Roanoke Pride: Orlando Forgotten

Roanoke Pride: Orlando Forgotten

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by Catherine Koebel Stromberg

On Saturday, September 10th, I attended the annual “Pride in the Park” event organized by Roanoke Pride at Elmwood Park in downtown Roanoke. Roanoke Pride is a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to “promote acceptance, visibility, and a sense of community for Southwestern Virginia Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and other gender and sexual minorities by organizing events and providing opportunities for celebration, education, and outreach.” This year’s event had special significance, obviously, because of the gruesome tragedy that took place at The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12th. A hate-filled gunman targeted members of the LGBTQ community at The Pulse, killing 49 people and wounding another 53. It was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

I was therefore horrified to see firearms being glorifiedand even openly displayedat Pride in the Park, from the moment I arrived at the event.

Coming into the park from Franklin Road, one of the first exhibitor booths I saw was that of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), a radical pro-gun group that opposes all gun laws, including even the weak federal and state laws we currently have on the books. Several individuals manning the VCDL booth were openly carrying loaded handguns and wearing “GUNS SAVE LIVES” stickers.

The leader of VCDL, Philip Van Cleave, was famously interviewed on The Daily Show three years ago, and responded “whoop-dee-doo” to John Oliver when informed that Australia had eliminated mass shootings altogether by toughening their gun laws after the 1996 massacre at Port Arthur. Phil was not at the VCDL booth when I passed by, He was spending the day at a festival in Lynchburg featuring overtly homophobic vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence. Notable as well was the fact that VCDL page did not mention their Roanoke Pride booth at all on their social media feeds.

While VCDL was given a choice location at the event, groups that promote peace and gun violence preventionlike the Plowshares Peace and Justice Center, which distributed Gays Against Guns information and rainbow-colored “Guns Kill” stickerswere completely hidden in the second row of booths.

By this point, I was already upset, but then I noticed that three volunteers with Roanoke Pride were wearing the VCDL’s “GUN SAVE LIVES” stickers. I approached these individuals and asked them why they would possibly be wearing these stickers after the Orlando tragedy.  Their response, essentially, was to blame the victims at The Pulse; suggesting that if they had been carrying loaded firearms like their killer, they would not have died that evening. They made no mention whatsoever of the lax gun laws that allowed the Orlando gunmana wife-beating terror suspectto legally buy an assault rifle, handguns, and as much ammunition as he wanted.

I had enough at that point and made my views known on social media to Roanoke Pride leader Jason Michael Gilmore (president), who alerted Timothy Dean (vice president of development) and Ryan Lineberry (CFO for Pride Entities). To his credit, Gilmore admitted it was inappropriate for his volunteers to be wearing the “GUNS SAVES LIVES” stickers and he ordered them to remove the stickers. They did. But Lineberry claimed that Roanoke Pride was somehow legally obligated to give VCDL a choice booth at his event because they had paid for it. I doubt that seriously, as he also claimed Roanoke Pride would be obligated to give an LGBTQ hate group a booth. However, he did tell me that he would try to find a better location for the Plowshares Peace and Justice Center in the future. Ryan also promised to open a dialogue with the Roanoke gun violence prevention community. I sincerely hope that some positive change can come from that dialogue.

The VCDL would love to be able to rainbow-wash their radical, anti-government agenda and for the right price, Roanoke Pride seemed happy to provide that service. That is deeply disturbing, because anyone who understands contemporary American gun culture knows that it’s a breeding ground for toxic masculinity and hate. Let’s not forget that it was toxic masculinity that propelled the Orlando gunman to commit his unspeakable last act. And toothless gun lawswhich VCDL has been lobbying for in Richmond for yearsensured that he was armed to the teeth and able to inflict mass carnage.

Unfortunately, I believe that if I, a cis straight woman, had not spoken publicly and loudly, Roanoke Pride volunteers would have kept their, “Guns Save Lives” stickers on all weekend. Following not only Orlando, but also the Backstreet Cafe shooting in Roanoke, this is something I simply can’t fathom.

