At last year’s Trans Pride Seattle event, members of Pink Pistols in pink Pink Pistols T-shirts handed out flyers that explained who they were and when they meet. They were carrying their firearms, as they always do.
But, according to Pink Pistols members, event security followed along behind them and collected the flyers from people as soon as they passed them out.
Tobi Hill-Meyer, co-executive director of the Gender Justice League, denies this happened. The league was the event’s organizer, and Hill-Meyer says the security team would not have acted that way.
This year, the league said it invited the Pink Pistols to host a booth so long as they didn’t carry any firearms. Pink Pistols did not participate.
Hill-Meyer says Pink Pistols members openly carrying guns made some attendees uncomfortable.
“A lot of people in our community have experienced violence and trauma. A disproportionate number of trans people are veterans, and a disproportionate number of trans people have PTSD,” Hill-Meyer says.
This year, Pink Pistols administrator Margaret Rhoades, who identifies as a lesbian trans woman, and her partner, Susan YoungCrane, decided not to attend Trans Pride because they did not want to be searched. They say they didn’t see anyone else getting this kind of attention from security.
“What bugs me with Trans Pride is they don’t want people with guns there,” YoungCrane says. “But why are they against the most oppressed demographic not being able to defend themselves?”
YoungCrane and Rhoades have been together for 10 years. They both grew up around guns. Rhoades got her first gun when she was 11 and liked hunting pigeons in California. YoungCrane remembers learning how to shoot .22s as a kid in Texas at YMCA camp. Now as a couple, they like to shoot together, frequenting Ladies Day at a local gun range in Federal Way.
They both are lifetime NRA members, but Rhoades says she isn’t crazy about the organization. “We don’t quite fit their mold,” she says.
Finding a gun community that was the right fit for them was hard. The couple felt as though they didn’t really fit in with most of the gun groups or LGBTQ groups.
Rhoades says she isn’t one to wave a trans pride flag through the streets – she would rather just blend in. The Pink Pistols, she says, is where she can be herself.
She and YoungCrane started going to meetups two years ago. They like the inclusiveness and group’s focus on gun education. And it feels like a safe place.
“It’s nice to go shooting and have friends to go shooting with so you’re not going to the shooting range alone and with people who aren’t going to be judgmental and stuff,” YoungCrane says.
In April, Nicole “Niki” Stallard joined a lineup of speakers — Republican lawmakers and gun rights activists — at a March for Our Rights rally in Olympia. As a trans woman and a gun owner, she is active with Pink Pistols, often traveling to events to speak about the group.
Wearing a pink tank top, a leather jacket and knee-length skirt with sheer stockings, Stallard took the stage, her blonde, shoulder length hair blowing in the sporadic wind like the American flag that waved behind her. The crowd was outfitted with Confederate flags, tactical military gear and assault rifles.
She began to rally them.
“We as Americans, we have our differences,” she says. “We don’t have to like each other but we have to defend each other’s natural rights — even people we disagree with.” She yells to the attentive crowd: “So I’m asking from a point of love, we need to show love to all Americans. If you are an American, we love you regardless of you race, color, creed, or whatever.”
She won them over without missing a beat, drawing cheers and applause with her passionate stance that everyone has the God-given right to defend themselves.
Afterwards, people stopped her to say how much they appreciated her and to share their similar views — including a group of men from the Three Percenters, an American militia group, who laughed and joked with her.
“America is changing. People are much more tolerant of our differences,” Stallard says. “Though there is still a lot of work to go, the fact that I can stand in front of a group of patriots as an openly trans person is a sign that we as Americans can come together and that our commonalities can outweigh our differences.”
Which is exactly the power of a group like the Pink Pistols, say Jan and Melissa Elmer: the ability to unite disparate members of the queer community who share one distinct interest.
Says Jan Elmer: “I think that’s what our society needs right now.”