After Orlando, will LGBT activists take aim at the NRA?

Nightclub Shooting Reaction New Jersey
A rainbow flag flies next to the American flag in Jersey City as people gather in the street to pay their respects for the victims and survivors of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

In recent decades, the LGBT community has mobilized for the AIDS crisis, the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," and same-sex marriage.

In the wake of the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, some are now urging their gay and lesbian brethren to galvanize around the issue of gun violence. Others say they may support the cause, but must remain focused on equality battles still being waged.

"Gun safety has not been a major issue for the LGBT community, but now it must be," wrote Eric Sasson, a columnist for the website The Daily Good. His article calls for action on both the national and grassroots levels targeting politicians, companies, investment funds and universities that support gun rights, as well as companies that manufacture weapons.

"A community that has had extraordinary success mobilizing for its rights must galvanize its forces to confront this issue as well," Sasson wrote.

Don Winsor, an American actor now working in Australia, predicted on Facebook that the shooting would mobilize gay activists.

 The post took off, spawning several copycat memes, more than 6,600 likes, and 2,700 shares. 

"Star Trek" actor George Takei has also spoken out.

"Like it or not, this history and this obligation have been thrust upon us, and we must now rise to its challenge. For if there is one group in this country with more will, more experience, and more tenacity than the NRA, it is the LGBT community," Takei wrote in The Daily Beast. "You don't want to mess with us."

Other gay leaders have noted that the community still has many other fights on its agenda.

Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News and a longtime activist, said he was overwhelmed at the worldwide show of support for the gay community after the shootings. But taking on the issue of gun control - one that not all LGBT members support - may not rise to a higher priority than the issues they are already fighting, he said.

"We still have 22 states who do not have non-discrimination laws," Segal said, adding that other groups need to step up and take the lead.

"Don't give this to us," said Segal. "In our mourning, we can't take on everything."

In Philadelphia's Gayborhood, locals expressed a tentative sense of hope that stricter gun legislation will come out of the massacre at Pulse, a popular Orlando, Fla., nightclub where a shooter killed 49 people and wounded 53 others last weekend. Many said they had seen online petitions and other examples of activism since the shooting, but lamented the lack of reforms following other mass shootings in recent years and the strong hold the NRA has on politicians.

Matthew Snook, 26 said he thinks the LGBT community will come together to push for gun reform - or so he hopes.

"Every time, after a while, it sort of goes to the back burner," he said. "I've seen things shared on Facebook, but then again, a lot of times people just post their opinions, and there's nothing really behind it in terms of actually changing things."

Snook works at Knock Restaurant and Bar on Locust Street, one of 11 Center City party spots that have dedicated July 21 as a fundraiser for the Orlando shooting victims and their families.

Dave Townsend, 48, a Realtor who lives in South Philly, said it's too early to say whether the LGBT community will step to the forefront of the movement for gun reform.

"If any change happens, it's going to have to be from the grassroots," he said. "The [LGBT] community is very politically active anyway."

Jeff Beiter, 39, of Bella Vista, has already posted a link on Facebook instructing his followers how to contact their elected officials.

"I don't want things to go back to normal," he said, adding the shooting in a gay club hit close to home. "I want to do something."

mschaefer@phillynews.com

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@MariSchaefer