Gays Against Guns (GAG) is a community action group established in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre last year.
GAG campaigns for safer gun laws and more stringent restrictions on accessing assault weapons.
Catherine Marino-Thomas is a longtime activist and campaigner for marriage equality in the States.
She was at the very first meeting and has been a key organizer of the group since its inception.
We speak with Catherine about what the group is hoping to achieve and how they plan on getting there.
What motivated you to establish the group?
Gays Against Guns came together immediately after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando in June last year.
It was an organic reaction to the massacre.
A couple of different people had the idea that the community needed a meeting and action.
Kevin Hertzog, John Grauweiler, Brian Worth, actually put up a Facebook event and rented a room at the LGBT Center in Manhattan.
I think the room was supposed to hold maybe 60 people – over 300 showed up.
At that point, it was obvious that folks wanted to take action and GAG was born.
Our first action was the 2016 NYC Pride Parade where we spray painted t-shirts and signs with stencils.
We came up with the idea of the Human Beings (people completely in white and veiled with a placard representing someone killed in gun violence) and the Orlando victims were the first of these.
What are the main aims and objectives of the group?
We would like to see some good sense around gun ownership, laws and culture.
We feel very strongly that frequent mass shootings, domestic violence, suicide and children using guns are quite out of control.
One of our main focuses is exposing the Chain of Death around gun manufacture, sales, ownership and culture.
We are taking aim (no pun intended) in what we hope is a new and original way.
We are exposing the culpability of companies that give discounts to NRA members, politicians that take disproportionately large campaign donations from the NRA and laws that have giant loop holes in them allowing people that should not have a gun to have one legally.
Finally, the culture that keeps certain groups in a position of poverty and perpetuates the gun filled environment they live in.
You meet up every two weeks, what do you discuss?
We begin each meeting with a memorial of someone lost to a gun and then we read our mission statement:
‘Gays Against Guns NY is an inclusive group of LGBTQ people and their allies committed to nonviolently breaking the gun industry’s chain of death.
‘Investors, manufacturers, the NRA and other lobby groups, and their puppets in Congress that block good gun laws.’
Based in New York, we work with GAG chapters in other cities to ensure safety for all individuals, particularly vulnerable communities such as people of color, LGBTQ people and religious minorities.
Bigotry and hate, as well as easy access to lethal weapons is a deadly combination.
We demand sensible and meaningful gun reform such as a ban on assault weapons and background checks on all gun sales, including online and at gun shows.
What has the general reaction from the community been? And has this been different to the reaction from the LGBTI community?
The LGBTI community has embraced GAG and I think they view us as a breath of fresh air on this and other issues.
The general community initially was almost relieved that ‘the Gays’ would now be involved in this issue with the focus given to marriage equality and other LGBTI issues.
Perhaps we appeared somewhat fearless to them.
Maybe we are.
I think it’s more that our activism really never stops as a community.
Our people show up as a matter of regularity in our lives.
What was your involvement in the Women’s March?
I worked with a committee to plan and organize how to represent GAG the day of the march.
We organized the bus, presentation, researched the women that would be represented by our Human Beings, made the placards and handouts.
Finding a place to set up our Human Beings and banner was important, then we began a sing-in.
One of our members had written new lyrics to many of our country’s anthems.
We handed out copies of the lyrics to folks at the march and had a big old sing-a-long!
Our Human Beings made quite an impression on the crowd.
I heard that one woman broke down into tears having recognized one of the victims of the Pulse massacre.
What’s your plan of action now? Anything coming up in the near future?
GAG has many coals on our fire.
We have a campaign against Hertz, Wyndam Hotels, FedEx for giving large discounts to NRA members and we have another around investment companies investing in gun manufacturers.
There are several campaigns focused on legislators and upcoming bills.
Of course, there is the new leadership that the USA is now facing.
As for events, we will be planning a Valentine’s day video, participating in this years NYC AIDS Walk and putting together something around the first anniversary of the Pulse shootings.