Pink Pistols: Gay Gun Rights Group Is Ready to Fire
On a crisp Sunday morning, Nicki Stallard closes one mascara-coated eye and focuses intently on her target. Her long fingers are wrapped around the handle of a Colt .45; black go-go boots hug her muscular legs, which are firmly set in shooting stance. As she rapidly fires off rounds of ammunition, shells fall to the ground, rolling under her stacked platform heels.
Nicki Stallard isn't your average lady.
She was born a man.
Stallard, who has been living as a woman for the past year and a half, is the coordinator of the San Jose chapter of the Pink Pistols -- a national organization that encourages gay, lesbian and transgender people to arm themselves to prevent hate crimes. Part social gun club, part political platform, the group's slogans are, "Armed gays don't get bashed" and "Pick on someone your own caliber."
Founded in 2000 in Boston by libertarian activist Douglas Krick, the Pink Pistols have since grown to more than 40 chapters across the country. Not surprisingly, the group has garnered its fair share of controversy, both locally and nationally.
The Pistols unite two traditionally opposite ends of the political spectrum over one incredibly hotbed issue -- particularly in the state of California, where the Bay Area has been in an uproar over proposed gun control. The San Francisco chapter recently earned national attention during its campaign against the city's controversial proposed gun ban.
Certain members of both the pro-gun rights community and the gay community consider the Pistols to be a thorn in their side. But Stallard says the Pink Pistols just want what every American should be entitled to: the right to walk down the street without fearing for your life.
For Stallard, her individual right to carry a weapon isn't just a fundamental principle -- it's life insurance.
During a breakfast meeting at a Denny's in San Jose, Stallard is dressed in a tasteful gray pleated short skirt and black turtleneck. She pushes around a veggie omelet with her fork as the rest of the restaurant stares. She either doesn't notice or doesn't care, as she rattles off rapid-fire stats on hate crime incidents and studies that indicate homophobic discrimination among authorities.
"And you choose to be unarmed?" she asks, her blue, neatly made-up eyes wide with astonishment and indignation. "To me, that just doesn't make sense."
Stallard is in the middle of reciting statistics about gun control and personal safety when she's approached by an older man in a security guard uniform, his gray hair shorn in a military cut.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to interrupt," he says, and looks directly at Stallard. "I agree with everything you say."
The man is an instructor with the National Rifle Association and spends several minutes discussing the finer points of gun control laws with the transgender woman sitting before him. He says to Stallard, "People need to be able to defend themselves against lawless acts," shakes her hand and leaves.
"That's pretty much the reaction we've gotten from conservatives," Stallard says, returning to her omelet.
It's a poetic illustration of the issues that cut to the heart of the Pink Pistols: uniting divergent political interests over one hugely controversial topic.
"We support a reasonable balance between individual rights and legitimate public safety concerns," Stallard says.
Jeff Soyer of Vermont, a self-described "gay gun nut" and blogger, is a longtime proponent of the Pistols.
"They're trying to get urban gays and lesbians to not be afraid of the one instrument that, when used properly and legally, can save their lives," Soyer says. "They take the mystique and scariness out of guns and show that a firearm is simply a tool."
Yet the Pistols have become something of a political hot potato, handled with caution -- or not at all -- by both gay rights organizations and pro-gun groups.
Michael S. Brown, a member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws, has written about the controversy for the politically conservative website Enter Stage Right.
"The leaders of the NRA are well aware of the growth of the Pink Pistols and it presents them with something of a dilemma," Brown writes. "On one hand, they are happy to see a traditionally anti-gun segment of the population swinging over to the pro-gun side. However, if they embrace this new group, they risk alienating some of their current members who actually do fit the right-wing stereotype." Stallard echoes this sentiment.
"Privately, the NRA have been supportive of us," she says, "but internally there is squabbling."
The NRA has long resisted including other issues in its agenda.
"We are a single-issue group," says NRA spokesperson Ashley Varner. "We support every law-abiding American's Second Amendment rights but we don't take any position on other specific groups."
Yet Pistols founder Krick says the most controversy -- and, sometimes, outright hostility -- comes not from conservatives, but the gay community.
"We've gotten a lot of support from the gun community in general," Krick says, "but as for the organizations geared towards the queer community, that's where we've been getting a lot more static."
Two of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations in the nation, the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), refused to comment for this article. Spokespersons from both groups claimed their organizations had no stance on the issue.
"For a lot of these groups, they're tied-in very strongly with the liberal demographic that thinks that guns are bad, evil, nasty things, and they tend to buy into that propaganda wholeheartedly," Krick said. "As a result, when we came along they'd already made their decision."
Scott Tucker can relate. As spokesperson for Log Cabin Republicans, a national political group for the LGBT segment of the GOP, he's used to assumptions, shock and mockery.
"Really, the Pink Pistols are just proof that gays and lesbians aren't always in political lockstep," Tucker said. "There are gay Americans on both sides of every issue, including the Second Amendment." Although Tucker says his organization doesn't have an official stance on gun control, he admires the Pistols for tackling a controversial subject unapologetically.
