Before the victims of the Orlando shooting were all announced, gun advocates were bracing for a media firestorm. Among them, the Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization that represents the interests of LGBT republicans and a group that fully supports LGBT gun ownership as a means for protection or sport.
Despite the group’s strong advocacy for gun rights, the organization's statement released after the Orlando shooting was relatively noncommittal. Gregory T. Angelo, the Log Cabin Republicans’ president said:
Domestic terrorism has struck once again on American soil, in a direct attack on the LGBT community of the United States — during Pride Month, no less. If the shooter’s suspected motivations are indeed confirmed, we call upon President Obama and the presumptive nominees of both parties to condemn the attacker and acknowledge in no uncertain terms the cause of the massacre: radical Islamic terrorism.
The statement came as a surprise. Just under a month ago, members of the Log Cabin Republicans met with me at a gun range to talk about the benefits of gay people owning guns for protection for instances just like Orlando. But in the statement there was no talk of protecting second amendment rights, no mention of how the massacre could’ve been avoided had someone been armed inside Pulse nightclub.
Despite the silence, the Log Cabin Republicans still stand in arms with the second amendment. Last month, I went down to D.C. to meet with members and discuss how they felt about being Republican in the gay world and their views on Donald Trump. eventually half a dozen members met with me to shoot guns at an NRA gun range in Fairfax, Virginia. Despite the differences on how Log Cabin Republicans felt about presidential election and their comfort within gay liberal circles, they all could agree on one thing: gays with guns are good.
Support for gun ownership among the gay community does, indeed, exist. Many say they own guns for protection, others for sport. No matter their reasons, they firmly believe in their right to bear arms.
“I can’t say I’ve ever felt that my life has been threatened, but I’ve definitely born the brunt of outright hatred,” said Angelo when I asked him if he’d ever felt in danger for being gay and felt the need to be armed.
I arrived in D.C. mid-morning to meet with Angelo at the organization’s headquarters located off K Street a few blocks northeast of The White House.
Behind Angelo’s desk in his office, a wall of letters and thank you notes from Republicans across the country including Ohio Congressman David Joyce, Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former U.S. Secretary for Housing and Development Jack Kemp’s son. But who’s missing that he wants most on his wall?
“Reince Preibus,” he said.
Before getting into guns, we talked politics.
“Looking exclusively through the prism of LGBT issues, Trump is the most pro-gay candidate the Republican party has ever nominated for a president,” he said. “But putting everything else aside with Trump is a Herculean, if not impossible, task.”
But Log Cabin members stand by the mantra that they don’t vote specifically on gay issues (they consistently say they “are not single-issue voters”) and instead take on a “portfolio” of issues.
“It’s as if we have two portfolios,” Angelo said. “One is LGBT issues, such as marriage equality and non-discrimination, but in addition we also have a traditionally conservative portfolio and making a unique LGBT case for traditional conservative values.”
When it comes to guns, you won’t find a Log Cabin member opposed to being locked and loaded.
In 2014, they denounced D.C.’s law that forbade carrying a concealed firearm, and the group begrudgingly endorsed Romney in the last presidential election after years earlier charging that he was against the National Rifle Association, among other things.
I left Angelo to meet up with Anthony “Rek” LeCounte. Some Log Cabin members refer to themselves (gay Republicans) as unicorns because of how rare they are. Rek is a black and gay Republican, though, which makes him a Pegasus.
I’d spoken with Rek for just over a month before meeting him that day. He grew up a military brat, jumping around bases across the South with a brief stint in Germany. Guns, for him, were just part of life. He said that it wasn’t until he went to Yale for college when he noticed that people didn’t own as many guns as his friends down south.
When I met with Rek in May before heading over to the gun range, he told me about a time when he and his boyfriend were targeted on the D.C. Metro for being gay. They were cuddling when a man on the train became belligerent and threatened to harm them
Rek wished he could’ve been armed at that point.
“I had to keep my wits about me and figure out what I could do in case he came at us,” he said. “That was a pretty searing memory.”
Other Log Cabin members I met with at the gun range didn’t have the same issues as Rek in their past. Out of all the people I spoke with, there were only two who could tell me about a time when they were ever attacked or felt physically threatened for being gay. Everyone else just wanted to be armed—“just in case.”
“I don't have a fear that a bunch of homophobes are determined to hunt me down on the streets because I'm gay,” said J. “Chad” Absentis, who works in D.C. “I'd have my gun to protect me from thugs, black on white crime, illegal immigrants, dangerous wildlife, terrorists, and for whenever the zombie apocalypse starts. I'd lose my job at work for being gay before I'm hunted on the streets for being gay.”
Others, like Chris Allen who had been assaulted a week before I spoke with him, said they would own a gun for protection.
“I live on a ground floor unit. My door is the only thing stopping anybody from getting in,” Allen told me, adding that he doesn’t own a gun because it’s too complicated to get one in D.C. legally. “It would probably feel a little bit better knowing that I had that kind of protection.”
After the Orlando shooting that killed 49 and wounded over 50 more, I reached out to both Rek and Angelo to see if their views on gun rights had changed—or even if the Log Cabin Republicans would comment beyond their statement that this was just an act of radical Islamic terrorism.
“Our support for the Second Amendment has not changed,” said Angelo.
I reached out to Rek, whose family lives in Florida, and asked what his thoughts were on the incident. He believed that the the massacre in Orlando and the killer’s religious zealotry was separate from the killer’s access to an automatic rifle.
“The terrorist attack in the heart of my homeland was a breathtaking incidence of evil that shakes me to my core as a gay man in America,” he wrote to me. “I don't see the gun as the reason for the attack. The terrorist could have killed comparable dozens, maybe more with handmade bombs. I'm all the more committed to being a responsible gun owner for my own safety and that of my loved ones, and I'm reassured by the fact that my loved ones are also armed and prepared to defend against whatever evils might come.”
Joseph Jaafari is a writer and documentary filmmaker based in Brooklyn. He covers subjects ranging from military health to gun violence. His work can be seen in The Atlantic, VICE, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Daily News. Reach him through his website or Twitter @JosephJaafari.