William McLaughlin is the social media manager for the National Rifle Association.
Last June, I attended my first Pride parade. I’m a 24-year-old gay man, and the downtown D.C. event came two months after I started my new job as social media manager for the National Rifle Association.
The District, where I live, is a liberal city. Gay people are embraced; guns are not. You don’t have to see how the District votes to know that. You can tell by the signs in people’s yards and the bumper stickers on their cars. The gay community is largely anti-gun, too.
At the parade, these worlds collided. I found myself at an event where I should have felt at home but, instead, I felt hated. It wasn’t all in my head. People chanted an obscenity about the NRA as they marched down P Street NW.
I don’t understand why the LGBTQ community is so hostile toward the Second Amendment. I’d like to ask my fellow gays to take a moment and consider this issue through a different lens. I long for the day when the gay community will galvanize its significant political might and work toward making practical changes that would let gays better protect themselves when laws don’t.
It isn’t news that gay men and lesbians are frequently the victims of hate crimes. In D.C., crimes motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias increased by 50 percent between 2016 and 2018, from 40 incidents to 61, according to statistics from the D.C. police. Nationwide, hate crimes targeting people because of their sexual orientation rose 5 percent between 2016 and 2017, from 1,076 incidents to 1,130, according to statistics from the FBI.
If we in the gay community know we are frequent targets, why do we overwhelmingly oppose laws that protect our right to defend ourselves? Why do I find myself, at party after party, defending my decision to work for the NRA? Why does my wanting to own a firearm make some gay people I meet accuse me of being self-hating? Why is a community that prides itself on inclusion and tolerance so intolerant toward the Second Amendment, the NRA and those who believe in the right to self-defense?
I fear that the gay community has so aligned itself with an anti-gun political party that it has become unable to see beyond party lines. This is not a time for ideologues. The fight is not over. We must be nimble, inclusive and open to new ideas. And before we can fully be all of those things, we must feel empowered to keep ourselves safe.
When I was offered a position at the NRA, I felt that my core beliefs were in conflict. While I was considering the position, friends urged me to say no because the NRA was homophobic and only existed for old, straight, white men. But I convinced myself that I would be able to leave my sexuality at home and bring my Second Amendment passion to work. I took the job.
Two weeks after I started, at the NRA’s annual meeting in Dallas, Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, gave a speech that impressed me. He said, “We fight for you whether you’re black, white, rich, poor, gay or straight, because your life matters equally. You have every right to be proud of it and every right to defend it, and the National Rifle Association is proud to represent you.”
I decided to be open about my sexuality at work. I was met with nonchalance. No one cared. I was embraced as a fellow Second Amendment supporter, just like everyone else. I work with people from all over the United States, from different faiths and of different races. Also, I’m not the only gay person. We are united in our belief that no one can take away our right to defend ourselves.
Stereotypes hurt society. They put large swaths of people in a box, and they create a sense of “otherness.” The gay community has worked hard to remove itself from that box. The values that unite us are tolerance, acceptance and personal freedom. We’ve come so far, but the journey isn’t over.