People in the Oak Lawn/Cedar Springs area were already on alert from a recent spate of assaults and robberies that hit Dallas' gayborhood within about a month. Then came Memorial Day weekend. Early in the morning of May 26, a mugger assaulted and tried to rob a man behind the main strip of bars and nightclubs on Cedar Springs. The victim pulled a handgun and shot his assailant, sending him fleeing to the hospital.
Recent attacks — at least seven in the area — have set off calls by community watchdogs for customers and residents to stay vigilant when moving around the neighborhood. Some commenters on Facebook go further, saying each attack is cause to arm themselves. While the shooting over Memorial Day weekend bolstered the argument for self-protection, business owners and bar-goers the Observer spoke with mostly agree the neighborhood has no need for an armed gay militia.
The shooting got some people thinking about political narratives surrounding queer communities. Draw a Venn diagram based on the stereotypical view of queer politics and gun rights supporters, and the result would likely be queer people on the left and gun people on the right. That setup leaves a lot to be misunderstood about the Oak Lawn neighborhood.
“The gay community is a tapestry of everyone,” says John Uppole, who works at Out of the Closet on the strip. “You have gay Republicans, you have gays from the most feminine to the most masculine.”
But no one expects to see that tapestry decorating the local gun range. One Observer staffer recalls visiting gun shows in South Texas in the early '90s, when, in addition to a good deal on a weapon, buyers could find tables of homophobic bumper stickers and signs.
That was a long time ago, but more recent events reinforce the notion that gays and gun fans sit at opposite poles. The Pulse nightclub massacre of 2016, which left 49 people dead in Orlando, is something of a catalyst for the gun discussion in LGBTQ communities. Not long after the shooting, Lambda Legal, the national organization devoted to equality, declared gun violence an LGBTQ equality issue, issuing a statement that said, in part:
"Why should the LGBT movement stand up for limits on guns? The personal characteristics most targeted for hate crimes, according to FBI statistics, are race, religion and sexual orientation. Analysis of 5,462 single-bias incidents reported by law enforcement during 2014 revealed that 47% of hate crimes were tied to racial bias, and 18.6% each were tied to sexual orientation and religion.
"Put a high-power, high-capacity firearm in the hands of the haters, and the result is slaughter in high numbers. The mass killings get more ink, but the individual killings add up to even more lives lost. And many of those lives are LGBT, often LGBT people of color."
Studies show that young queer people are more likely than straight people to end their own lives. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Trevor Project, and guns are used most often during suicide attempts.
On the other pole is the National Rifle Association. Its mission to oppose gun regulations makes it a fellow traveler with social conservatives (read: Republicans) whose passion for the Second Amendment is matched by their opposition to gay marriage, adoption and civil rights. Chuck Norris, a pillar in Texas and a spokesman for the NRA, once said, “I am repulsed at the concept of man-on-man sex. I think it’s against nature. I think it’s strange as hell.”
So that Venn diagram seems fairly accurate, at least to anyone who hasn't heard of the Pink Pistols. Over the past two years, Evan Fowler has revitalized the dormant Dallas chapter of Pistols, the pro-LGBTQ and pro-gun rights group, which has chapters across the nation. Fowler said there has been growing interest in the gun debate, on both sides. He believes the common assumptions about politics, gays and guns harm LGBTQ people more than anybody.
“I think for a long time there has been a perception of LGBT people as soft targets,” Fowler says. “It really kind of puts you in a hard position if you’re a supporter of LGBT and the Second Amendment because there is not really a good party that supports both.”
Of course, not everybody who goes to Cedar Springs is gay. Many of the area’s employees are straight people who are equally affected by violence in the neighborhood. And it’s true that not every attack that happens in the area is motivated by animus toward LGBTQ peoples.
Marissa Murphy has worked in the Oak Lawn area for the past 10 years.
“I’m not afraid to work here; it just makes me more cautious," she says of the recent crimes.
Two years ago, she worked at a taco shop called Quesa, and one of her bosses was among the people attacked during a string of crimes in the area in 2015 that led to protests and meetings between community members and police officers. She's aware of potential attackers in each step she takes throughout the neighborhood, especially at night.
If she drives to work, she’ll park as close as she can to her building. She’s leery of dark corners or bushes. She’ll try to walk with a co-worker or friend. The answer, to her, is a matter of staying alert.
Andres Vargas, who was at JR’s bar Thursday afternoon, says the decision to own a firearm or to use it for defense is deeply personal, and it transcends the politics of gun rights and gay rights.
“Stuff like that, it’s going to happen anywhere you go,” he says of the would-be robbery. “Doesn’t matter if it’s in the gay club, straight club, strip clubs — there’s stupid people every where you go."
The 2015 crimes gave rise to Take Back Oak Lawn, the main watchdog group in the area. One of its founders, Lee Daugherty, said the suggestion that LGBTQ people, specifically, are the ones under attack in Oak Lawn, or that having a sidearm is the perfect solution, is “a dangerous narrative to go down.” When people lump these complicated communities and issues together, assumptions are made, rendering solutions more difficult to achieve.
“That’s what makes narratives so dangerous,” Daugherty says.
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