If you are as disturbed by the actions of Roanoke Pride as I am, make your views known to them. You can reach them through the following channels:

Email: info@roanokepride.org
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/RoanokePride/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/roanoke_pride

  • http://www.facebook.com/clemwantscali87 Mathew Clemons

    Catherine – Thank you for your insight into this. My friends and I were pretty disappointed to see the VCDL at this event. They seem to want to get their hands into every community event that they can.

    I was disappointed to see so many with these stickers on – especially with the organizers recognizing the Orlando tragedy on the stage and such. It just didn’t line up. Very disappointing. I completely avoided the tent. Thankfully, I had come in from Williamson Rd, so they were the last tent and I turned right around when I saw them.

    • Les Aker

      “They seem to want to get their hands into every community event that they can.”

      You appear to be having difficulty understanding the concept of things like freedom and liberty. Even people you don’t like have the right to participate in community events if they choose to do so. You’ll just have to be disappointed. The fact that so many people at the event were wearing “Guns save lives” stickers should tell you something. Here’s a free clue: no one forced them to wear the stickers. They all asked for one and chose to wear it of their own free will.

      • http://www.facebook.com/clemwantscali87 Mathew Clemons

        You are the one that seems to be having difficulty understanding me.

        My problem is not the right or freedom. Nowhere in my comment did I say anything about abolishing any freedoms, or infringing upon any rights.

        However, what I did say was this. Orlando was an immensely disturbing and sad tragedy. Yes. A person pulled the triggers of those guns. But what types of guns did he have? And why did he have those types of guns? At a Pride event – a Pride event about openness for all people – yes, even gun nuts – an event about loving, understanding, and accepting your fellow neighbor – even though they are different… It puts everyone a little on edge seeing things like this paraded around.

        And just to touch on what the sticker says – how many police officers and SWAT officers showed up at Pulse in Orlando? How many guns did they have? How long were they in a standoff – with one person and several guns?

        And thanks for your “free clue”. Just because you don’t like what I have to say, does not negate the freedom to say it. Nor does your right negate my right to be disappointed in the situation. But thanks for your input.

        I have no problem with an individual wanting to own a gun. But, what the VCDL is doing is highly insensitive and just ugly.

        And just because I said “so many” in my original comment – you think you know how many I mean when I say “so many”? So many to me could have been 10-12… it just depends on the number of people at the event. My “so many” phrasing was dependent on my feelings about the Orlando event and the fact that this was a Pride event. I didn’t expect to see ANY.

        So please don’t think you are justifying your comments by drawing upon my original comment.

        • Les Aker

          “My problem is not the right or freedom. Nowhere in my comment did I say anything about abolishing any freedoms, or infringing upon any rights.”

          Yes, you did, Mathew. VCDL and its members have the right to participate in as many community events as they choose. They don’t need your permission to exercise their rights.

          You can say whatever you’d like… it just upsets you when VCDL members exercise the same right. That’s your problem.

          • http://www.facebook.com/clemwantscali87 Mathew Clemons

            H’okay. If you say so. But, again – nowhere in my original OR reply comment did I say that they did not have the right or freedom to do what they do.

            Yep. I totally understand wanting to stand up for 2A rights. But, again – I was disappointed that they were there, and I disagreed with them being there.

            Politicizing this event the way the VCDL is doing is insensitive. If they had better leadership, maybe they’d have thought twice about it.

            When you go to a pride event and you see the “Guns Saves Lives” booth at an event that is partially celebrating the lives of innocents that were gunned down – that tends to make you a little upset.

          • Les Aker

            “But, again – nowhere in my original OR reply comment did I say that they did not have the right or freedom to do what they do.”

            Yes, you did, Mathew. Including in this part…

            “I have no problem with an individual wanting to own a gun. But, what the VCDL is doing is highly insensitive and just ugly.”

            You obviously DO have a problem with it. And what VCDL members are doing is exercising their rights. Period. You’d like to wrap it up in some magic notion that it’s highly insensitive or ugly in order to keep them from exercising their rights, but that just isn’t your choice to make.

