In the hours after a gunman entered an Orlando nightclub in June, holding hundreds hostage through the night and eventually killing 49 and wounding dozens of others, political consultant Jason Lindsay was glued to his TV.
As cameras panned across Pulse nightclub and Orlando, showing streets filled with victims and families scrambling to find their loved ones, Lindsay said he could not stop thinking about one moment.
“Please can we do something with the assault weapons so that we can stop this club from ever getting any new members,” Christine Leinonen, whose son Christopher was killed in the attack, pleaded in an interview.
Inspired by Leinonen and unable to forget her tearful call for action, Lindsay began securing partners and resources to launch a political action committee that would take on the issues of gun violence and anti-LGBT hate crimes. Within weeks, the Pride Fund was born.
“I started talking with people in Washington, asking ‘How is the gun lobby so successful at keeping the status quo?’” Lindsay told ThinkProgress, sitting in the Pride Fund’s Washington, D.C. office. “What are the other groups doing? Is there a need for something different? And how can we make sure the LGBTQ community has a voice in this important fight?”
After the Orlando attack, larger queer organizations like the Human Rights Campaign were ready to act, and other new groups like Gays Against Guns (GAG)— which debuted at the New York Pride parade two weeks after the shooting — began to channel mourning into action.
But while GAG’s playbook involves protests and demonstrations, the Pride Fund has its eye on electoral politics.
As the only official super PAC dedicated to both gun violence and LGBT rights, Pride Fund has started endorsing candidates — three so far — and deploying its few dozen volunteers and board members to places like Orlando where pro-gun candidates are up for election.
“How can we make sure the LGBTQ community has a voice in this important fight?”
“We know we’re in this kind of late, but that’s just the nature of how this happened,” spokesperson Robb Hudson told ThinkProgress. “We’re trying to direct our resources to races in which just a little bit can tip it over. There are competitive races across the country in every district that’s been affected by gun violence.”
Since officially taking shape this summer, the Pride Fund has assembled a group of advisers including Leinonen and other family members of Pulse victims, the club’s owner, survivors, and other local advocates.
The board has traveled to places across the country with close races, speaking about guns, gay rights, and issues at the intersection, like transgender violence and LGBT youth suicide. Last year, at least 21 transgender people were victims of fatal violence in the United States, more than any other year on record. And the rate of suicide is four times higher for queer youth than straight youth.
Pride Fund has asked candidates to fill out policy questionnaires to ensure that if elected, they will do things like support the Equality Act and ban people convicted of hate crimes from purchasing firearms.
Before endorsing Hillary Clinton earlier this month, the super PAC decided to focus a race closer to home. In August, it endorsed Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat who is running to represent the district across the street from Pulse. Murphy is looking to unseat Rep. John Mica (R), who has an “A+” rating from the National Rifle Association and took a donation from the gun lobby two days after the massacre.
“That one simple act of taking a check from the gun lobby two days after the attack, at the same time that families were trying to claim bodies and plan funerals, that’s just disgusting,” Lindsay said. “That in and of itself is a disqualifier for him to stay in office.”
Last week, Pride Fund also stepped into a bigger race, endorsing Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)’s challenger, Patrick Murphy.
In a press call announcing the endorsement, Murphy highlighted the fact that the hate crime that occurred in Orlando was “not an isolated incident.”
“Right after 49 innocent people lost their lives in our state, Marco Rubio went back to Congress and voted against multiple proposals aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people who shouldn’t have them,” Murphy told reporters. He added that we cannot make this type of violence “the new normal.”
‘You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight’
Lindsay, like many Democrats, is skeptical of the influence of money in politics, particularly unlimited spending by super PACs. But he decided this summer that a super PAC would be the best use of his resources — which he says are more about the people and stories than the $500,000 he hopes to raise by November.
“We’re using every tool available because the other side is too,” Hudson said. “In the post-Citizens United world, we are kind of left with the tools we have to use. You don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.”
Meanwhile, larger single-issue groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence have far more resources. But Hudson said that he sees the fights for same-sex marriage and for AIDS recognition and research to be models for the gun issue, and both movements also involved smaller, dual-focus groups working alongside the major players.
Hudson, an Orlando native who moved to Washington, D.C. to work in politics, said the Pulse shooting hit close to home for multiple reasons. Not only had he been to the nightclub, but he also knew what it was like to seek refuge in a safe space.
“It was the place that I could go and feel the pressure just drip off me,” Hudson said about similar gay bars in Washington, D.C. “As soon as I walked in the door, I did not have to care about conforming to something else.”
“But now I just fear with guns being allowed in bars everywhere and more and more concealed carry permits, people are scared,” he continued.
As he looked out the Pride Fund’s large windows overlooking Washington’s Dupont Circle, Hudson noted that cities like his own have come a long way when it comes to accepting and protecting LGBT people. Yet in conversations with friends and colleagues, he has noticed that people are still not as open when it comes to discussing guns.
“That’s part of the main goal,” he said. “To make this as comfortable to talk about as gay rights.”