When Trinity Rae Anderson pulled her Smith & Wesson Shield handgun from her waistband and trained her sight down its barrel, her fingernails’ sparkly pink and purple polish caught glints of sunlight. As she emptied the magazine at a target situated at Coyote Butte, southeast of Bend, the percussive pops blended with those of several other nearby shooters.
Anderson is one of 13,202 Deschutes County residents who are licensed to carry a concealed firearm. As a transgender woman, she’s also a member of the LGBTQ community — the No. 1 target for hate crimes, according to the FBI — a group that is reportedly increasing its firepower.
“It only takes that one bigot who can ruin my life or that of my children,” said Rae, 45, who is the mother of two daughters, ages 11 and 18. A former technical sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, Anderson said she began carrying a concealed handgun after retiring four years ago. Since she began transitioning in 2015, the Bend native said she has found Central Oregon to be “very accepting and accommodating,” although national attacks on the LGBTQ community, such as the 2016 massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando — in which a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others — alerted her to the potential for hate-fueled, lethal violence anywhere.
“I would rather be prepared than sorry,” she said.
Attacks on sexual and gender minorities eclipse those on Jews; LGBTQ people are twice as likely as blacks to be targeted, according to a New York Times analysis of the report. In 2016, 27 transgender Americans were murdered, making it the deadliest on record, according to GLAAD, a national LGBTQ watchdog group. In 2015, 21 were murdered.
“The victims of this violence are overwhelmingly transgender women of color, who live at the dangerous intersections of transphobia, racism, sexism and criminalization, which often lead to high rates of poverty, unemployment and homelessness,” according to GLAAD.
In Central Oregon, Sharon Preston, the president of the Central Oregon Shooting Sports Association and Ladies of Lead Group Therapy, a female-centered gun-safety organization, has noticed an uptick in gun training and ownership among the LGBTQ community in the past five years.
“There are so many people and reasons why they want to have a firearm,” said Preston, who taught about 2,000 people self-defense — mostly firearm training — last year through a variety of seminars.
“The saddest thing I see is people who, up until the point of brutality, the brutality of violence was purely academic to them and they could never even conceive needing a force-multiplier like a firearm to defend themselves,” Preston said. “And then it happens and they discover their vulnerabilities. We just believe in giving people the permission to survive.”
Jamie Bowman, the president of the Human Dignity Coalition, the Bend-based LGBTQ advocacy group that organizes Central Oregon Pride, said she hears from many local LGBTQ people who are fearful. Bowman said a “handful” of her LGBTQ friends have gotten guns; those who already had them, she said, keep them closer. Bowman doesn’t own guns, yet when a friend recently offered her one, she strongly considered it, she said. Bowman, a mother of three children under 10 — two of whom are transgender — ultimately declined the gun, fearing a potential accident in the home.
“But it would make me feel better to have some way to protect my kids,” she added. “People are just wanting to make sure they can defend themselves in case they run into anybody who thinks they can say or do whatever they would like to this person because they’re different. Before, it was kind of an underlying fear, but now that there (is) an increase in hate crimes ... there is a need to be able to defend yourself, even if it’s not the way you would like to go about it. I think people are desperate right now to feel safe in this climate where nobody really feels safe.”
Compounding the issue, Bowman said there is a lack of trust in police, particularly among people in the LGBTQ community and “especially if they’re intersectioned with being a person of color.”
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office saw a spike in concealed firearm applications last year, when 4,252 residents applied. The number reflects a heightened interest in carrying a gun in one’s waistband, coat pocket or purse. In 2015, there were 2,900 applications; 2,732 applications in 2014; and 1,525 applications in 2013, The Bulletin previously reported. The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, which processes concealed firearm license applications, does not inquire about sexual orientation or LGBTQ status.
Nicki Stallard, a 57-year-old transgender woman, is a California-based spokesperson for Pink Pistols, an international LGBTQ self-defense organization with more than 50 national chapters, including one in Portland. Stallard said the core issue is self-defense as a fundamental, natural right and cited the increase in attacks against the transgender community. Firearms are effective self-defense tools, said Stallard, who completed her transition in 2007. She has never been attacked, but she’s not going to wait until it happens to take defensive measures. Stallard recently acquired a license to carry a concealed weapon — a .45-caliber pistol — because she’s “not fooling around.”
“What if you’re facing an attacker that is bigger than you, or what if you’re facing multiple attackers, or what if the attackers are armed?” Stallard said. “Certainly you want to have defensive tools that you know will at least put you on equal if not superior footing. While there is a growing tolerance among the American public (toward the LGBTQ community), the reality is, we still have individuals whose hearts are filled with hate. For whatever reason, they think we are subhuman and it’s OK to injure people of the LGBTQ community. … For many of these haters and bashers, it’s like a sport to them. You’re dealing with sociopathic people. You can’t reason with that.”
Anderson, the transgender Air Force veteran, echoed the sentiment.
“Being retired military, I have seen a lot of the worst people can do to each other,” said Anderson, whose duty has taken her to Iraq, Panama and Peru. “Being home and with my family, I wanted to be able and ready to protect them if I need to.”
After Anderson finished her shooting session at Coyote Butte, she reached into a rear pants pocket, where she’d kept a magazine filled with hollow-point, 9-millimeter bullets. She shoved the clip into her pistol with a click and returned it to her waistband holster, which she concealed with her Harley-Davidson hoodie.
“I never know what yahoos I might encounter,” she said, removing her hunting-themed ball cap and shaking loose her black and green-streaked hair. “If something had happened when I was shooting, I would have dropped my clip of target-shooting bullets and put in my ‘man-killing’ bullets. I don’t take any chances.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org