            This part is amusing to:

            “Politicizing this event the way the VCDL is doing is insensitive. If they had better leadership, maybe they’d have thought twice about it.”

            VCDL has great leadership. That’s why they participate in lots of community events. And they give out lots of “Guns Save Lives” stickers at those events. It is your that is trying to politicize the event but not allowing them to exercise their rights and infringe on the rights of the people at those events that freely choose to take a sticker and wear it.

      • http://www.bluevirginia.us/ lowkell

        Very curious, do you actually believe that “guns save lives,” as the stickers claim they do? If so, I’d love to hear how the following statistics support such a conclusion:

        *”There were 372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which catalogues such incidents. ”

        *”Some 13,286 people were killed in the US by firearms in 2015, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and 26,819 people were injured [those figures exclude suicide]. ”

        *”he number of gun murders per capita in the US in 2012 – the most recent year for comparable statistics – was nearly 30 times that in the UK, at 2.9 per 100,000 compared with just 0.1. Of all the murders in the US in 2012, 60% were by firearm compared with 31% in Canada, 18.2% in Australia, and just 10% in the UK.”

        • Les Aker

          If guns didn’t save lives, the police wouldn’t have them, lowkell.

          The stickers provide a very clear message: People have rights. One of them is the right to purchase, own and carry a gun if they choose to do so. That’s the funny thing about rights… no one has to be your permission before exercising them.

          The best I can say about your statistics is that there are no “gun murders”. Objects to not have the ability to form intent and act on their own. What you’ve attempted is the equivalent of saying that people who aren’t allowed to have a swimming pool in their back yard have a lower drowning rate than people who are free to have one. It’s an easy way to lead the weak minded to the conclusion you’d like, but it’s a scientific application of statistics.

          I would also point out that the violent crime rate in places like the UK and Australia is higher than the US, and you’re just as dead, assaulted or robbed regardless of the weapon that was used.

          • http://www.bluevirginia.us/ lowkell

            Yep, that’s about the “answer” I figured I’d get. Heh.

          • Les Aker

            The answer you got is commonly referred to as the facts you just don’t like, lowkell. You not likely them doesn’t impact them though.

          • http://www.bluevirginia.us/ lowkell

            Putting words in other people’s mouths doesn’t make them the words those other people said. Keep trying…

          • Les Aker

            I don’t need to try anything. People will continue exercising their rights, including their right to purchase, own and carry an gun if they choose to do so, and there’s really nothing you can do about it but whine and pout. Which is all you’re really doing here at the moment.

          • http://www.facebook.com/clemwantscali87 Mathew Clemons

            I’d educate yourself on crime rates in other countries. Here’s just one site regarding intentional homicides. The US has a larger number than Both UK and Australia combined.

            http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/VC.IHR.PSRC.P5

            And here’s another site with even more information:

            https://www.unodc.org/gsh/

          • Les Aker

            The US has a much larger population that the UK and Australia combined, Mathew. That’s why I cited “the rate” of violent crime, which is normally expressed in the number of occurrences of something but thousand or hundred thousand people depending on the analysis.

            So I’d recommend that you learn the difference before you make any other really silly suggestions.

          • http://www.facebook.com/clemwantscali87 Mathew Clemons

            These numbers that I’ve provided to you are also based on occurrences which are normally the “rate” of violent crime. Number of occurrences per a given number of people is the “rate”.

            What I provided you were from the United Nations and The World Bank. But, I understand. These tiny international organizations that only service umm.. the entire world.. have no credibility.

            And what lowkell provided were facts. Not personal opinion or belief.

          • Les Aker

            What you provided were simply inaccurate, but let’s not allow things like facts or reality to cloud your feelings on how people’s rights should be infringed because it upsets you.

          • http://www.facebook.com/clemwantscali87 Mathew Clemons

            Noted. You can’t be reasoned with. On that note, I’ve been trolled enough. I remove myself from this discussion. Continue to enjoy your delusion.

          • Les Aker

            The only thing of note here is that you aren’t applying reason… you are all hung up on your “feelings”, Mathew. What I can’t be is convinced to allow you to infringe on my rights based on your irrational feels about the topic.

