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Piper Smith is the founder and executive director of Armed Equality, an LGBT and 2A-friendly group with a focus on pistol, shotgun, rifle, and unarmed self defense training along with survival and medical training.

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On June 12th, 2016, a deranged individual murdered 49 Americans and wounded 58 in a combination terrorist attack/hate crime inside a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. He was eventually shot and killed after a three-hour delay. This was the single deadliest incident of violence against LGBT Americans in U.S. history and the worst terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. That was when I knew I needed to step up and get involved. When I ‘came out’ as a member of the LGBT community in late 2015 I began to experience hate from my fellow Americans. This was a new experience for me, and a horrifying one at that. Prior to coming out I was vaguely aware of the claims of discrimination and danger that the LGBT community faced. To be quite honest, I never took it too seriously or knew much about the brutal reality of just how dangerous it can be to simply be different even in our modern 21st-century United States.

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I have been verbally and physically harassed. I have been shunned, I have been shamed, I have been ostracized, and I have had to fight to keep employment, even while being a top national producer. It can be very rough out there for LGBT Americans.

Responsible firearm ownership and a strong self-defense/self-reliance mindset doesn’t fix or address all systemic injustices, but they can certainly help even the playing field against misguided dangerous hate-filled individuals.

When I founded Armed Equality after Orlando I had no real plan or idea where to take it; I simply saw that the LGBT community was a very soft target and something needed to be done. My group is the first I am aware of to incorporate advanced pistol, shotgun, rifle, and unarmed self defense with survival and medical training added into the mix.

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I often wonder how differently Orlando could have played out if even 2 percent of those trapped in the building had been carrying and been able to fight back with force during those 3 hours. Even if no one had been carrying, what if even 5 percent of those inside had individual first aid kits strapped to their ankles or in their purses and bags?

Anything and everything that strengthens the bodies and minds of good Americans seeking to live their lives peacefully, free from fear of hate, is what I am passionate about.

We hold the most diverse events you will likely ever see. When you can hold an impromptu Memorial Day BBQ at a local park and have roughly 50 people from every race, age, gender, political affiliation, and life experience intermingling peacefully and respectfully in our divisive and polarized society, I know we’re doing something amazing. When the middle-aged white guy in the red cap can have a beer with the African American Bernie supporter while the local 3 Percenters leader chats and cooks a burger with a trans woman, you know your mission is a virtuous one.

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In the last few years, while building this group in my spare time, I have appeared on local, national, and international media outlets ranging from local live news discussing my opposition to anti-2A legislation, to Comedy Central in defense of firearm ownership, to Australian VICE News in defense of the Second Amendment—plus a wide variety print and web articles.

When I show up with well-articulated, pro-2A arguments draped in a rainbow Gadsden flag with my fiancée, it causes the anti-2A media default narratives to short circuit.

It’s always amusing to witness. And trust me, it’s always a good time when you get to tell anti-2A LGBT folk to ‘check their privilege’ and consider that just because they live in an area where they feel safe doesn’t mean that all LGBT Americans have the same luxury.

Here in Southern California I work closely with San Diego County Gun Owners, Firearms Policy Coalition, and California Rifle & Pistol Association. I have reached out and vetted local instructors for LGBT inclusiveness and to facilitate epic training events with Active Shooter Defense School, Defensive Tactics and Firearms, and XSA International.

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While we’ve encountered our fair share of haters in some pockets of the 2A community, I can also say that some of the worst hate we experience comes from misguided elements within the LGBT community itself. That said, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that the vast majority of LGBT individuals are not well represented by some of the small, but loud professional activists; many have slowly but surely come around to understanding our perspectives in defense of liberty and self reliance and support our cause even if they don’t attend events themselves.

I am a firm believer in the Constitution and have studied its ideological origins extensively. From the bottom of my soul I know that this nation should strive to protect all of its citizens equally in their pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. At the end of the day LGBT and non-LGBT Americans share the same hopes, dreams, struggles, and triumphs in life. I believe it is our duty to remember this in these times of hyper-partisanship.

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“We The People” means everyone, and we invite everyone to join the most diverse, non-partisan, self-defense/Second Amendment community in the United States. We are vigilant and empathetic Americans and our country needs a lot more of us.

Armed Equality is building a strong and inclusive community of diverse individuals who seek the skills needed to defend their lives. We are dedicated to the defense and protection of all Americans, from all walks of life; especially targeted minorities. I don’t love firearms, per se—I love the micro and macro human liberty they provide and protect.

You don’t need to be LGBT to join us, only LGBT- and 2A-friendly!

Piper Smith is the founder & executive director of Armed Equality and a Range365.com contributor.

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