Amid the hikers and snowmobilers in the park today, these are members of a group called Rainbow Reload, an LGBTQ gun club that offers experts and the gun-curious a chance to practice firearms skills in a supportive environment.
Similar groups exist across the country, often under the name “Pink Pistols.” Rainbow Reload members stress that their mission goes beyond mere hobby: The goal is to prepare and protect themselves from a rising chorus of threats against LGBTQ+ people, including those stemming from hate groups.
“If the world is dangerous, then you have to be dangerous back,” says Smith, who, like everyone interviewed, requested some level of anonymity citing concerns about their safety. “And that very much has pushed me to where I am now.”
After delivering a safety talk, Smith, who is carrying a Diamondback AR, and a half dozen other Rainbow Reload members here — a smaller crowd than usual due to the presence of a reporter — begin hiking down a snow covered trail. Passing dog walkers give confused looks as they see long guns slung over shoulders.
Every member of the group has a different story about how they arrived here, feeling the need to carry a weapon for self-defense.
“I went from concealed carry every once in a while when I was feeling it to every single day,” explains Sharon, a Navy veteran and competitive shooter who transitioned last year. “Because reading the news, having a few experiences, realizing that I’ve gone from: old cis-male, white, upper middle class, really no real fears about anything, to: there are people that just looking at me will want to hurt me.”