"Any time you have gay and lesbian folks that stand up and say something that isn't popular within their community, that can shatter stereotypes," he said.
Perhaps no one better represents the quandary represented by the Pistols than Julie Marin, a male-to-female transgender law enforcement officer from San Jose. Marin is the founder of T-COPS, a support group for law enforcement officials who have changed genders or are in the process of transition. As a transgender person, Marin recognizes the potentially deadly threat of hate crimes.
"I had one experience with a hate crime," Marin said, "and it was beneficial that I was armed ... otherwise I probably wouldn't be here today."
But as a law enforcement officer, Marin is concerned about putting more weapons in the hands of civilians.
"It could be beneficial in a rare instance, but normally it probably does more harm than good," she says. "For me as a law enforcement officer, it does create problems. It's a double-edged sword for my group."
Homophobia vs. hoplophobia
The San Jose chapter of the Pink Pistols is about five years old, but was sitting inactive until Stallard took over two years ago. She's been orchestrating group shoots at the San Jose Municipal shooting range for the past eight months. She describes the group as a small, libertarian-flavored social club that welcomes anyone -- regardless of sexual orientation -- to participate. Stallard says there are about a dozen or so members, but only a handful of participants at the monthly shoots. She hopes to encourage more political activism as the chapter grows.
Carla Satra serves as range master for the San Jose chapter. She's in her early 60s and says she has been shooting guns since she was a little girl.
Satra says she's disgusted with "the maniacal hoplophobia [fear of weaponry] of the liberal left.
"I'm very much appalled by people who call themselves liberal that would be willing to sacrifice victims to criminal violence to support their politics.
"There are a great many so-called liberal people who have this wonderful fantasy of a world where there's no violence, and allow their fantasy world to demand that prospective victims be disarmed so they'll be helpless in the face of violent criminals. I'm appalled at the concept of victim disarmament. I really don't want to see any more violence, and weapons are a deterrent."
But Sgt. Nick Muyo, public information officer for the San Jose Police Department, believes more violence is exactly what could happen, and cautions against any inklings towards vigilantism.
Muyo says carrying guns isn't the answer; that arming oneself can cause more harm than good. He advises people who are concerned for their safety to be aware of their surroundings, walk in pairs and avoid dangerous spots at night.
"The best thing Nicki and her organization can do is promote the fact that people need to come forward and report hate crimes to the proper authorities," Muyo says. "But arming themselves and taking the law into their own hands is not the answer."
But for Stallard, that's not enough. And it's exactly why she wants a license to carry a concealed weapon.
Nicki owns about 14 handguns, but only eight pairs of heels (they're hard to find in men's size 10).
She was born Niall Stallard (pronounced like Neil, the traditional Irish spelling) and grew up in New York City. She was aware of gender confusion at an early age.
"I knew I had gender issues as a child," she says. "I tried to avoid dealing with them, but it just got worse and worse as I got older." Niall did what many in his situation do; he forced himself into life as a straight man. He was married briefly and bore two children. "Being gay in the 70s was bad enough," Stallard recalls, "but being transsexual made the horror factor even worse."
Niall spent seven years in the military working as an X-Ray technician in the Navy; he loved shooting guns and racing muscle cars. Nicki still loves all those things.
"Many people who are transgender went into traditional male occupations -- firefighter, police officer -- and did a lot of 'guy things': fast cars, guns, motorcycles. But when you finally accept your true self, that doesn't mean everything you loved before you throw in the garbage."
Now 47, Nicki has only recently come to terms with her true self. "I knew that I needed to make the change 10 years ago. I made a commitment that I would change. But I held off for everyone around me," she says.
Stallard says her parents were supportive of her, but she still waited until they were dead to undergo her complete transformation, which began gradually with hormone therapy, and culminated in full gender reassignment surgery, performed in Thailand in January.
"I figured I'd let them pass in peace. Why give them more stress in their later years?" she says. "They always worried about me too much. But I've been very fortunate in that my family has stood by me."
She happily reports that her children, now 17 and 18, and all of her coworkers and friends have remained supportive of her throughout her transition. But she freely admits that her case is extremely rare.
A self-described "pragmatic libertarian," Stallard has grown disgusted with both extremes of the political spectrum, and is hoping to work with -- instead of against -- conservatives on the gun control issue.
"The left and the right may disagree, but there's a common agreement that the government should be accountable to its people," she says. "The sad part is that we could actually work with conservatives on a lot of issues if we weren't so busy insulting them."
Stallard has created a bullet point sheet, which conveys her thoughts on various political platforms. On the printout, she's included several brief statements about herself. Among them:
- Nicki Stallard believes that she has a birth defect that she is correcting and she now strongly believes that God loves her. Rather than viewing her condition as a curse, she views it as a unique gift.
- Nicki Stallard is rare in that she is not hiding her transgender status. She hopes that in the future she can become a public figure who can open up people's hearts and replace hate with love.
Whether she succeeds remains to be seen.
But in the meantime, she'll be armed to the teeth. Just in case.