Lt. Gavin Newsom has long been a champion for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, gaining national attention when, as mayor of San Francisco a dozen years ago, he directed city officials to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
But as the Democratic gubernatorial aspirant campaigns for a sweeping gun-control initiative expected to appear on the fall ballot, he’s facing a backlash over posts to his social media accounts in which he asserts that a National Rifle Association group is using the transgender community to combat his measure.
“The NRA group in California is using the Trans community to fight our common sense gun safety initiative,” reads a Friday entry posted to Newsom’s Facebook page, which has more than 245,000 “likes.” “Using the Trans community to fight their battle of lies is arguably one of the most disgusting things they’ve ever done.”
Newsom made a similar point to his 1.2 million Twitter followers.
The posts came in response to a meme created by the opposing Coalition for Civil Liberties that feature a photo and quote from a transgender woman.
In the meme, which the campaign says is now being promoted as a paid ad, Nicki Stallard, of Fresno, states that “If Gavin Newsom gets this passed, how will transgender women like me be able to protect ourselves?”
Stallard’s group, the Pink Pistols, which teaches LGBT people to shoot, is not affiliated with the NRA, its leader Gwen S. Patton said by phone Thursday. She said while her organization has worked with the powerful gun-rights lobby on legal cases, it hasn’t received financial or other contributions.
“The NRA does not provide donations or funding to the Pink Pistols,” said Patton, of Pennsylvania. “We have never gotten a dollar from the NRA.”
Patton said more concerning is that Newsom’s comments suggest transgender people don’t use guns, when a quarter of her LGBT members are transgender. She said Pink Pistols has about 25 chapters in the U.S. and two in Canada.
“The comments he made prove pretty much categorically that he has no idea what is happening in the lawful gun-owning community,” Patton said. “This is a case of stereotypes and preconceived notions driving his agenda.”
Newsom’s campaign declined to comment on the posts, but pointed to statements from LGBT supporters of the gun-control measure.
Theresa Sparks, director of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, said that as a firearms owner herself, the measure would not stifle her activities.
“Nothing in this act restricts responsible and law-abiding Americans from purchasing firearms or ammunition,” she said.
Stallard said she stands by her statement in the ad. Newsom’s measure would require background checks for ammunition purchases, among other provisions.
“Gavin isn’t promoting common-sense gun safety. He is promoting victim disarmament, and his proposals will get innocent victims killed,” Stallard said.
The decision to feature her was made collaboratively with the campaign, she said. “I am not a puppet of the NRA,” Stallard said.
Still, Stallard added that she’d rather debate Newsom on the policy than become enmeshed in a controversy.
“I actually like the guy. That’s the sad thing about it. I find him charming and I know he’s done a lot for the gay community,” she said. “But on this issue he’s like a friend who’s wrong ... I am not angry at him, but I know a lot of other people are.”