eyes on the U.S.

Guns And Gays After Orlando, Meet The Pink Pistols

Guns And Gays After Orlando, Meet The Pink Pistols
Ben Terris

PHILADELPHIA â€" Try as he might, Tom Nelson just could not get any other gay people to the gun range.

For the past four years he sent out email invitations to a local mailing list for Pink Pistols, a shooting group that encourages members of the LGBT community to carry concealed firearms. Then, on the third Sunday of each month, he would head to a gun club in the Philadelphia area and wait. Nobody ever showed.

“It’s been very lonely out there,” said Nelson, a 71-year-old retiree who continued to make the trek lest his own shooting skills deteriorate. Nelson also organizes a monthly support group for gay men who are married to women, and reliably draws a small crowd to that one, so he wondered: Could there really be more gay guys with wives than gay guys with guns?

Pink Pistols marching â€" Photo: JennJacques via Twitter

But a week after a gunman killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Nelson had reason to believe that might change. It pained him that it took such a terrible tragedy, but for the first time in recent memory he’d gotten some tentative RSVPs. The night before their meeting at the range, he was so nervous he lay in bed hardly able to sleep.

“We’ve been very good as a community with candlelight vigils, but not so good at doing what it takes to prevent them from happening,” he said the next morning after he pulled his white socks up high, tucked his salmon polo shirt into his cargo shorts and packed his .40-caliber Glock into a customized fanny pack. He sat at his living room table â€" scattered with issues of the Philadelphia Gay News and Gun Digest â€" and reread the speech he had always hoped to give to new Pink Pistols members.

“What’s going to happen is going to happen,” said Nelson as he folded his 6-foot-3 frame into a Honda hybrid. “I hope several people will show up, but I guess who knows.”

Nelson was a proud gun owner before he was a proud gay man. He got his first BB gun as a 12-year-old living in Massachusetts and his first .22 rifle when he was 14, and at the University of Maine he joined the rifle team. As a college student, Nelson had “a lot of gay sex” but, he says, didn’t think of himself as gay. He didn’t have anyone to talk about it with at the time, he says now, and didn’t really understand how to label his sexuality.

After college he worked for the better part of a decade helping design guns for Remington. And at 38, he met a woman named Carol on an Appalachian hike. They ended up living together for 20 years. His closest brush with gun violence came when a stray bullet from a neighborhood scuffle flew into their kitchen, not far from where Carol had been standing. Nelson wasn’t around, though. He was on a camping trip with his boyfriend at the time.

Nelson now lives with that boyfriend, Avram, and maintains a cordial relationship with Carol. It helped, he said, that when he started going to the support group for married gay men, he was open about it with her. Belatedly out of the closet, Nelson began joining various gay clubs and began to feel like part of a community. In 2001, he saw a blurb for the Pink Pistols in the Philadelphia Gay News and called right away.

“They told me I was one of the first people to sign up,” he said.

He quickly surmised that most people in the gay community were not gun lovers. “It’s a pretty liberal group,” he said. For the first couple of years he could expect somewhere between two and eight guys to show up at the range, but over the years the numbers dwindled down to just him.

Well â€" him and Jeff Bloovman, anyway.

“Hi, I’m Jeff Bloovman. Many of you know that because I’ve trained you. And as you know, I’m totally gay and stuff.”

This was how Bloovman, an uber-athletic self-defense and firearms instructor with a stylish swirl of gelled hair, introduced himself Sunday in the backroom of the Gun Range in Philadelphia. Bloovman is not a member of the Pink Pistols, but for the past year he has volunteered his services for anyone from the group who shows up â€" which, up until now, had been Nelson. After the Orlando shooting, Bloovman turned to Facebook to encourage his friends, gay or straight, to come to the range this third Sunday of June and show some support for the Pink Pistols.

“I’m a firm believer in individual rights, and I think personal liberties are for everybody,” he said before introducing Nelson as the head of the Delaware County chapter of the Pink Pistols. “That’s in terms of sexuality and personal protection. And as we’ve seen, despite their best efforts, law enforcement cannot be everywhere at once.”

About a half-dozen people had shown up. They sat around a long table, loading bullets into magazines while Nelson read his speech. He rattled off the highlights of his biography and talked up the importance of lawful gun ownership. Most were friends of Bloovman’s, and not necessarily gay, but at least one came specifically for the Pink Pistols.

“I’d heard about the group a while back but didn’t think they were still around,” said Mike Klepper, a 52-year-old gay man with a mustache and close-cropped hair. Klepper worried that after Orlando there would be more talk of government regulations on certain types of guns. He was willing to do “whatever it takes” to keep that from happening, but at the moment he was just happy to spend the day with some like-minded people.

The group put in their earplugs and headed out to the indoor range: a noxious hotbox of gunsmoke and sweat. Nelson stalked the range like a geriatric Gary Cooper in “High Noon,” quick-drawing his gun out of his fanny pack and shooting at a pink outline of a person.

Men practicing on pink outlines â€" Photo: Nathan MacNichol via Instagram

An NRA-certified instructor introduced himself to Nelson and encouraged him to “continue breaking stereotypes.” He said that after Orlando he had reached out to a gay community organization in Philadelphia but never heard back.

“A lot of people discriminate against me because I have NRA in my job title,” he said.

A woman named Gloria, who had come to show support for the gay community, posed for photos with her AR-15, a firearm with similar design features to the one used in the Orlando shooting and other mass killings that have made global headlines in recent years.

“I had asked people not to come with rifles,” Bloovman said, mortified. “I knew it just wouldn’t look good.”

Bloovman offered quick lessons to everyone who showed up, working toward an ultimate goal of shooting 10 rounds, from 10 yards away in 10 seconds. Waiting his turn, Nelson looked around and couldn’t believe how many people had come. Yes, it would have been nice to get a few more gay people, or perhaps someone who wasn’t already a gun enthusiast, to show up.

But it was a lot better than no company at all.

Nelson ambled up to the stall, fired 10 rounds at the target that left a fist-size cluster of bullet holes. Not bad, but there was still room for improvement.

“The next thing is to get faster,” Bloovman said. “But you gotta make the hits. If you can’t make the hits, it’s a liability and you start hurting your cause.”

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