LGBTQ Groups Push for Voting Rights, Gun Control on MLK Day

Manuel Oliver, the father of a Parkland shooting victim, joined Gays Against Guns and Rise and Resist at a demonstration in Times Square.
Donna Aceto

On what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 93rd birthday, national LGBTQ groups echoed growing calls for federal voting rights legislation and queer activists held a Times Square demonstration urging the Supreme Court to uphold New York’s gun laws.

The parallel actions coincided with frustration in Washington over the failure to advance a pair of voting rights measures in the Senate as Republican-led State Legislatures scramble to curtail voting access in individual states. Federal voting rights measures have been stymied by bisexual Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who have maintained their opposition to changing Senate rules to bypass the filibuster, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has nonetheless vowed to bring forward legislation combining the two voting rights bills into one legislative package known as the “Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, Lambda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) were among the organizations calling for swift action on voting rights.

“Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that only love can drive out hate,” Joni Madison, HRC’s interim president, said in a written statement on January 17. “Every MLK Day, we bring life to his words by spreading love throughout our communities in the form of acts of service. This year, there could be no greater act of love and service than working to pass federal voting legislation to ensure no one is denied the right to vote.”

Kierra Johnson, the executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, encouraged lawmakers to put aside their political calculations and prioritize voting rights once and for all.

“The fear of losing power and the threat of losing an elected seat is not justification for our leaders to carve out LGBTQ folks, people of color, women, poor people and so many other already marginalized groups from the political process,” Johnson said.

In a series of tweets on January 17, Lambda Legal — which has worked to advance LGBTQ rights in the courts — underscored the potential consequences at hand by pointing to the flood of anti-LGBTQ bills in State Legislatures.

“With more than 100 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced last year and two million unregistered LGBTQ+ voters, we cannot afford complacency on voting rights,” the group wrote on Twitter. “To truly honor MLK’s legacy, we call on Congress to secure our right to vote — for our dignity and our lives.”

Meanwhile, Gays Against Guns, Change the Ref, Rise and Resist, March for Our Lives, elected officials, and families of those who have been killed by gun violence brought their voices to Times Square in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The demonstration brought attention to the looming New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen Supreme Court case, which could determine whether a law governing concealed-carry licenses in New York State violates the Second Amendment.

“New York State’s handgun concealed-carry licensing law should be held up as an example to the nation,” said Gays Against Guns member Jay W. Walker. “It has saved thousands of lives. In this era of frequent mass shootings, this law is crucial in a densely populated tourist magnet like New York City,”

Gays Against Guns’ “Human Beings” — individuals draped in all white in commemoration of folks who have been murdered by gun violence — held placards of people such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Joaquin Oliver, a 17-year-old who was killed at the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. Oliver’s parents, Manuel and Patricia, were in attendance.

Congressmember Carolyn Maloney and out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman were also on hand at the Times Square event.

Mia Senechal, the deputy organizing director for March for Our Lives.DONNA ACETO
A placard dedicated to the late Martin Luther King Jr.DONNA ACETO
The Statue of Liberty dressed in a bulletproof vest.DONNA ACETO
Gays Against Guns’ Jay W. Walker.Donna Aceto
Antonius Wiriadjaja, a member of Gays Against Guns, survived a shooting in 2013.DONNA ACETO
Congressmember Carolyn Maloney delivers remarks.Donna Aceto
Out gay State Senator Brad Hoylman stands with activists.Donna Aceto