I was amazed that during all the finger-pointing, people who were supposed to be ideological enemies with the victims – people who, according to the media, should have been chortling about fewer votes against gun control – were instead reaching across the political divide to say "Hey, you have value. Your life matters to me. I want you to be able to defend it. If you want to learn, I want to teach you."

Now as I've said before, my feet are in two different camps – the 2nd Amendment activism camp and the LGBTQ rights camp – and I thought, "These offers are beautiful, but their intended audience isn't going to see them. I just happen to be one of the few people who has the ear of both groups. I'm going to compile a master list of all the people offering to help so it can be seen and shared by the queer community."
And so I began typing up a list of the names, cities and states, and contact information of the volunteer firearm instructors on Facebook. I expected that I'd get a couple dozen names and that would be it. Well, I started writing at 2:30 in the afternoon; when I finally crawled into bed 12 hours later, the post had become a Google map with around 100 instructors in various states across the country, and I'd acquired assistants to add the names for me because they were coming in faster than I could keep up with. In the first few days after Pulse, I would regularly wake up with over 100 new emails in my inbox.
That was the birth of Operation Blazing Sword, and it has only continued to grow since then. We now have over 1,420 trainers in our database; they are in every single state of the union – yes, even Hawaii – as well as the US Virgin Island and even Canada. We are international!
Right now, our goal is very simple: to offer free firearm safety education and training without judgement to anyone who wants it, regardless of their color, gender, sexual orientation, biology, or manner of dress. This wording is very important for several reasons.
  1. Education –  The left says they don't believe in abstinence-only sex education, so why do they insist upon abstinence-only firearms education? We disagree with that approach and believe that knowledge is critical to make an informed decision. We don't pressure our students to buy a firearm; if, after getting instruction, they decide that firearms aren't for them, that's fine – they've still made a decision based on facts and experience, not fear & what they've been told to feel by the media. Moreover, they've still learned the lessons of safe gun handling (such as Col. Cooper's Four Rules) which is important knowledge for any adult in America. 
  2. Free – After any gun-related tragedy, sales of firearms and ammunition increase and both the NRA and the gun lobby are accused of “Selling to Fear” and “Profiting off death” – but our instruction is FREE. If it's free, we can't be selling anything, Operation Blazing Sword is a nonprofit organization so we do not and literally cannot profit from any of this.  Also, the cost of training – firearm rental, ammunition costs, range fees, instructor time, etc – can be a barrier to entry for students who do not know if they want to try this. It's one thing to try something new if it costs you nothing; it's completely different if trying something new carries with it a $50 or more price tag. This reluctance is only increased when there is already social pressure against learning about guns, as I mentioned earlier. Making this basic instruction free removes another barrier to learning.
  3. Anyone – While Operation Blazing Sword's message is tailored to reaching out to LGBTQ people, we will in fact teach basic gun safety and operation to anyone who is legally able to hold a firearm. We do not discriminate; we are simply making an extra, specific effort to get the word out to the queer community that they are welcome to fight the cultural conditioning that had told them that they aren't welcome. But extra effort does not  mean “only queers are welcome”; if a straight white man wants training, we'll gladly do it.
Now I am often asked “How many queers has Operation Blazing Sword taught to shoot?” and the answer is that I don't know, because I respect their privacy! I'm not going to force  them to out themselves to me. However, some students are so enthusiastic about being empowered – or by their new, fun hobby of shooting – that some have contacted me to thank me, or to praise a trainer. I personally know of 5 students who have gone on to acquire concealed carry permits, and I operate on the principle that for every known student there is at least another who wishes to keep quiet. My biggest success is in fact Operation Blazing Sword's first ever student, a transgender man in North Carolina. After instruction, he bought a pistol; acquired a concealed carry permit; bought a hunting rifle and permit and began harvesting deer; and he has even started his own OBS chapter in Raleigh, spreading the message to other gun-curious queer students and helping to teach them.
Speaking of chapters, I need to clear up a very common confusion: we are not a branch of the Pink Pistols. We are sister organizations with similar goals but very different methodologies. For example:
  1. They are specifically a social organization for queer shooters; we seek to pair students with teachers regardless of orientation.
  2. They are local, we are national. Pink Pistols have no national leadership, only city-level chapters, and some states have no chapters at all. There is no Pink Pistol chapter anywhere in Maryland – the closest that I can find is a restricted Yahoo group that requires membership before one can join, which makes, y'know, attending a meeting rather difficult – but there are 18 OBS instructors in MD alone, including your own John Mountjoy.
  3. Our focus is on initial education and training; Pink Pistol chapters are more focused on being a shooting club. This is good because they keep LGBTQ shooters interested in the hobby and active in politics through events and camaraderie. My hope is that after we train hew gun owners, those people go on to join – or found! – Pink Pistol chapters.
Another frequent question I get is “What are your goals for the future of your organization?” And that's a wide open question. In the immediate future, I'd like to be able to offer fully-funded safety seminars, range days and concealed carry classes on a city scale – such as by buying out a shooting range in Orlando and making its services free to anyone who wants Blazing Sword instruction. Futher in the future, I'd like to branch out to other demographics who find training difficult, such as the the elderly  and the handicapped, and teaching them firearm safety.
If you would like to donate to Operation Blazing Sword, you have several options:
  1. Paypal link – you can send us money via www.paypal.me/OpBlazingSword
  2. Send a physical check to 800 Belle Terre Parkway #200-302, Palm Coast FL 32164
  3. Or take someone shooting for free!
Thank you for your attention. I will now open the floor up for any questions you may have.

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