            I will also note that all those people you saw at the Roanoke event that were wearing “Gun Saves Lives” stickers were sending you the same message.

          • http://www.bluevirginia.us/ lowkell

            The problem is, no facts, evidence or logic will change a hard-core ideologue’s mind. As for the United Nations, that should get an interesting response from our gun-loving friend, as those folks generally don’t think too highly of international bodies…lol

  • Jayy Frost

    This is a joke, I hope. You act like a gun was the reason for that massacre. It was hate. Guns are merely tools we’ve created in life. That’s like blaming a spoon for someone being fat. Virginia is an open carry state, you seriously can’t expect people to not celebrate that. On top of which, had anyone even thought of attempting something like Orlando, They wouldn’t have managed to point a gun at someone let alone get a shot off. I think you guys are simply trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill, and should SERIOUSLY re-evaluate your lives. With that said, I skimmed through your article and found this gem. “But Lineberry claimed that Roanoke Pride was somehow legally obligated
    to give VCDL a choice booth at his event because they had paid for it. I
    doubt that seriously, as he also claimed Roanoke Pride would be
    obligated to give an LGBTQ hate group a booth.” They do reserve the right to turn people away if they choose, but Pride is about being accepting. Last time I went to pride, there was a group of people screaming and protesting their hate. They were allowed to be there by law, and were protected by the law. If someone pays for a booth and causes no trouble, why should they not be allowed? Who cares if they protest. They paid. They supported the cause just to protest what we’re doing. Freedom of speech and all that jazz, just like you have the freedom of speech to type of this crock trying to make the pride council look bad. You’re a straight woman. Please don’t go out of your way to make something you obviously don’t understand look bad.

  • Les Aker

    Catherine Stromberg is apparently unaware that even the people she doesn’t like have rights. The same rights that she has actually. One of those rights is the right to purchase, own and carry a gun if they choose to do so.

  • Gary Hillard

    Lots of good causes to be championed out there. BLM, income inequality, health care, animal rights, child safety, rape culture, the never-ending war, environmental issues, endangered species, gun violence and gay rights all come to mind. There are tons more, and I know compassionate, dedicated people who are involved in these causes, and I respect their commitment and their energy. I occasionally find a passionate supporter of one cause who seems blind to any cause but their own, and who will take offense that their cause is not seen as the most important cause out there. Attacking activists at the Roanoke Pride in the Park celebration for not towing the line on gun control is a good example of this, and I hope that Catherine finds a way to support bringing decent gun legislation to this crazy country without attacking or distancing other progressive activists.

    • Gary Hillard

      Catherine just blocked me from the Blue Ridge Coalition Against Gun Violence, where I have been a member for the past two years, as a result of this post. It’s important to understand the level of animosity easily triggered by questioning the ideological line here. I’m not sure that kind of personality is well suited to supporting progressive causes, since “progressive” seems to imply an openness to others.

      • Catherine Koebel Stromberg

        Apparently you were a member for two years and had literally never taken any action. You had one mutual friend with the admins. The BRCAGV works to prevent gun violence, you don’t even seem faintly acquainted with the gun issue. Gun violence prevention desperately needs to close the passion gap with the NRA/VCDL, your lack of passion and action on the GVP will not be missed.

        • Gary Hillard

          Pet groups held for personal gratification are usually best avoided, anyway. Are you really changing the world?

  • Gary Hillard

    Lots of good causes to be championed out there. BLM, income inequality, health care, animal rights, child safety, rape culture, the never-ending war, environmental issues, endangered species, gun violence and gay rights all come to mind. There are tons more, and I know compassionate, dedicated people who are involved in these causes, and I respect their commitment and their energy. I occasionally find a passionate supporter of one cause who seems blind to any cause but their own, and who will take offense that their cause is not seen as the most important cause out there. Attacking activists at the Roanoke Pride in the Park celebration for not towing the line on gun control is a good example of this, and I hope that Catherine finds a way to support bringing decent gun legislation to this crazy country without attacking or distancing other progressive activists.